December 7, 2018 / 9:47 PM / 2 days ago

Former NBA player Bridgeman in the lead to buy Sports Illustrated magazine -sources

Dec 7 (Reuters) - Ulysses Lee "Junior" Bridgeman, a former U.S. basketball player who became a fast-food mogul, is in the lead to acquire Sports Illustrated magazine from U.S. media company Meredith Corp for about $150 million, people familiar with the matter said on Friday.

The deal would be the result of a review that Meredith is carrying out in its portfolio, following its $1.84 billion acquisition of Time Inc last year. It has already sold off its Time and Fortune magazines and is exploring a sale of Money Magazine.

Bridgeman is in the final stages of negotiating a deal for Sports Illustrated after lining up acquisition financing, the sources added. If his effort is successful, a deal announcement could come by the end of the year, according to the sources.

One aspect of the deal still being hashed out in the negotiations is the outsourcing agreements related to printing and paper costs of the magazine, one of the sources said. These discussions are common when a buyer who does not own a media company purchases a magazine, the source added.

For example, when Marc and Lynne Benioff bought Time magazine for $190 million in cash in September, Meredith entered into a multiyear agreement with them to provide services such as subscription fulfillment, paper purchasing and printing.

The sources asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential. Bridgeman and Meredith declined to comment. Sports Illustrated did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A Bridgeman purchase of Sports Illustrated would be the latest example of a wealthy individual taking over a storied media brand that has declined in profitability and influence since its peak years.

Amazon.com Inc founder Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post in 2013 for $250 million. Earlier this year, Marc Benioff, founder of Salesforce.com, bought Time Magazine from Meredith for $190 million. Chatchaval Jiaravanon, a Thai businessman, bought Fortune for $150 million.

Meredith, which owns lifestyle magazines such as Better Homes & Gardens and Family Circle, also said it would cut more than 1,000 jobs in the wake of the merger. The sale of Sports Illustrated would further Meredith's push to streamline its business by shedding brands that have less appeal to its core readership, which is predominantly female.

First published in 1954, Sports Illustrated is a U.S. magazine brand best known for its annual swimsuit issue. It has nearly 3 million subscribers but has been scaling back in recent years, reducing its print edition to 24 issues annually, in the face of pressure from online media.

With its roots in traditional publishing, Meredith has been facing a fierce competitive online race against internet giants such as Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook Inc for consumer eyeballs and advertising dollars.

Bridgeman played for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Clippers during his career with the National Basketball Association, which ran from 1975 to 1987. He later began acquiring Chili's and Wendy's restaurant franchises, which he sold for $400 million in 2016.

The New York Post reported in October that "there is buzz" that Bridgeman was closing in on a deal to buy Sports Illustrated from Meredith. (Reporting by Carl O'Donnell and Liana B. Baker in New York Additional reporting by Joshua Franklin in New York Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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