IMG Academy may gain capital in merger deal

jdill@bradenton.comDecember 20, 2013 

BRADENTON -- A day after a $2.3 billion deal was struck by Hollywood talent agency William Morris Endeavor and private equity firm Silver Lake Partners to acquire IMG Worldwide Inc. from private equity firm Forstmann Little, attention shifted toward what that will mean for IMG Academy, the private sports training facility and school in Bayshore Gardens.

Sam Zussman, IMG senior vice president and IMG Performance managing director, said Thursday the new ownership plans on reinforcing and supporting the academy.

A key component to the deal, is the increased capital now at IMG's disposal to aid academy expansion in Bradenton.

Zussman said the deal will disrupt nothing at the academy, which rolled out a $14 million-plus campus expansion in the past year.

"If anything, it's only going to give us a larger war chest and more resources with capital that is needed where it is attractive to the client," Zussman told the Herald.

Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, hailed the deal.

"I'm aware that the new ownership of IMG is excited about working with the Bradenton-based business," Falcione said. "We look to continue strong relationships with William Morris Endeavor.

"With the success of the William Morris Endeavor," he added, "this acquisition will without a doubt create many more opportunities for the Bradenton area."

Zussman said he could not speak for the new owners about the direction they will want IMG Academy to head. But he did give a timetable for the transition period, saying it will take about four months between the contract and closing portion of the deal.

"They wish nothing for IMG Academy other than for it to continue and prosper on current path," Zussman said.

In the last few months, IMG Academy unveiled a new stadium for its football program's inaugural high school season and announced it was selected to stage some marquee sporting events.

IMG was picked to host the Florida High School Athletic Association lacrosse state championship in 2014-15, the NCAA Division II Men's and Women's Track and Field National Championships in 2016-17 and has annually attracted top Major League Soccer clubs for preseason training.

"We have transcended from an athletic/academic institution and training facility into a marquee brand and a key player in sports performance," Zussman said.

Zussman said events IMG Academy has already landed are exciting for the new owners, who have focused on the entertainment industry in the past with clients such as Steven Spielberg, Seth MacFarlane, Aaron Sorkin, Ben Affleck, Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington.

"What this acquisition will do is that it will simply create more relevant relationships that could potentially be engaged by the academy," Zussman said.

Calls seeking comment from the Premier Sports Campus, having direct competition with IMG Academy in soccer and lacrosse, were not returned by press time Thursday.

Jason Dill, Herald sports reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7017.

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