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Volume 20 No. 42
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Future look of IMG still unclear, but big transformation is coming

Editor’s note: This story is revised from the print edition.

Everyone wants to know what the new William Morris Endeavor/IMG will be called and what it will look like.

While all of those answers haven’t yet come to light, there are early indications of what IMG’s new owners intend to do with their $2.4 billion acquisition.

Once the deal closes in three to six months, WME co-CEOs Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell will take over IMG operations. The impending transformation will completely change the look of the sports business.

According to multiple sources, what’s left of IMG’s agents, largely in media, golf and tennis, is expected to fold into WME’s talent representation. WME’s Jill Smoller, the agency’s primary sports talent representative, works with Serena Williams, Kevin Garnett, Andy Roddick and others.

IMG’s other lines — licensing, college, consulting, national sales, events and academies — likely will be brought together to form a WME sports division, sources said.

WME has offered to retain IMG Sports & Entertainment President George Pyne and IMG College President Ben Sutton. They were both expected to make a decision in the coming weeks about their future with the company. In a statement, Emanuel and Whitesell praised IMG’s management team and said the company’s “leadership across sports, fashion and media are a strong complement to our business.”

Sources said that Pyne and Sutton most likely would be put in charge of the sports enterprise. Emanuel will oversee all of the agents.

IMG Chief Executive Officer Mike Dolan is not expected to remain with the company. He declined requests for comment.

WME’s immediate focus will be on growing IMG Media’s business and expanding its talent representation. On the media business, which posted more than $70 million in earnings this year, WME sees opportunities to increase earnings by acquiring and creating more content. Emanuel is expected to be heavily involved in that aspect of the business because of his passion for it, sources said.

WME wants to push back into talent representation by recruiting new athletes and hiring additional agents, possibly through more acquisitions. It hopes to use its deep ties to the entertainment world to help it recruit players.

The company sees opportunities to replicate the success it has had with current client Michael Strahan. When the former Giants defensive lineman retired, WME arranged for him to join Fox’s NFL pregame show and replace Regis Philbin on “Live! With Regis and Kelly.”

IMG’s college business has grown from $10 million in earnings four years ago to close to $70 million in 2013. The 1,000-employee college division was formed through more than $300 million in acquisitions to buy Collegiate Licensing Co., Host Communications and Sutton’s former company, ISP Sports.

IMG College has grown to become close to 40 percent of the company’s overall earnings, and it’s the most foreign to WME’s leadership, which is why Whitesell and Emanuel have pushed to retain Pyne and Sutton. Pyne was the architect of IMG’s college business, and Sutton has led it since IMG acquired ISP in 2010.

IMG College has expanded from a multimedia rights and licensing business into ticketing, seating and fundraising. Those new lines represent close to 12 percent of the earnings in the college division, and they’re expected to spur further earnings growth in the future.

There also could be the possibility for further expansion into the college business, most notably in digital rights, where IMG typically outsources those rights to the College Network or NeuLion.

In the meantime, IMG has told its college clients that it’s business as usual.

Other lines of business within IMG are more likely to see a shake-up in the near term.

Presently, the tennis and golf businesses operate in their own silos. That almost certainly will change. WME is said to see an opportunity to cut costs out of the business lines by separating event management from talent representation and letting an event management group run golf, tennis and all of IMG’s other events.