Private investment firm Forstmann Little has agreed to sell sports, entertainment and fashion agency IMG to competitor William Morris Endeavor and its financial backer, Silver Lake Partners. The price of Wednesday's sale was not disclosed, but one insider said the deal will be worth about $2.3 billion.
The sale could have massive ramifications in the areas of athlete representation and marketing, depending on how WME is able to adjust to the sports world, in which it currently has relatively little stake.
With the acquisition, WME -- which makes its money primarily in the Hollywood and music representation businesses -- has a chance to pick up athlete clients, although IMG's business is no longer as driven by the fate of athlete contracts and endorsements as it once was. In the past decade under Forstmann, IMG let contract agents for football, basketball, baseball and hockey players go, as the margins on contract commissions thinned and the cost to acquire and retain clients grew. IMG did retain a marketing division that represents quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton for endorsement deals.
What remained was a robust golf business that represents the likes of Luke Donald, Ernie Els, K.J. Choi, Retief Goosen, Padraig Harrington, Anthony Kim, Vijay Singh, Yani Tseng and Paula Creamer, and a tennis business that represents Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams and Li Na as well as broadcaster brothers John and Patrick McEnroe.
WME already markets for Serena Williams, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. It also represents commentators including Andy Roddick, Ray Lewis, Michael Strahan and Dan Marino.
The deal was spearheaded by super-agent Ari Emanuel, whose life was imitated with the character of Ari Gold in HBO's "Entourage." Emanuel famously left Hollywood agency ICM in the mid-1990s to form Endeavor, which grew even larger in 2009 when the firm merged with William Morris.
While WME continued to focus on Hollywood and music with clients that included Steven Spielberg, Adele, Alicia Keys, Bruno Mars and John Legend, Emanuel and co-CEO Patrick Whitesell were tempted by the sports world in recent years. IMG, meanwhile, represents Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake, and its modeling division has Kate Upton, Chrissy Teigen and Christie Brinkley as clients.
The ever-competitive Emanuel had two significant moments in sports in which he exerted his power, although neither worked out particular well.
It was Emanuel's idea to turn LeBron James' free agency choice in 2010 into the "The Decision," an hourlong show that aired on ESPN. Emanuel's team orchestrated the show even though James' contract was done by Emanuel's main competitor, Creative Artists Agency, and James' business manager Maverick Carter was working out of IMG's headquarters in Cleveland.
While the fallout from the critically panned show hit James maybe the hardest, Emanuel immediately defended the idea days later.
"Everybody can say what they want -- it was the wrong decision, there was too much hoopla, whatever -- but for me, it was about doing the event, getting the advertisers to participate and doing it for charity," Emanuel told Ad Age at the time.