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William Morris Endeavor reaches deal to acquire IMG Worldwide

Peyton Manning is represented by IMG, which is being acquired by William Morris Endeavor Entertainment and its private equity partner Silver Lake.
Peyton Manning is represented by IMG, which is being acquired by William Morris Endeavor Entertainment and its private equity partner Silver Lake.
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Oprah Winfrey and Peyton Manning are about to be represented by the same company. 

William Morris Endeavor Entertainment  (WME) and private equity firm Silver Lake Partners have reached an agreement  to acquire IMG Worldwide (IMG).  Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it combines one of the oldest and best known representatives of Hollywood screen stars with a leading  representative of sports stars and fashion models. 

A statement announcing the deal called IMG Worldwide "a market leader in college and professional sports, event management, client representation, fashion and multi-media rights management."

"IMG has incredible strategic value  to WME," said WME Co-CEOs Patrick Whitesell and Ariel Emanuel in the statement.  "The brand's global reach, outstanding management team and leadership across sports, fashion and media are a strong complement to our business."  

Emanuel and Whitesell will serve as Co-CEOs of the combined company. 

"I think they look at this and say 'with all of this talent in our tent, what are the various content opportunities we can create, get our talent into, and ultimately create some equity for our talent and for ourselves,'" said Bob Gutkowski, Partner at Innovative Sports and Entertainment, which advises private equity firms on sports and entertainment transactions. 

Private equity firm Forstmann Little and Co. bought IMG in 2004. IMG represents star athletes like NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning, tennis champion Venus Williams and fashion model Gisele Bundchen, as well as music stars Justin Timberlake and Taylor Swift.  It also creates sports programming and manages major events, counting the NCAA among its partners. 

IMG Chief Executive Michael Dolan wrote about the acquisition in a memo to staff:

Together, we will have an unmatched client roster and strong relationships across sponsors, brands and broadcasters, as well as marquee assets in sports, events, film, television and fashion, leaving us better equipped to seize emerging growth opportunities. 

Media consultant Chris Bevilacqua said in acquiring IMG, William Morris Endeavor will better compete with its rival, Creative Artists Agency.

"I think this will be a new spectator sport watching these two guys battle it out," said Bevilacqua. 

Sports Lawyer Kenneth Shropshire says sports agents have been trying to get their clients into filmed entertainment for a long time. 

"You can go all the way back to the old LA Dodgers with  Don Drysdale and you would see him making guest appearances on shows like the Beverly Hillbillies," said Shropshire, who also heads the University of Pennsylvania's Sports Business Initiative. 

After acquiring IMG in 2004, Shropshire said Forstmann Little and Company actually trimming its client roster of individual athletes.

"Some people scratched their heads and said 'what can you do in sports if you don't represent individual athletes?'" said Shropshire.  "They went on to be very successful in creating things like representations of colleges and universities, in terms of how they monetize their sports programs."