SBJ/Jan. 17-23, 2011/Colleges

IMG adds DiFebo Co. to collegiate arsenal

IMG College has acquired The DiFebo Co., a ticketing consultancy and outsourcing business that will be wrapped into a new division of the burgeoning college division.

Matt DiFebo’s company will become part of IMG College Business Ventures, a newly named umbrella for all of IMG College’s units not related to its core businesses of multimedia rights or licensing.

Mark Dyer, the former NASCAR executive and IMG projects leader, will head the new business ventures division as senior vice president of IMG College. He will report directly to IMG College President Ben Sutton.

Janeen Lalik, the longtime Sutton lieutenant, will report to Dyer as the business ventures vice president of business development.

IMG acquired Sutton’s ISP for $100 million last year and the two companies have been working on integration ever since.

The creation of business ventures, along with an expanded national sales team, represents Sutton’s first tangible departmental restructuring.

DiFebo’s ticketing will be one of four lines of business that report to Dyer, along with events and hospitality, stadium and arena planning and financing, and stadium seating.

The latest move puts IMG College in the same ticket outsourcing space as Bernie Mullin’s The Aspire Group and Learfield Sports. Terms of the DiFebo acquisition were not available.

“We live the college business every day, so there are going to be great opportunities to grow the core business, as well as these business extensions,” Dyer said. “We see a real need for the ticketing business as universities are under a lot of pressure with staffing, payroll and the need to generate additional revenue from ticketing.

“Ticketing revenue is the biggest variable revenue item that athletic departments have. You’ve got to retain the customers you’ve got and find new ones.”

The business ventures division is central to IMG’s attempt to drive additional revenue out of the college space. IMG Chairman Ted Forstmann’s bullish outlook on colleges has brought about more than $300 million in acquisitions, from Collegiate Licensing Co. to Host Communications, ISP Sports and now DiFebo’s ticketing company.

Forstmann told SportsBusiness Journal last month that profit from IMG College will soon be as much or more than all of IMG’s other divisions combined. College already accounts for a third of the company’s overall profit, according to sources at the company, and in just two years it will be half or more, they project.

In addition to the new units, Lawton Logan, senior vice president of U.S. business development, is building a beefier national sales team of 15 to 20 people that will sell IMG College’s 85 schools as a national buy. Revenue increases are expected there as well.

“These new business extensions in the college space are very exciting,” Dyer said. “We’ve built a large franchise in colleges and we’re going to continue to grow it and be innovative in finding new business.”

DiFebo, who will move into IMG College’s headquarters in Winston-Salem, N.C., founded his company in 2009 and came at this as a former athletics administrator at Central Florida, so he said he understands the pressures faced by the schools. He will continue with IMG as chief of the ticketing division, although an exact title has not been finalized.

DiFebo’s company worked with several university clients as a consultant and set up a fully outsourced ticketing operation at schools such as Temple and South Alabama. His primary competition is The Aspire Group, whose clients include Georgia Tech, as well as pro teams.

“It’s about providing a fully customized approach that puts us proactively at work in the marketplace,” said DiFebo, who added that ticket sales at many schools often do not progress past answering the phones. “We work with the schools on renewals and retention, partial season-ticket plans, group sales and their ticketing operations. The things that have prevented schools from doing this in-house are that they couldn’t hire the staff and they couldn’t pay commissions and bonuses. We’re going to be there to meet the needs with incentive programs.”

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IMG’s new ticketing model will put call centers in the athletic department to call on the school’s database of alumni and followers within the community to proactively pursue sales, rather than waiting on calls to come in.
While many administrators have warmed to outsourcing their sales and marketing, many remain reluctant to outsource ticketing.

“Tickets are such a personal transaction,” said Mal Moore, Alabama’s athletic director. “You’re dealing with your donors, you’re dealing with your former players. I think you need more of a personal touch that you can only deliver in-house.”

Still, IMG sees potential in the ticketing business, which will be available to IMG’s client and nonclient schools.
The model typically calls for the ticketing company to share revenue with the school. The companies often assist with the cost of implementing a call center.

“With IMG, we’ll be able to put a lot more resources behind this,” said DiFebo, who was deep into talks with Sutton about an ISP acquisition when IMG came along and bought both. “We’ll focus with the schools on sales and staffing strategies.”

The other units within business ventures include:

• Events and hospitality: Led by senior vice president Shea Guinn, this group chiefly works with the ancillary events at NCAA championships, most notably the Final Four Bracket Town.

• Stadium and arena: Senior vice president Steve Moore leads the planning, financing and construction arm of IMG College. This group includes the Legends joint venture with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees, which specializes in premium-seat sales and whose clients include the Rose Bowl and the University of Connecticut’s football stadium.

• Seating solutions: Brought over from ISP, this business led by John Hite rents seat-back chairs to fans in stadiums with bleacher seating. The client list is more than 20 schools long, including Duke, Florida State and South Carolina.

“We’re constantly evaluating other opportunities,” Dyer said. “We turn down a lot more than we acquire. But we’re really going to be focused this year on executing effectively what we’ve got. We’ve got tremendous resources behind it.”

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