News Corporation, the parent company of the Sun and Times, has struck a £220m deal to buy Wireless Group, the owner of TalkSport.
The radio business was originally founded by Kelvin MacKenzie, former editor of The Sun and current columnist, who sold it to UTV in 2005 for £98m.
“The proposed investment is a clear sign of our commitment to, and belief in, the United Kingdom as a place to do business successfully and profitably,” said Robert Thomson, chief executive of News Corp, the parent of News UK.
“With its strength in radio, as well as its digital and international growth potential, Wireless will help improve the engagement of our publishing brands, especially those within News UK.”
News Corp was a 30% shareholder in Wireless Group, as was John Malone’s Liberty Global which held 28%, when UTV acquired the business in 2005.
The company said that its return to radio would create significant cross-media opportunities, with readers of the Sun in particular.
“This acquisition will allow us to increase engagement for both businesses through the cross promotion of our brands and the use of our respective talent,” said Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News UK.
The addition of radio, both nationally in TalkSport and through a network of local stations in the UK and Ireland, will mean that Rupert Murdoch’s media empire will now have a major presence across all major media platforms.
It will also now control an impressive cross-media sports rights portfolio, especially for the Premier League.
Sky, in which Murdoch’s Fox holds a 39% stake, holds pay-TV and digital Premier League rights, with video highlights sub-licensed to the Sun.
While TalkSport has the majority of the Premier League radio rights in the UK, the rest are currently held by the BBC, as well as exclusively internationally outside of Europe.
Wireless Group, which also owns free weekly magazine Sport, has been the subject of takeover speculation since UTV Media sold its television channels in Northern Ireland and the Republic to ITV for £100m late last year.
The deal effectively put the remainder of the company, which owns a portfolio of local radio stations in Great Britain and Ireland as well digital stations including Virgin Radio, up for sale.
“There is no doubt that Wireless is a company reborn since the sale of its television assets last year and we are excited by its prospects,” said Thomson.
“We plan to leverage Wireless’ portfolio of radio and digital audio sports rights, including the Premier League, in the UK, Ireland and beyond, through News Corp’s digital platforms. We believe the businesses together can be far more than the sum of their parts.”
It is thought that News UK has looked at the business in the past as had ESPN and Sports Direct.
“The excellent strategic fit and complementariness of the Wireless business to News Corp’s operations will provide great opportunities for Wireless’ management, employees and talent,” said Richard Huntingford, executive chairman of Wireless Group.
“The introduction of a new player with the stature and global media experience of News Corp will be a major boost for the UK and Irish commercial radio industry.”
News Corp was advised by Lepe while Wireless Group used Numis and Goodbody.
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