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  • Lagardère, a French media group, is leading the race to acquire sports marketing firm Sportfive after several private equity firms dropped out of the running, according to reports.

Sportfive handles marketing rights for the FA, the Six Nations rugby tournament and Euro 2008. The company is owned by Advent International, media conglomerate RTL Group and investment bank Goldman Sachs. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are managing the sale.

Private equity firms Hellman & Friedman, Cinven and Permira are now understood to have dropped out of the auction process for Sportfive, which could fetch up to $1.2bn. Apax Partners, BC Partners, Providence Equity Partners, Apollo Management and Butler Capital Partners are also understood to have shown early interest in Sportfive. Permira declined to comment on speculation. Advent International, Cinven and Hellman & Friedman were not available for comment.

Noël le Graët, president of the French Football Federation, told French press that a sale to another private equity buyer would not be supported and that its €60m marketing contract with Sportfive would be pulled if a trade buyer was not found for the business.

Two other trade buyers are understood to be in the frame for Sportsfive: Sports United, a consortium headed by Robert Louis-Dreyfus, owner of French football club Olympique de Marseille; and a joint bid by Stéphane Courbit, president of Endemol France, and LVMH Group, the global luxury products maker.

WPP, an advertising agency, was thought to be partnering with Hellman & Friedman for a bid, but reports in the UK press said that WPP would have had no financial investment in Sportfive.

In March 2004, Advent International acquired a majority stake in Sportfive from RTL Group and Groupe Canal+ for €560m.