Merger deal reached for parent of IMG Academy in Bradenton

HERALD STAFF and WIRE REPORTDecember 19, 2013 

Hollywood talent agency William Morris Endeavor and private equity firm Silver Lake Partners announced a deal Wednesday to acquire IMG Worldwide Inc., the sports and media entity that represents stars such as NFL quarterback Peyton Manning and singer Taylor Swift -- and which owns IMG Academy in Bradenton.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but people familiar with the deal said WME is paying private equity firm Forstmann Little about $2.3 billion for the New York-based company. The deal gives WME a trove of new clients and a big presence in the sports representation business.

IMG has more than 500 athletes, models and entertainers as clients, including model Gisele Bundchen, tennis star Novak Djokovic and musician/actor Justin Timberlake, and adding to that roster helps WME beef up its competition with Creative Artists Agency in the representation industry.

It also owns IMG Academy, the sports training facility in Bradenton. IMG Academy has been transforming itself in the past year and opening its doors to the community. It has undergone a $14 million-plus campus expansion that allowed the academy to start its own football program and summer league to attract the top high school football talent in the world.

That has greatly diversified IMG's school and sports training facility from its tennis heydays, when Andre Agassi and Venus and Sabrina Williams hit the Bradenton courts under the watchful eye of coach Nick Bollettieri at his tennis academy, which he founded in 1978 before selling it to IMG in 1987.

Requests for comment to

the Herald about IMG Academy's future in the new company from spokesmen at IMG Academy and William Morris were not returned before deadline Wednesday.

"IMG has incredible strategic value to WME," said Patrick Whitesell and Ariel Emanuel, WME co-chief executives, in a statement. "The brand's global reach, outstanding management team and leadership across sports, fashion and media are a strong complement to our business."

Whitesell and Emanuel will run the combined company.

A combined IMG and William Morris Endeavor is expected to significantly alter the balance of power in Hollywood's business landscape, creating a mega-agency that should leap ahead of its primary rival, Creative Artists Agency. At the same time, the acquisition, with its accompanying thrust into sports events and interests such as media and fashion, moves William Morris Endeavor's center of gravity away from the increasingly troubled businesses of movies and television, where growth potential is limited.

Losing bidders included former News Corp. executive Peter Chernin, working with CVC Capital, and the talent agency ICM, working with the Carlyle Group. Those groups are believed to have bid less than $2 billion.

In a memo to employees, IMG CEO Michael Dolan addressed the fit between IMG and William Morris, and also said meetings will be scheduled with employees to discuss the changes.

"Operationally, the combination is an ideal strategic fit, and will allow both companies to deliver a broader range of opportunities and resources to the talent we collectively represent," Dolan wrote. "Together, we will have an unmatched client roster and strong relationships across sponsors, brands and broadcasters, as well as marquee assets in sports, events, film, television and fashion, leaving us better equipped to seize emerging growth opportunities. Employees will have more career opportunities to support an even larger organization with increased business prospects."

In Bradenton, clients such as pro football quarterback Peyton Manning and tennis star Maria Sharapova still use campus facilities, which include IMG Performance research partners Gatorade, Under Armour and Prince, and some top IMG executives use the grounds for business and pleasure.

As the Bradenton campus continues to grow with a fieldhouse, baseball diamonds, more football and soccer fields and a second residence hall coming soon, new IMG deals continued to benefit IMG Academy throughout the parent company's sale. The latest came this week in a deal signed with nationally ranked Hospital for Special Surgery to provide physical therapy and orthopedic services to IMG and the academy.

The football and track stadium, which can seat up to 10,000, has triggered a new wave of business and sports tourism in Manatee County through landing a deal with Major League Soccer to be the exclusive East Coast spring training hub for multiple soccer clubs, NCAA championships in Division II men's and women's track and field championships in 2016-17, and the Florida High School Athletic Association state lacrosse finals for boys and girls in 2014-15.

Before the events and new deals came on board, the academy showed a $517 million economic impact in the Manatee-Sarasota county region last year.

IMG was put up for sale after private equity maven Theodore Forstmann died in 2011.

J.P. Morgan, Barclays, RBC Capital Markets and Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. advised and financed WME and Silver Lake in the transaction. The companies were also advised by Raine Group, Dean Bradley Osborne, Lazard, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

Evercore and Morgan Stanley served as financial advisers for Forstmann Little.

William Morris Endeavor until now has not had a sports business, relying instead on diversification involving advertising agencies and digital media. Its operations are clustered in Los Angeles, New York and London. Its entertainment clients include Steven Spielberg, Seth MacFarlane and Aaron Sorkin; movie star clients include Ben Affleck, Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington. It has about 1,000 employees.

IMG is vastly bigger, with 3,500 employees and offices in more than 30 countries. It has the leading college sports marketing business in the United States, handling lucrative organizations including the NCAA, as well as individual universities and athletic conferences and major events such as the Rose Bowl.

IMG also operates a large fashion show and modeling division. Most of its money comes from licensing and media rights deals.

-- Herald business reporter Charles Schelle contributed to this report, which includes material from the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095.

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