Two Hollywood Mega Agencies Combine Forces, With Clients the Likes of Oprah Winfrey and Gisele Bundchen

William Morris Endeavor's acquisition shows the rise of Ari Emanuel.

December 18, 2013, 9:25 AM

Dec. 18, 2013— -- Ari Emanuel, the man who inspired foul-mouthed superagent Ari Gold in the HBO series "Entourage," is buying IMG Worldwide, which represents the likes of Peyton Manning and Gisele Bundchen. The deal, worth a reported $2.4 billion, unites the stars of Hollywood and the sports world.

Emanuel, 52, is co-CEO of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, along with Patrick Whitesell; their firm represents Hollywood A-listers such as actors Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.

The deal is part of Emanuel's master plan, which reportedly started in the 1990s when Emanuel broke away from the ICM Agency and created Endeavor. As the story famously goes, Emanuel and other top television agents planned to start their own agency but when their plans were discovered, they were fired.

In 2009, Emanuel and Whitesell nabbed the old-school William Morris agency.

"This is a strategic move in a forward march that has been going on for a long time," says Dominic Patten, Deadline Hollywood's legal editor.

On Wednesday, William Morris Endeavor Entertainment and investment firm Silver Lake announced they were acquiring IMG Worldwide after weeks of reported negotiations. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the Wall Street Journal valued the deal at around $2.4 billion.

"[Emanuel] has made himself a larger-than-life figure in a town where everybody thinks they're 50 feet tall," Patten told ABC News.

Emanuel's reputation is full of stories of unabashed, aggressive tactics.

Over the summer, Emanuel purchased ad space to put up posters jabbing at William Morris Endeavor's competitor, Creative Artists Agency, or CAA. Red and white posters with the CAA logo read "CAAN'T" all over Hollywood. While William Morris Endeavor may have intended the campaign as a joke, CAA demanded the signs be taken down.

As co-CEOs, Emanuel and Whitesell have long endeavored to build a mega agency, Patten said. With the acquisition of IMG, Emanuel now has his foot firmly in the world of sports licensing.

"Besides being 'Ari Gold' from Entourage, the tough guy from Chicago who is going to shake up Hollywood – he has always had his eye on a larger prize, which is turning the traditional Hollywood agency model into a media conglomerate," Patten said.

The combination of the two businesses is a "powerhouse of resources, talent and reach," Patten said.

Talent agents thrive on commissions and syndication fees, so talent firms will slowly morph into production studios, releasing original content that keeps their clients working and their coffers full, said Chris Raih, co-founder and managing director of creative agency Zambezi.

In 2009, Emanuel and Whitesell merged their Endeavor agency, 14 years old at the time, and the historic William Morris Agency that represented stars during Hollywood's Gilded Age, yet still managed to put themselves at the top of the combined business.

"IMG has incredible strategic value to WME. The brand's global reach, outstanding management team and leadership across sports, fashion and media are a strong complement to our business," said Emanuel and Whitesell in a statement. "We are honored to build on the legacy of founder Mark McCormack and recent owner Ted Forstmann. Supported by Silver Lake's continued partnership, WME and IMG together will deliver a broad range of opportunities and resources to the companies and talent we collectively represent."

IMG Worldwide did not respond to a request for comment.

When asked about the partnership between Emanuel and Whitesell, Patten said the difference between private power and public perception is always great in Hollywood.

"Ari has a lot of ink," Patten said, in part because of the fame of his other Emanuel family members. It doesn't hurt that Emanuel's brother, Rahm Emanuel, was one of the most powerful congressman, chief of staff for President Obama, and now mayor of Chicago, while his other brother is a world-renowned doctor, Patten added.

"They work and share power together," Patten said of Emanuel and Whitesell.

In 2002, Sandra Epstein, an Endeavor female employee, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Endeavor, claiming bullying, pot-smoking and sexual activity at the office. Epstein settled for $2.25 million, according to The New York Times.

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The new combined agency will compete against Creative Artists Agency, which represents Robert De Niro, Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks.

CAA now has a more formidable competitor in the even larger William Morris Endeavor agency and Emanuel.

"Ari is thoughtful and insightful, profane and louder than a Marshall amp when required and someone who has created a persona on the knowledge of how to use real power," Patten said. "A lot of people know him from the caricature in Entourage: superagent Ari Gold. That is part of the secret of his success. A lot of people know about him."

That is rare in an industry crowded with big Hollywood names.

"Get more than five miles out of Beverly Hills and ask yourself how many agents you can name," Patten said.

While Patten said the acquisition of IMG appeared to be an offensive tactic, moving up and forward as a company, Raih said he views it as a defensive tactic.

"CAA Sports boasts 800 clients, while WME's athletic-based clients are few and far between," Raih said. "IMG, meanwhile, is laden with stars from both 'stick and ball' Western sports, as well as international Olympic-style athletes. So the move is an equalizer for WME against CAA."

Raih said Emanuel has created his own luck by staying one step ahead of the industry's demands.

"Emanuel was one of the first to recognize that the new money flowing into Hollywood was from corporate America, so he opened doors and made it easy for brands to work directly with entertainment assets," Raih said.

William Morris Endeavor's stake in the advertising network Droga5 is another example of his foresight, Raih said.

"The ad agency is one of the hottest in the country, and should provide WME with a pipeline to blue-chip clients, and the 'innovative thinking' clients are desperately seeking," he said.

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