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Brands Hatch becomes takeover target

BRANDS HATCH LEISURE PLC, the company which runs the Brands Hatch racing circuit in England, has confirmed that it has received a "preliminary approach" that could lead to a takeover bid. The company was commenting on an 18% rise in its share price in the course of the last week. The bid will offer shareholders a "modest" premium on the current value of the shares. The shares in BHL have tripled in value this year and are currently worth $165m, around six times the annual turnover.

There have been reports in recent weeks that the steady rise in the BHL share price has been caused by a single buyer, quietly collecting stock in the company and the suggestion has been that this may have been Bernie Ecclestone. However, Ecclestone's ongoing discussions with the European Commission Competition Directorate would make such a move unwise as╩Ecclestone is keen to avoid being seen to be operating or building a monopoly situation and buying Grand Prix tracks would be unwise. There were reports in The Times newspaper in London that Ecclestone was behind the bid but during the weekend the two major Sunday newspapers in London both reported that the bidder is the Interpublic Group, through its Octagon sports marketing subsidiary.

In September, Octagon announced plans to raise its profile to tap the growing interest in using sport for corporate marketing and advertising. Octagon Motorsport was formerly known as the Flammini Group before it was bought in 1998. It manages events, negotiates rights and does corporate consultancy work with an impressive list of clients including Honda, Ford and Michelin. It runs the FIM Superbike World Championship and operates offices in London, New York and Rome. Octagon is backed by the financial clout of The Interpublic Group of Companies Inc. which is valued at $11bn and includes advertising agencies McCann Erickson, and Marschalk and Pratt. The company has been listed on the New York Stock Exchange since╩1971.

The Octagon move follows the purchase last month of the Midlands Concert Promotions Group Ltd. by SFX Entertainment - the leading live entertainment company in the world. MCPG has a 25-year lease to operate Brands Hatch's rival circuit Donington Park.

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