SBJ/April 30-May 6, 2012/Media

IMG in talks to buy roughly one-third of Bloomberg Sports

IMG is in talks to invest $6 million to $8 million in Bloomberg Sports, a move that would give the global sports and entertainment company a minority stake in Bloomberg’s fast-growing fantasy and professional sports management group.

If completed, the deal will value Bloomberg Sports at more than $20 million and give IMG roughly a third of the company, according to sources familiar with the talks.

IMG declined to confirm or deny whether it was in talks with Bloomberg Sports, but sources with knowledge of the situation said the two parties have had conversations. Bill Squadron, who heads Bloomberg Sports, declined to comment on IMG.

“We’re having a lot of success with the business and looking at all different options to grow, but it would be premature to discuss anything specific,” said Squadron, who worked at IMG from 2004 to 2006 as head of IMG Media’s interactive operations in North America.

Bloomberg began developing sports-related products in 2008. The goal was to develop a system that gave baseball general managers and fantasy sports enthusiasts access to high-end research and analytics comparable to the wealth of real-time financial data Bloomberg offers financial firms.

The company holds data and marketing partnerships with both MLB.com and NFL.com on its fantasy products, Decision Maker and Front Office, and more than 20 MLB clubs use a professional-grade version of Bloomberg analytics to evaluate players and opponents. Earlier this year, Bloomberg signed an extensive deal with the Chicago Cubs, the company’s largest with any individual MLB club, in which the Cubs will use the Bloomberg platform along with video assets to scout both major and minor league players on a wide variety of digital platforms. Bloomberg also offers a tablet-based application that baseball players can use to analyze a pitcher’s or hitter’s habits and that provides real-time data during games to broadcasters like Fox and Turner Sports. While Bloomberg Sports continues to see strong inroads with its professional side of the business aiding teams and networks, there remains by definition a finite number of potential customers. The consumer-based fantasy sports side of the business, as a result, remains the larger potential avenue for growth.

Bloomberg Sports executives always have seen the U.S. as a starting point and have long thought the company has a big opportunity to grow by expanding internationally into sports such as soccer and cricket. That’s part of the reason taking on IMG as a minority partner makes sense, sources said.

IMG has offices worldwide and can help Bloomberg Sports make connections to expand into international markets. Those global opportunities are largely what appealed to IMG about the deal, sources said.

Expanding into international sports could be lucrative for Bloomberg Sports, beyond the mere reasons of additional scale and the significant global popularity of soccer and cricket. Betting on sports is legal in the United Kingdom and other countries, and though sources said Bloomberg Sports would never itself become a platform for betting, its up-to-the-minute analysis and information on sporting events could be a major asset for bettors overseas.

The company plans to launch its first international product this summer when it debuts a fantasy data tool for English Premier League fans. Though not as firmly established as American fantasy football based on NFL play, fantasy soccer based on the EPL has seen a strong increase in fan interest in the last two years.

“Internationally, you’ve got a much greater scope in a lot of sports like soccer, cricket and Formula One,” Squadron said. “We’ve been interested in that from the beginning.”

IMG could integrate Bloomberg Sports data into the 20,000 hours of media it produces from events like Wimbledon and rugby and distributes to global broadcasters. It also could use it to develop a fantasy offering for the Indian Premier League, the cricket league it helped develop in India.
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