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Volume 22 No. 12
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CAA Sports buys Fermata

Firm has quickly made splash in college licensing

There were some new faces at Creative Artists Agency’s annual company retreat last week at La Costa Resort & Spa. Fermata Partners’ four co-founders were among those in attendance at the retreat, where they were introduced as the newest members of the CAA Sports team.

CAA Sports finalized its acquisition of Fermata, an Atlanta-based licensing agency, last week and the companies will make it official with an announcement this week.

“Quite simply, we fell in love with these guys from the moment we got to know them and we wanted them to be part of our team,” said CAA Sports co-head Michael Levine.

Neither side talked specifics financially, but Levine said that Fermata will retain its headquarters in Atlanta, its company name and its leadership while operating as a wholly owned subsidiary of CAA Sports.

“Even though we’ve had a pretty good run in our first three years, this move really helps to accelerate our future,” said Derek Eiler, one of Fermata’s co-founders and its managing director.

Fermata opened its doors in 2012 when the four co-founders — Eiler, Scott Bouyack, Chris Prindiville and Kit Walsh — who had become friends while working at Collegiate Licensing Co., left CLC to go into business together.

Fermata has picked up clients both in the college space and outside of it. Its early wins on the college side included the licensing business at Georgia, Kentucky, Miami and Oregon. Fermata also has signed a pair of Premier League soccer clubs, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, for their North American licensing rights.

Fermata’s new college clients, all of which have been signed in the last 10 months, position the agency as a formidable competitor against industry leader CLC, a division of IMG College. And the background of Fermata’s co-founders, who came from CLC, has only intensified the rivalry as they go after new and repeat business. Learfield Sports, meanwhile, has acquired two licensing agencies of its own in the last 10 months to create a division called Learfield Licensing Partners, adding to the competition in the collegiate licensing category.

It was the influx of new business, as well as Fermata’s executive team, that caught the eyes of CAA Sports co-head Howie Nuchow and Levine, who brought Fermata in to talk about a licensing partnership last year. CAA Sports didn’t have a specific licensing expertise at the time, even though the parent CAA has a licensing group.

In the last year, Fermata has worked to bring consumer products deals to CAA Sports’ collection of athletes as part of Fermata’s business outside of colleges. CAA Sports represents more than 1,000 athletes worldwide and has property sales and corporate consulting practices.

But it was even earlier that Levine first brought up the idea of bringing Fermata’s four co-founders on board.

“The first approach we made to have them join us, they didn’t have any clients,” Levine said. “This was always about the people. It’s great that they’ve had such success with so many globally relevant clients, but this was something that was built on trust and relationships over the last few years. … It wasn’t any one moment or event that led to this. Some relationships just evolve gradually and naturally.”

CAA Sports, launched in 2006, has been in acquisition mode over the past year, acquiring golf corporate consulting firm PGM, corporate hospitality firm Inside Sports & Entertainment Group and experiential marketing company PGW. Then last October, CAA announced that private investment firm TPG had increased its stake by infusing a reported $225 million to $250 million more into the Hollywood talent firm, providing even more resources for growth.

“With their global resources, global reach and depth of talent, it feels like they can help Fermata,” Eiler said. “Acquisition was never really in our pathway, but when we met the guys from CAA, it just felt right.”

Bouyack, Eiler, Prindiville and Walsh have each signed long-term employee agreements to continue in their current roles at Fermata.

“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” Levine said of keeping Fermata’s name and leadership in place. “We really try to choose leadership teams that don’t necessarily need our help but are eager to have access to the resources we can provide to accelerate their growth plan.”