In what will hopefully not inspire even more tacky billboards and even tackier videos, always the bridesmaid never the bride talent agency William Morris Endeavor is buying entertainment and sports marketing giant IMG Worldwide.
Backed by Silverlake Partners, after an almost year-long bid process, WME has purchased IMG for $2.2 billion, one of the largest financial acquisitions for any agency. WME heads Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell will become co-CEO's of IMG, though the company and its 3,000 employees will still work as an external organization, under the IMG name.
The purchase now positions WME to compete even more fiercely with supposedly top agency CAA, whose CAA Sports department has been quietly snapping up great agents and clients both for on-field representation and licensing and endorsement opportunities. CAA actually made a bid for IMG—a bid which would have been the biggest merger in the Century City agency's history—but rumor has it that CAA got cold feet over the potential rivalry between IMG and CAA in the sports licensing game.
While IMG isn't as mighty as it once was, its roster still includes megastars like Peyton Manning, Venus Williams and Joe Mauer, and multiple groups, including large talent agency ICM Partners, as well as The Chernin Group, were in the mix to acquire the sports firm. Adding its expertise in sports and entertainment marketing to WME opens up IMG to a far larger roster of talent to play with, while finally clotting the bleeding WME had left unstanched since 2009, when sports marketing head Lon Rosen exited the company over the William Morris and Endeavor merger.
WME and IMG will both have to step up in a big way to combat the increasing power of CAA Sports, a division which just snaked away Tim Tebow from WME to represent him in all areas, after first representing him solely in his on-field endeavors. But while CAA may have the muscle, WME's reputation (which was nothing to scoff at prior to this merger) has been slowly overtaking CAA in many departments. Current and former clients often complain about the impersonal touch at CAA, and their commitment to a bottom line over their clients' best interests, whereas WME is well-known for its ability to function with a small agency touch combined with large agency muscle.
A large merger with IMG, coupled with the billions of dollars sports licensing and endorsements pull in, easily position WME to overtake CAA in a short time. But as the saying goes, "[if] you come at the king, you'd best not miss."