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SBD Global/October 11, 2013/Finance

Leaders In Sport: WPP CEO Says Company 'Can't Afford' To Bid For IMG

WPP CEO Martin Sorrell said the ad giant can't afford an IMG bidding war.
Advertising agency WPP has ruled itself out of the running for IMG, believing its rumored $2.5B price tag is too high to justify a bid, while WPP CEO Martin Sorrell believes the sports sponsorship market is being undermined by the short shelf life of senior execs. Sorrell, speaking at Thursday’s Leaders in Football conference in Chelsea, ruled out WPP from making a bid for IMG, saying “We would love to own IMG,” but when asked if WPP was bidding, Sorrell responded "No, we can’t afford it." IMG was founded by Mark McCormack in '60. It is now up for sale by Forstmann Little following the death of owner Ted Forstmann in '11. Sorrell said, “People are talking about 2 to 2.5 (billion dollars). They are talking about 20 bidders, 10 bidders going into the second round. That’s nose-bleed territory for us.” Some observers believed WPP could be a possible bidder for IMG, as it has significant interest in sports through its businesses such as Hill & Knowlton, and has significant advertising and media partnerships in the media arena. Sorrell said he was betting on Silver Lake, the private equity company, and entertainment company William Morris Endeavour as favorites to acquire IMG. Other bidders are said to include private equity firm KKR.

EXEC TURNOVER HURTS BUSINESS: Separately, Sorrell hit out at the high turnover of senior execs, particularly CEOs and CMOs in the U.S., arguing it was to the detriment of the sports sponsorship business. Sorrell said, “The average CEO lasts for about four, four and a half, five years. It is too short a time. The average CMO in America lasts two. That is too short a period. Decisions get made, CMOs get replaced and whole momentum changes. The single most important factor is consistency. The real key is consistency. Consistency is critically important.” While Sorrell pointed to the examples of Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble as examples of companies that have sustained investment in sports sponsorship around big events such as the Olympics and World Cup, he said other companies were guilty of dipping in and out. Sorrell added, “It is very difficult, the short term attraction of a shirt deal or stadium deal. Is that going to be long-term? The key thing is to sit down and look at what your business is trying to do and decide that this is one of the vehicles that will get you to where you want to go, and do it long-term on a consistent basis. The problem is that people dip in and out.”
John Reynolds is a writer in London.
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