SBJ/Nov. 4-10, 2013/Labor and Agents

Andy Pierce pushing to grow Lagardère

Three months into the job as Lagardère Unlimited’s first president and CEO, Andy Pierce is engaged in multiple, active discussions to expand its talent representation business, as well as working to build corporate consulting and media advisory practices.

“There are lots of conversations going on in all different sports,” Pierce said, in his first interview since joining Lagardère Unlimited in August. He said growth could come through acquisitions or in new hires as he embarks to carry out the plans of his boss, Lagardère Group Chairman and CEO Arnaud Lagardère, to be a global market leader.

“We are part of a company that wants to make sports a priority,” Pierce said. “We are part of a big company with a big balance sheet that wants to look at any smart ideas. We are trying to make judgments on what to do and in what order, but there are no constraints on us, whatsoever.”

Last week, the agency made its most aggressive move since Pierce was hired when it announced a number of transactions into the golf space, acquiring the golf practice Crown Sports Management while also hiring golf agent Jay Danzi. The moves boosted the company’s roster of PGA Tour player clients from 24 to 43. In addition, Lagardère brought on two other seasoned executives as consultants. Charley Moore, who will continue on as operating partner at Falconhead Capital, will help build a golf consulting practice in North America, and Roddy Carr, of Dublin-based Carr Golf Travel, will work on building a consulting business in Europe and Asia.

The moves meshed with Lagardère’s acquisition of Gaylord Sports Management last year and have made the agency a global leader in the sport in a very short time. But Pierce added, “We are not done in golf,” although he did not provide details on future growth.

Pierce stressed that this was just the start of a business development strategy across multiple areas of sports business and that he hoped to announce another deal by the end of this year.

“We are looking at all other sports,” Pierce said. “Sports that we are both in and sports that we are not in. We are doing all of this concurrently.”

Lagardère’s NFL player representation practice counts about 70 NFL players as clients and is run by veteran agent Joel Segal. Pierce says, “We are looking at how do we help [Segal] become better, bigger.”
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
In addition to targeting talent representation, Pierce is drawing on his previous experience in looking at building a major corporate consulting division, as well as media advisory services.

Pierce has a history with that space as he formerly ran IMG’s corporate consulting division from 2001 to 2009, and all of Lagardère’s major competitors each have such a division, which is considered important because of its access to brand side clients. Lagardère currently has some corporate consulting, as well as media rights consulting, but Pierce wants to expand on that and sees media advisory as a fertile area with the growth in rights fees and new platforms.

Bob Basche, principal of Connect Sports & Entertainment, a Stamford, Conn.-based corporate consulting and implementation agency, said there are challenges in building a corporate consulting practice, including that there are many competitors, both companies and individuals. “There are many advertising and media agencies that are trying to do this through the acquisition of talented executives and smaller companies,” he said.

However, Basche noted, “If the company had a great reputation already in the sports business, they could use that as a platform to develop a consulting business.”

Pierce said that both corporate consulting and media advisory divisions could be expanded through acquisitions, hires or organic growth and will be based in New York, where Lagardère is actively shopping for new offices for a U.S. headquarters. Currently, Lagardère Unlimited is based in New York, with offices in Los Angeles, Scottsdale, Ariz., and Washington, D.C.

“What we are doing is turning a very good talent agency into a global sports agency,” Pierce said. “What we are doing is adding the services and capabilities on top of a talent agency which vertically integrates what we have and makes us better.”

Lagardère brings to bear a strong talent representation business in football and tennis, as well as management of three ATP tennis events. It’s against that backdrop that Pierce sees opportunities.

Pierce would not discuss any specific companies or people Lagardère was targeting. Having just joined in August, he admitted he was still in a process of evaluating the areas in which the company might grow.

Similar to its strategy in golf, where it looked to strengthen existing practices, Pierce is looking to expand tennis and soccer, where the company already has a major presence.

The same could be said about Lagardère’s NFL player representation practice, which counts about 70 NFL players as clients and is run by veteran agent Joel Segal. “Obviously we love our football practice in the U.S.,” Pierce said. “We are looking at how do we help [Segal] become better, bigger.”

Lagardère has what Pierce described as a “limited” presence in representing MLB players and hockey players. He said Lagardère is evaluating whether to expand those practices, which are highly competitive, as well as developing a presence in basketball.

“We don’t think it makes sense to be in [a sport] in a limited way,” Pierce said. “We should either be first or second in this business or we shouldn’t be in it.”

Pierce joined Lagardère Unlimited after working more than 30 years in the sports business, the last four years at CAA and the previous 27 years at IMG.

He noted that while Lagardère has stated publicly that it would not be a bidder for IMG, he is, like most in the industry, watching the IMG sale closely. “A change at IMG will mean something,” he said, and added, without being specific, “It will mean a little or a lot, depending on who buys them.”

He added that if the winning bidder wanted to sell off parts of IMG, Lagardère could potentially be interested.

“Obviously it is theoretically possible that Lagardère would be interested in parts of IMG — if they were for sale — but that is a hypothetical,” he said.

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