SBJ/May 27-June 2, 2013/Labor and Agents

Lagardère CEO: Sports to play large role in company’s growth

Liz Mullen
Lagardère SCA Chairman and CEO Arnaud Lagardère said he plans to grow his U.S. sports representation practice, Lagardère Unlimited, and is eying both acquisitions as well as ways to expand the company organically.

“We have conversations every day on ways to grow the business,” Lagardère wrote in a letter to SportsBusiness Journal this month. “I hold firm with my statement that I strongly believe that sports will play a large role in the future of Lagardère. I believe in it.”

Lagardère declined to comment on his specific discussions or targeted areas of growth. He indicated, however, that the company’s NFL practice, which represents about 70 players, including Eric Fisher, the No. 1 pick in last month’s draft, is the model he intends to replicate in other sports.

Arnaud Lagardère praised Joel Segal (left), the firm’s president of football, who celebrated at this year’s draft with Eric Fisher, Lagardère’s first No. 1 NFL draft pick.
Photo by: LAGARDERE UNLIMITED FOOTBALL
Lagardère SCA, a media and sports conglomerate, and one of the largest companies in France, launched its U.S. sports representation practice, Lagardère Unlimited, in 2010, when it acquired the former Blue Entertainment Sports Television. Prominent agent Joel Segal, who represents Fisher and the firm’s other football clients, became president of football at Lagardère Unlimited as part of that deal.

Arnaud Lagardère does not usually speak to the media, but responded to questions submitted in writing by SportsBusiness Journal earlier this month to talk about his plans in the U.S. sports business generally, as well as his personal reaction to representing Fisher, the University of Central Michigan offensive tackle who was selected with the first pick by the Kansas City Chiefs.

“To me, personally, Joel representing Eric Fisher is symbolic of what we strive to achieve every day here at Lagardère Unlimited,” he wrote. “It evidences what you can accomplish when you put the right people in place to lead and represents the market position Lagardère Unlimited will eventually find itself. … I was so proud of Lagardère Unlimited representing the #1 overall pick in the most popular sport in America. You may not know this, but I have a true love for American football.”

Segal, in a telephone interview, said that he speaks often with Lagardère about the NFL. “Arnaud and I have talked about football and he has favorite players and he has come to the Super Bowl,” Segal said. But Segal said he did not tell Lagardère beforehand that Fisher might go No. 1. “I knew we had a good draft coming, but I am also cautious,” Segal said. “I would rather underpromise and overdeliver.”

In addition to Fisher, Segal and Lagardère also represent wide receiver Tavon Austin, picked No. 8 by the St. Louis Rams, and linebacker Jarvis Jones, taken at No. 17 by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Lagardère, in a three-page letter dated May 17, praised Segal’s performance in the draft overall and said he expects him to remain with the company for many years. “As a company, in the U.S., we have only been together for just over 3 years. To have the #1 pick in our infancy sets a standard for what I expect from our other divisions for years to come. Joel has set a high bar.” (Segal agreed to a multiyear extension with Lagardère in January 2012.)

In his letter, Lagardère repeatedly praised Segal’s passion for representing clients and his people skills. “Joel has an amazing innate ability to relate to anyone in a room ­— whether that means the CEO of a company, an NFL owner, coach, or a prospect and his mom and dad,” Lagardère wrote.

“The sports representation business is a people business — I understand that,” Lagardère wrote. He said that although he intends to grow the company, finding the right people was key to future success.

In addition to its major NFL representation practice, Lagardère Unlimited represents tennis players, baseball players, basketball players and golfers. It acquired the former Gaylord Sports Management, a major golf rep firm, in 2012. Also in 2012, Dan Fegan, a prominent NBA agent who was part of Lagardère’s acquistion of BEST, left the company when his deal was up. (Fegan joined Relativity Sports this year.)

Since then there has been speculation in the industry that Lagardère would acquire a major NBA practice, and in April the New York Post reported that Lagardère was eyeing an acquisition of Excel Sports Management, a company that represents NBA and MLB players as well as golfers. In response to the report, Excel President Jeff Schwartz said there was no truth to Excel being sold to Lagardère or any other company.

Asked about that report, as well as speculation in the industry about Excel, Lagardère wrote, “As you can imagine, we do not speak publicly about the identity of any acquisitions or non-acquisitions.”

Lagardère said he has no intention of selling the U.S. sports business, and added that he has been approached by many people who wish to join Lagardère Unlimited. Although Lagardère would not divulge details, he wrote he is seeking out ways to complement the existing platform, either by expanding into new lines of business or growing existing divisions.
“If it is a good fit for the existing platform and future of our platform, we will act aggressively,” he said.

> AGENT SWITCH: Oklahoma wide receiver Justin Brown, a sixth-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers, has signed with agent Sunny Shah, owner and founder of 320 Sports. He was formerly represented by K Sports & Entertainment.

Liz Mullen can be reached at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.


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