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Agency buys IMG in deal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The new owner of West Virginia University athletics' multimedia rights has a new owner of its own.

The William Morris Endeavor Entertainment talent agency and private equity firm Silver Lake announced Wednesday they had struck a deal to acquire IMG Worldwide, parent company of WVU rights-holder IMG College, from its current private equity owner, Forstmann Little & Co.

The deal is valued at nearly $2.4 billion, according to Bloomberg. The companies did not disclose financial details of the transaction Wednesday.

West Virginians are more familiar with IMG Worldwide's college sports arm IMG College, which already managed Marshall University's multimedia rights before also winning the bid -- twice -- for WVU's rights earlier this year.

However, IMG College, which didn't exist before 2006, is just a small portion of the global, sports, fashion and media agency founded by Mark McCormack and golfer Arnold Palmer in 1960. The company has more than 3,500 employees in 30 countries.

The sale came as no surprise to industry experts. Forstmann Little -- which paid $750 million for the company in 2004 -- had been soliciting interest for IMG for more than a year, according to multiple reports.

Analysts liked the marriage of IMG and William Morris. IMG counts Peyton Manning and Gisele Bündchen among its talent roster; William Morris represents entertainment stars like Oprah, Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga.

Shervin Mirhashemi, chief operating officer of Legends Hospitality Management, a joint venture between the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys, told Bloomberg the combination of William Morris's roster of Hollywood stars and IMG's athletes and models makes for a "home run acquisition."

"It allows them to be a truly integrated solution for their clients across a diverse set of verticals," Mirhashemi said. "It will be interesting to see how the two companies and their cultures and people are integrated."

Billboard said the combined company could be a "one-stop shop for sports stars."

While they liked the deal, some analysts were underwhelmed by the $2.4 billion price tag. The New York Post said Forstmann Little had hoped to net at least $2.7 billion for IMG, but recent underperformance of the IMG College division put pressure on the bids.

Bob Gutkowski of the Innovative Sports & Entertainment advisory firm said IMG College might have been too aggressive in some of its multimedia rights bids for the 90-some schools and conferences it now represents.

"I think maybe they overpaid for the product," he told Bloomberg. "I think the market just wasn't as strong."

If you remember, before IMG won the WVU bid the first time, there was some anonymous speculation IMG might be willing to overpay for WVU so it could use the school to squeeze advertisers into subsidizing underperforming assets like Marshall and the University of Pittsburgh.

IMG and Marshall representatives both vehemently denied that accusation earlier this year.

While the New York Post reported IMG College's earnings had underperformed this year, company spokesman Andrew Giangola took to Twitter to refute that notion.

Giangola said that since it began in 2006, IMG College has grown its annual revenue from $0 to $436 million, with profits growing at a 38 percent compounded annual growth rate.

Silver Lake Managing Partner Egon Durban also said IMG still has "significant and untapped potential for growth," and said executives look forward to accelerating its existing growth plans.


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