By Dinesh Nair and Asli Kandemir
DUBAI/ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Qatari-backed broadcaster Al Jazeera is considering a bid for a majority stake in Turkish pay-TV company Digiturk to boost its soccer offering ahead of the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar, banking sources familiar with the plans said on Wednesday.
A number of potential buyers have shown an interest in Digiturk since a 53-percent stake in the company was seized by Turkey's Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) from Cukurova Holding in May because of the conglomerate's debts to the state agency.
Al Jazeera's interest stems from Digiturk's $321 million-a-year deal for exclusive rights to Turkey's Super League championship, one of the sources said.
"It's really the football rights that differentiates Digiturk from others, and the Qataris are keen to get that access," the source said. "Otherwise, it does not make any sense for them to look at a business in a country where the local language is so dominant."
Digiturk has a market capitalization of $1 billion and about $500 million of debt, two of the sources said, giving it an enterprise value of about $1.5 billion.
Al Jazeera, which operates under the patronage of the emir of Qatar and his family, has appointed Barclays Capital to assist with its bid, the sources added.
TMSF declined to comment on a stake sale and an Al Jazeera spokesman was not available to comment.
U.S. private equity group Providence Equity Partners owns the remaining 47 percent of Digiturk and has appointed J.P. Morgan to evaluate its options, the banking sources said. However, another source close to the U.S. firm said it was not considering a sale.
Both Providence and J.P. Morgan declined to comment.
A formal bidding process is expected to begin in early 2014, the sources said.
Non-binding offers have already been submitted by Turkey's Dogan Group and Turk Telekom. In September Dogan offered $742 million for a 53 percent stake, trumping Turk Telekom's $530 million approach for the same stake in July.
"What we are seeing is that the local players are keen for the majority 53 percent stake, while the international bidders may want the whole business," another banking source said.
Al Jazeera is looking to continue its international expansion. In January it agreed to buy Current TV, the struggling U.S. cable channel founded by Al Gore and partners. Terms of the deal were not disclosed but analysts estimated that it could be worth as much as $500 million.
Turkey's pay-TV market had 4.1 million subscribers in the second quarter of 2012, producing revenues of $26.8 million, up 52 percent on the previous quarter, according to the latest available data from telecoms regulator BTK. Digiturk's market share in the quarter was 61.73 percent, BTK said.
(Editing by Nick Tattersall and David Goodman)