The owner of the Racing Post has picked bankers to oversee a £500m sale amid booming interest in sports betting data from US-based gambling and media companies.
Sky News has learnt that Exponent Private Equity, which acquired the horseracing bible in 2016, has picked PJT Partners to handle an auction of Spotlight Sports Group.
The sale process, which will kick off next year, is expected to attract significant interest in Spotlight from American bidders.
A person close to Exponent said it had picked PJT to run the transaction because of the investment bank’s extensive involvement in deals across the gaming and sports betting sectors.
The Racing Post is the best-known of Spotlight’s brands, having been launched in 1986 as a rival to the venerable Sporting Life title and passing through the hands of a succession of owners since.
Among those to have owned the newspaper are Trinity Mirror, the owner of the Daily Mirror, which now trades under the name Reach.
The ownership of the Racing Post name is held in perpetuity by its founder, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai, one of the world’s most prominent racehorse owners.
The newspaper also became caught up in the banking crisis of 2008, when part of its debt ended up in the hands of the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, following the collapse of Anglo Irish, one of the country’s biggest lenders.
Under Exponent’s ownership, the Racing Post has expanded into a broader sports data and services group, known as Spotlight, which encompasses the Free Super Tips website, a US-focused betting insight platform called Pickswise and MyRacing, another tips site.
Spotlight Sports’ pivot towards digital revenue streams means it is likely to command a premium valuation in a sale process, according to insiders.
It generates more than two-thirds of its revenue from digital channels, underlining its transition from being a print-only business.
The company also provides third-party support for other gambling businesses, and operates a specialist agency for gaming companies, ICS Digital, which offers search engine optimisation, digital marketing and translation services.
Alan Byrne, Spotlight’s chief executive, has been involved with the Racing Post since 1993, when he began editing the paper.
He remains its editor-in-chief alongside his responsibilities running the company.
Spotlight Sports’ international expansion is likely to be one of the growth opportunities highlighted by advisers to the company during a sale process.
In its latest accounts filed at Companies House, Fence Topco – Spotlight Sports’ parent company – said the decline in its print readership had been exacerbated by the pandemic, partly because of the closure of betting shops during the series of UK lockdowns.
Revenue fell by nearly a fifth to just under £65m, the accounts stated.
The company also drew on the Treasury’s furlough scheme “to reduce the adverse impact on the business and safeguard as many jobs as possible”.
Spotlight Sports plans to continue investing heavily in its digital assets, the accounts said.
The prospective sale of the Racing Post and its sister assets comes amid a boom for online gambling companies and the data providers which service them.
Sportradar Group, which is headquartered in Switzerland, recently went public in New York, while Genius Sports, another sports data company, also floated in the US this year.
It is unclear whether Exponent might also consider an initial public offering, in London or elsewhere, of Spotlight Sports Group.
Exponent declined to comment.