SBJ/March 21-27, 2016/Labor and Agents

CAA Sports remains in buy mode

Acquires owners’ rep Icon Venue Group

CAA Sports has acquired Icon Venue Group, an arena and stadium project management firm that has overseen high-profile sports developments.

The acquisition launches CAA Sports into an entirely new business — acting as owners’ representatives in the building of major sports facilities. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

It also adds to the suite of offerings that CAA Sports can provide to potential clients — alongside its property sales, licensing, media rights advisory, and team mergers and acquisitions/corporate financing businesses — and gives CAA access to Icon’s dozens of current and former clients.

“We’re engaged directly by team owners, cities, stadium authorities, private developers that are in the business of building entertainment facilities,” said Tim Romani, CEO and founder of Icon Venue Group.

Icon Venue Group will keep its name and continue to operate under Romani. He and 70 employees of Denver-based Icon, including engineers, construction project managers and attorneys, have all joined CAA Sports as part of the deal.

“Not talking about the specific financials at all, this is a significant deal,” said Howard Nuchow, CAA Sports co-head. “This is a new line of business for us, but complementary to our existing businesses. This is a strategic acquisition for us that helps us to grow both domestically and internationally.”

Over more than a decade, Icon has worked on 38 stadium and arena projects, including London’s O2, Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin, Prudential Center in Newark and Sprint Center in Kansas City.

“What will be different is the ability for us to cover more ground for our clients.”
Tim Romani
CEO, Icon Venue Group

Photo by: ICON VENUE GROUP
Five more projects — new buildings T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Rogers Place in Edmonton and the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, plus renovation of BMO Field in Toronto and the second phase of the four-phase renovation of Wrigley Field in Chicago — will open this year.

Icon is working on 19 more projects in the design phase or under construction that stretch beyond 2015. Romani said he could not disclose all the clients for whom the company is working. Icon has one international project underway, for AS Roma. Icon’s other international business includes work on The O2 Arena in London and The O2 World Arena in Berlin, and a host of stadium consultancies globally.

Other firms that have worked as owners’ representatives in the sports facility business include PC Sports, Legends Global Planning and Brailsford & Dunlavey.

Nuchow called Icon the dominant player in the space, but said that was not the only reason for the acquisition. “Anytime we can do business with a market leader and it’s a good cultural fit for us, those are our perfect acquisition partners,” he said.

Nuchow and Romani have worked in the sports business their entire careers and have known each other, personally, for 20 years. The acquisition came out of that relationship and discussions they had starting a little more than a year ago.

They first began talking about the potential of working together on Feb. 4, 2015, at a meeting in Nuchow’s office in Los Angeles. Romani also has long-standing relationships with CAA Sports co-head Michael Levine and Paul Danforth, global head of sales. Romani met with Levine and Danforth in CAA’s offices in New York in the fall of 2015 and the talks became more serious, Romani said.

Since it was founded in 2007 by Creative Artists Agency, CAA Sports has expanded from talent representation to corporate consulting to hospitality to licensing and sports property sales. Nuchow said the acquisition complements CAA Sports’ property sales business, which has completed more than $3.5 billion in new sponsorship sales.

Icon Venue Group is the sixth strategic acquisition by CAA Sports in the past 10 months, joining licensing company, Fermata Partners, NFL player rep firm Five Star Athlete Management, corporate consulting firm Brandrapport and hospitality companies Goviva and Beyond Sports and Entertainment.

Nuchow said with Icon now part of CAA Sports they will look to build new businesses together with their combined resources, although he would not be more specific.

“Between Mike Levine and Paul Danforth and other areas of our company, we see complementary resources that we can add to Tim’s existing clients and his relationships to build businesses that we are excited about,” Nuchow said.

Romani started Romani Group from scratch by himself with two other employees in 2001. In 2004, he entered into joint venture with AEG to create Icon Venue Group. In 2012, Romani bought AEG’s stake.

Romani said he grew Icon by hiring people from the projects on which he worked, but he said there are still voids to fill for clients and that CAA’s reach can help with that.

“What will be different is the ability for us to cover more ground for our clients,” Romani said. “Having CAA in this journey and really providing the vision and the leadership for this going forward is going to allow us to take our level of client service to a completely new place.”

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