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Volume 23 No. 29
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Wasserman gets $100M investment

Madrone Capital buys minority share in firm

Wasserman Media Group has received a $100 million investment from Madrone Capital Partners, a Silicon Valley-based investment group funded by the Walton family.

The investment is the second that Wasserman Media Group has taken since its inception in 2002. The organization received a $25 million investment from New York-based Highbridge Capital Partners in 2012 that valued the company between $225 million and $250 million. Wasserman Media Group founder Casey Wasserman bought out Highbridge’s stake in the company late last year.

The Highbridge departure made it possible for Wasserman Media Group to look for other investors, and Madrone Capital Partners emerged as an interested investor. The venture capital group finalized its $100 million investment early this summer.

Under terms of the investment, Wasserman will remain the majority shareholder of the company, sources said. Madrone Capital, which is led by Greg Penner, a Wal-Mart director, will have a seat on the Wasserman Media Group board.

Wasserman Media Group and Madrone Capital Partners declined to comment.

It’s unclear what the total value of Wasserman Media Group is based on the $100 million investment from Madrone. The sports and entertainment company plans to use the investment to fund organic growth and acquisitions. It is eyeing opportunities both in the U.S. and globally in markets such as South America and Europe, according to sources.

Wasserman built the agency through a series of acquisitions. Wasserman Media Group acquired the action sports agency The Familie in 2003, and Arn Tellem’s NBA and MLB player representation business in 2006. The company later bought SFX’s soccer business in the U.K., and eventually expanded into consulting by acquiring Raleigh, N.C.-based OnSport in 2007.

The company pushed into the media rights business in 2011 when it acquired U.K.-based Reel Enterprises, and last year it added experiential marketing capabilities by acquiring Ignite.

After years of funding most of those acquisitions himself, Wasserman took on a $25 million investment from Highbridge Capital to help underwrite future acquisitions and growth efforts. But Highbridge came back to Wasserman a year and a half later and asked for its money back.

“We have the greatest respect for Casey and the way he manages business,” said Cliff Friedman, Highbridge Capital operating partner. “We had capital needs at Highbridge and decided to take [our funds] in a different direction.”

Highbridge’s exit made it possible for Wasserman Media Group to look for another investor. Wasserman and Penner, who runs Madrone, are longtime friends, and that helped jump-start the investment conversation, sources said.

It is Madrone’s first investment in sports or entertainment. Madrone has been tracking the athlete representation, consulting and media rights business, according to sources, and saw the potential to help share in Wasserman Media Group’s future growth.

Madrone’s other investments include clean-technology company View Inc., which makes window-dimming glass, and Bloom Energy, a fuel-cell manufacturer.

Penner, who runs Madrone, is married to Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton’s granddaughter, Carrie Walton Penner. He graduated from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and previously worked as a senior vice president and chief financial officer of Wal-Mart Japan. He reportedly is in line to become chairman of Wal-Mart.