By Andrés González
MADRID (Reuters) - French media tycoon Vincent Bollore is bidding for a stake in Spain's largest sports broadcasting rights firm at the same time as facing off with former Italian president Silvio Berlusconi for control of Mediaset <MS.MI>.
Bollore's Vivendi <VIV.PA> is one of 10 bidders, alongside a number of Chinese and U.S. investors, hoping to land either a 30 percent or 51 percent stake in Spain's Imagina, two sources with knowledge of the matter said.
The race for Imagina epitomizes the broader trends in the media industry: deep-pocketed Chinese investors are snapping up sports and entertainment assets abroad while European and U.S. media giants are on the hunt for ever more content.
Besides a string of acquisitions by Chinese investors, Vivendi took a 20 percent stake in Italian broadcaster Mediaset this week and Twenty-First Century Fox <FOXA.O> struck a deal to buy European pay-TV firm Sky <SKYB.L>.
Imagina, usually just known as Mediapro after the name of one of its subsidiaries, has the rights to distribute the La Liga soccer championship around the world and also produces movies and television series.
"Bidders sent their non-binding offers on Monday. They are from Asia, Europe and the U.S.," said one of the sources directly involved in the deal.
A second source said there were about 10 offers, including from Vivendi, Alibaba's <BABA.N> Alisports, China's Citic Private Equity Funds management, Chinese real estate and entertainment firm Dalian Wanda Group Co Wanda, U.S. media company Liberty Media <LMCA.O> and private equity fund Advent.
Imagina, Vivendi, Wanda, Citic PE and Advent declined to comment. Liberty did not respond to requests for comment and a spokeswoman for Alisports said it had not placed a bid.
The deal could mark a milestone in the global offensive by Chinese companies to secure some of the best sports and entertainment assets as it could value the Spanish company at more than 2.5 billion euros ($2.6 billion), twice as much as any other European sports firm bought to date.
Wanda bought Swiss sports marketing firm Infront Sports & Media AG for $1 billion in 2015. It had previously taken a 20 percent stake in Spanish soccer club Atletico de Madrid, whose new stadium will be called Wanda Metropolitano.
Earlier this year, Chinese brokerage Everbright Securities <601788.SS> and internet entertainment company Beijing Baofeng Technology <300431.SZ> bought a 65 percent stake in Italian sports media rights company MP & Silva for about $700 million.
Potential Mediapro suitors must now send binding proposals for up to 51 percent of the company to Mediapro advisors Citigroup and Lazard, the sources said.
The banks have told bidders they would like two offers - one for 30 percent of the company and another for 51 percent - so that they can assess the premium bidders are willing to pay to take control of the firm, the sources said.
A stake in Mediapro is up for sale because Spanish private equity firm Torreal has signaled its intention to sell its 23 percent holding.
Besides Torreal, WPP <WPP>L>, the worlds biggest advertising company, also has a 23 percent stake, Televisa <TLVACPO.MX> owns 19 percent and directors Tatxo Benet, Jaume Roures and Gerard Romy each hold 12 percent.
The three founders would all sell a small stake of about 2 percent each, the sources said, but other shareholders could also divest shares if the bidders were ready to pay an attractive price for 51 percent of the company.
Mediapro is expected to close 2016 with core profit of 170 million euros. Based on the valuations of the MP & Silva deal earlier this year, Mediapro could be valued at between 2.5 billion and 3 billion euros.
(Additional reporting by Pamela Barbaglia in London, Mathieu Rosemain in Paris and Matthew Miller and Cate Cadell in Beijing; editing by Julien Toyer and David Clarke)