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Ice Cube Said to Recruit Serena Williams for Sports Network Bid

Serena Williams of the USA in action against Rebecca Peterson of Sweden during their women's singles match at the Miami Open tennis tournament in Miami, Florida, USA, 22 March 2019. EPA-EFE/JASON SZENES

Ice Cube’s Big3 U.S. basketball league has secured the support of sporting and entertainment stars including Serena Williams and Snoop Dogg as content partners for its $10 billion bid to buy 21 regional sports networks from Walt Disney Co., according to a person familiar with the matter.

The league, started by the rapper and actor in 2017, submitted its offer in recent days, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the process isn’t public. While private equity firm Centerbridge Partners LP and jewelry maker Carolyn Rafaelian are financial backers of the bid, Ice Cube is teaming up with Williams, Snoop Dogg, Kevin Hart and Michael Strahan’s SMAC Productions as content partners.

In pursuing the assets, the Ice Cube-led group is competing with John Malone’s Liberty Media Corp., Major League Baseball and Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. Disney agreed to sell the 22 networks to win regulatory approval for its $71 billion takeover of 21st Century Fox Inc.’s entertainment empire. The next round of bids are due mid-April and Disney is likely to decide a winner soon after that, people with knowledge of the auction said.

Representatives of the companies either declined to comment or didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

‘New Voices’

Big3 presented a plan to expand the Fox networks with 24-hour, culturally diverse national programming built around live sports, people familiar with the situation said this month.

Ice Cube and his longtime manager and business partner Jeff Kwatinetz are targeting young people and and want to spend money on marketing and advertising the networks.

Rapper Snoop Dogg said Big3’s plans represented a new approach.

“We’ve had the same ole people delivering us sport and culture forever and I join the movement because we’re here to change all that,” he said in a statement.

Williams said she’s backing Big3’s bid because “it’s so important to have diversity and new voices to deliver messages” to young people in a positive way. Rappers Nas and LL Cool J are also collaborators on the project.

Contract Battles

Big3 is hoping that its plan to mix live sports with diverse ownership and youth-oriented content will appeal to cable operators looking to draw younger viewers, as well as strengthening its hand in fee negotiations, the people familiar with the matter said. It’s banking that its particular mix of content — which aims to highlight female voices and cultural diversity — will encourage pay-TV operators to keep the channels in contract battles.

Charter Communications Inc., Comcast Corp. and Dish Network Corp. are among the biggest cable providers that currently carry the networks and will have to renew their contracts after the deal. AT&T Inc., which is the biggest carrier of the networks and has already renegotiated its contract, is locked in a dispute with Viacom Inc. over channels including Nickelodeon and MTV. Programmers rely on advertising revenue and subscriber fees to pay for their content.

Disney has until late June to wrap up the sale process for the networks, or 90 days after its deal for Fox closed this month. The most valuable channel — the YES network — is slated to go to the New York Yankees, which is working with Amazon.com Inc., Sinclair and Michael Dell’s family office on a $3.5 billion offer.

Sinclair, Apollo Global Management LLC and Major League Baseball submitted offers for the other networks in an earlier round of the auction, and bidders could still team up. Last month, Minnesota Twins owner Jim Pohlad joined Platinum Equity LLC and Liberty’s bidder group. Liberty owns the Atlanta Braves baseball team, while Platinum Chairman Tom Gores owns basketball’s Detroit Pistons. DM

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