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Volume 25 No. 64
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Japanese Ad Agency Dentsu Acquires 33% Stake In Football Agency Athletes First

Japanese ad giant Dentsu has acquired a 33% stake in Athletes First, whose 180 athletes, coach and broadcaster clients include Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and Eagles coach Chip Kelly. The transaction caps a multiyear search for a partner by Athletes First, which included merger talks with WMG last year. Instead, the firm will stay in the control of Chair & CEO David Dunn and President Brian Murphy, with Dentsu bringing its thousands of advertising clients as contacts for Athletes First. Dentsu has a small sports presence already in the U.S., but the Athletes First holding will be operated separately from that as Dentsu Sports LLC. Dentsu Sports Division GM Osamu (Sam) Urushido, who is based in Japan, is relocating this summer to work out of Athletes First's offices in Laguna Beach, Calif., to oversee the investment. Urushido said, "This is helping us get into American sports." Dunn and Murphy hope Athletes First with Dentsu's aid can expand beyond just football representation and become a more fuller service business that can offer sponsorship and corporate consulting. Dunn and Murphy in a joint statement said, "We look forward to drawing upon their expertise and resources to not only enhance our client services, but to also expand and diversify Athletes First." Dunn and Murphy formed Athletes First in '01. Murphy said, "We are a football agency and we have done this for 15 years. Having a partner like Dentsu enhances our level of client services, whether access to an international event like the Olympics or World Cup, or access to Japan." Dunn added that nothing will change in the football practice other than the additional opportunities afforded clients. He said, "I will still wear flip flops and have our Athletes First charity event. We are retaining our identity." The deal was brokered by Joe Ueberroth, managing partner of Bellwether Financial Group of Newport Beach, Calif.