“It’s too early to say when there will be a decision, but bidding is around the £200m mark,” said one source involved in the negotiations.
Two other sources close to the auction said a deal to buy the chain of 12 country club-style venues was “imminent”.
Next Generation was founded in 1996 by former tennis star David Lloyd and his son, Scott, after the sale of their David Lloyd Leisure company to Whitbread. The top-end racquet clubs, including Chelsea’s fashionable Harbour Club, are privately owned by a group of investors that includes management, the Lloyd family and Irish horse-racing millionaires JP McManus and John Magnier.
Other Irish stakeholders in Next Generation include financier Dermot Desmond and former Kerry Group boss Denis Brosnan who also happens to be group chairman.
Other interesting investors include brewing company, Scottish & Newcastle and former women’s tennis great Billie Jean King. Next Generation made a pre-tax profit of £4.4 million (€6.3 million) in 2004 - the most recent set of accounts currently available - on a turnover of just over £50m (€72 million).
Whitbread, which owns leisure chains from Pizza Hut restaurants to Premier Travel Inn hotels, wants the gym group to add to its David Lloyd tennis clubs of which there is one in Clonskeagh, South Dublin.
Esporta, owned by private equity house Duke Street Capital, would add them to its own chain of 52 health clubs, which stretch across Britain and Northern Ireland.