Home of Crufts to agree £800m-plus sale bonanza this week

Sky News has learnt that private equity firms including Blackstone, TDR Capital and Centerbridge are intensifying their efforts to buy the NEC Group with the objective of signing a deal by the end of this week.

The auction, which is being run by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, saw bidders table initial offers last week, with insiders saying on Tuesday that the current owner, LDC, was likely to pick a new owner before the weekend.

A frenzy of interest is expected to push the NEC’s price tag beyond £800m, according to people close to the situation, capturing a stunning return for LDC but raising questions about Birmingham City Council’s decision to sell the company for £307m just three years ago.

Onex, another private equity firm, is also bidding for the NEC, with Providence Equity Partners also understood to be a possible suitor.

If it is sold for £800m or more, the executives and employees of LDC will be in line for a collective windfall running to more than £100m, sources said.

The NEC is one of Britain’s biggest live events and exhibitions operators, and counts Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre, the International Convention Centre and the Genting Arena among its assets.

Its venues stage ?popular events such as Crufts, the world’s most famous show for pedigree dogs, last summer’s Dinosaurs in the Wild exhibition and musicians including Ed Sheeran and Lady Gaga.

The NEC is also due to stage parts of the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Paul Thandi, the company’s chief executive, has previously expressed an ambition “to build Disneyland in Birmingham”.

An LDC spokesman said recently: “Revenue and profit [at the NEC Group under LDC’s ownership] have increased significantly thanks to a number of transformational changes, new agreements with leisure operators, new sites and new exhibitions, and the business is well positioned for further growth.

“Like all private equity firms, our team invests in the companies we back, alongside our funding partner Lloyds Banking Group and the management teams we support.”

LDC has sought to play down comparisons between the business it bought in 2015 and the NEC as it is today, with tens of millions of pounds spent on capital expenditure projects since then.

It has also established partnerships with leisure groups such as Merlin Entertainments, the owner of Legoland, in a successful effort to boost revenues and visitor numbers.

NEC Group’s transformation under LDC’s ownership was underlined during the summer when it reported a 2.8% rise in sales to £162.1m for the year to March, with profits in the same period up 9.8% to £54.7m.

As well as its live events venues, NEC owns The Ticket Factory, a ticketing agency, and Amadeus, a catering business.

The group has also expanded geographically, securing the contract to operate the refurbished Bradford Odeon as a major live events venue in the north of England.

In total, the group has more than 2,000 employees and boasts seven million visitors to its sites annually.

Neither LDC nor any of the bidders contacted by Sky News would comment on Tuesday.

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