May 24, 2018 / 3:42 PM / 3 months ago

Herff Jones maker Varsity Brands explores sale-sources

May 24 (Reuters) - Varsity Brands Inc is exploring a sale that could value the U.S. company behind yearbook and class ring maker Herff Jones and cheerleading uniforms label Varsity Spirit at over $2.5 billion, including debt, according to people familiar with the matter.

The move comes three years after Varsity Brands' business was buoyed by a 2015 U.S. court ruling awarding copyright protection under federal law to its patterns and colors designs of cheerleader uniforms. Private equity firm Charlesbank Capital Partners and European investment firm Partners Group Holding AG, which have owned Varsity Brands since 2014, have hired investment bank Jefferies LLC to run an auction for the company, the sources said this week.

The company generated approximately $1.7 billion of revenue over the twelve months to the end of September, according to Moody's Investors Service Inc.

No deal is certain, said the sources who asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential. Varsity Brands and Charlesbank did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Partners Group and Jefferies declined to comment.

Founded in 1920 by Harry J. Herff and Randall H. Jones, Varsity Brands manufactures class rings, yearbooks, caps and gowns, and graduation diplomas. It also makes awards, including the Naismith award given to the year's top U.S. college basketball players, and championship rings.

Varsity Brands has been the Heisman Trophy manufacturer since 2002, produced NBA All Star rings, championship rings for all five of the San Antonio Spurs' NBA Championships, and the Super Bowl XLI championship rings for the Indianapolis Colts.

Herff Jones, which bought Varsity Brands in 2011, acquired BSN Sports in 2013 for $460 million and later rebranded the entire company under the Varsity Brands banner. Charlesbank and Partners Group acquired Varsity Brands from its employees in 2014 for $1.5 billion.

Reporting by Harry Brumpton in New York Editing by Bill Berkrot

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