SBD/February 4, 2014/Finance

Learfield Sports Acquires Nelligan Sports, Upping Stakes In Competition With IMG College

Learfield Sports has acquired Nelligan Sports, a deal that will move all of Nelligan’s 41 college properties under the Learfield banner and further consolidate the college sports marketing space. Learfield and Nelligan finalized the deal yesterday after months of negotiations and an announcement is being made today. New Jersey-based Nelligan, which has 85 employees, will immediately take on the Learfield name. Terms of the deal will not be released by the two companies. By adding the 41 schools that Nelligan represents, Learfield, which was bought by private-equity Providence Equity Partners in September, will own the multimedia rights to 92 schools in all. Among the properties run by Nelligan are Louisville, Marquette, Providence and Colorado State, as well as several mid-major and low-major schools. Learfield’s biggest rival, IMG College, owns the rights to 79 schools. Learfield President & CEO Greg Brown said, "In some cases, this will open up new markets for us. In other cases, it will further fortify what we’re doing. … Early on in our discussions with Providence, we identified some strategic opportunities that would be productive for our business. Nelligan is consistent with the business we’re already in. This was right down the middle of the fairway for us."

LOUISVILLE KEY TO DEAL: Learfield and IMG College remain the two powerhouses in college sports marketing, but Learfield’s acquisition of Nelligan certainly shifts the landscape in the college marketing space. Louisville clearly is the most prized property in Nelligan’s portfolio and brings even more value to Learfield, which already owns the marketing and sponsorship rights to the KFC Yum! Center. Brown said of the Louisville and arena properties, "We have done some packaging and cooperative selling in the past. There is absolutely going to be the opportunity to go out into the market and create even more value." Only two companies of any significance remain in the collegiate multimedia rights space outside of Learfield and IMG College. CBS Collegiate Sports Properties owns the rights to eight schools -- most prominently LSU, Utah, Virginia and Maryland -- while Front Row Marketing works with 11 schools. Michigan State is the lone school in the five power conferences that still manages its rights in-house.

NELLIGAN TO STAY ON
: Brown said that T.J. Nelligan, who founded Nelligan Sports in '99 and currently serves as Chair & CEO, will retain a leadership position and remain a primary contact for many of the schools that he originally signed. He added that there is not expected to be much attrition from the merger of the two companies. Like Learfield, Nelligan has a sales staff that operates on the campus of each of its school properties. The addition of Nelligan’s 85 employees will bring Learfield’s employee count to 485. Brown said, "We don’t have a lot of overlap." One of the primary differences between Learfield and Nelligan is the way they structure their contracts with the schools. Learfield typically pays the school an annual guarantee and then pays a revenue share once certain sales thresholds are met. Nelligan’s deals, with some exceptions, are profit shares with the schools.
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