Why Dish Network's Charlie Ergen Wants Sprint Nextel

Dish Network’s chief needs Sprint to profit from his spectrum leases
After buying Sprint, Ergen would offer cheaper mobile data plans Photograph by Karl Gehring/The Denver Post/Getty Images

Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen, who as a young man was a professional blackjack player, has made more than his share of risky bets over the years. But Ergen’s $25.5 billion bid for Sprint Nextel—a company that’s already agreed to a $20.1 billion merger with Japan’s SoftBank—is a particularly plucky gamble. Ergen’s company is the third-largest U.S. pay-TV provider, behind Comcast and DirecTV. Sprint is the third-largest U.S. wireless carrier, trailing Verizon Wireless and AT&T. The question is whether combining third-place competitors in different industries will create something bigger than the sum of their parts or simply double down on the risks Dish already faces competing against entrenched rivals. “It’s pretty ballsy,” says Scott Schermerhorn, chief investment officer of Granite Investment Advisors. “Once this deal is done, you’re going to own a wireless company that, oh, by the way, happens to have a satellite-TV division to it.”

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