Softbank, Sprint, Dish Go Off to the Races

As Sprint reviews Dish Network's merger proposal, but asks to keep the shot clock running on SoftBank's initial offer, a horse race to the finish is quickly shaping up in the U.S.

Who will cross the finish line first is still a big unknown, but that won't stop us from speculating. Dish CEO Charlie Ergen is a gambler, and it's horse-racing season, after all.

So, dust off your Derby hats, grab a mint julep and let the betting begin!

Initial bets from journalists, analysts and Tweeters are leaning in SoftBank's favor:
  • Heavy Reading analyst Berge Ayvazian: 60/40 in favor of SoftBank
  • Ovum analyst Sara Kaufman: Anybody's game, and "it's going to be a really painful decision for Sprint either way"
  • Bright Side of News reporter Anshel Sag: 90/10 in favor of SoftBank, "unless someone from Dish finds a lobbyist to get a politician to throw a wrench in the cogs"
  • Analysys Mason Senior Manager Philip Bates: 80/20 in favor of Softbank
  • Light Reading reporter Dan Jones: 60/40 in favor of SoftBank with the possibility of a wild card third-party bid
  • Ernie Johnston, via Twitter: 70/30 in favor of Dish Networks, because it's national and a better fit
  • Navanu founder Mordy Kaplinksy: 70/30 in favor of SoftBank for its "deeper post-merger resources"
  • Light Reading reporter Sarah Reedy: 55/45 in favor of Dish Networks, because I like a good bundle and a close fight to the finish
As of now, the FCC is already 140 days into its 180-day shot clock review of SoftBank's $20.1 billion offer to buy Sprint, meaning the race could be over soon. And, a speedy finish is what Sprint likely wants as it hangs out in purgatory.

Dish won't fade away with a fight though. Ergen has come out "guns blazing," says Ayvazian, who saw him speak in NYC, where he was extolling the virtues of the merger to shareholders and investment banks, and at the Competitive Carriers Association conference, where his minions continued to evangelize the good word.

Ergen's appealing to the shareholders, however, not Sprint's management, who knows how hard it can be to merge with another domestic player. Ovum's Kaufman believes that the synergies Softbank can offer in terms of cash, spectrum alignment and wireless market disruption expertise outweigh the extra cash Dish offers. That's especially true if Softbank ends up sweetening the deal, which both Kaufman and Ayvazian believe it will do if it comes to that.

He actually has a more utopian vision of an outcome, in which everyone, including the little Seabiscuit, Clearwire, can play together nicely. Ayvazian suggests that a four-way draw in this wireless horse race could shape up, in which Dish and Sprint merge, acquiring Clearwire with them, and Softbank becomes an investor.

Given that Dish's deal is debt heavy and would burden Sprint, whereas Softbank brings new money to the table, he thinks that the Sprint-Dish duo could approach Softbank about investing in exchange for the spectrum and operational assets they bring to the table. Dish isn't talking about this option, but it could change its tune as the race gets neck-and-neck.

"There is an equal or greater chance that all three will find themselves in one deal," Ayvazian predicts. "That's where I'm placing my bets."

Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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