WMA, Endeavor settle on WME Entertainment

The largest merger of tenpercenteries in Hollywood history is heading into the home stretch.

As of Sunday, WMA chief exec Jim Wiatt was expected to become chairman of the WME agency, while Endeavor’s Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell and WMA prexy Dave Wirtschafter will share a top leadership title.

Control of the combined agency is expected to largely be in the hands of the Endeavor alums, with Emanuel and Whitesell expected to continue their successful partnership as the top managerial stewards of agency operations.

WMA veterans will retain the reins of the departments where Endeavor is not as strong or has no presence, including the lucrative music, publishing and commercials departments.

WMA’s 20-member board of directors and Endeavor’s 28 partners are set to hold separate meetings today to vote on the deal, which is widely expected to be approved.

The two camps have settled on WME Entertainment as the moniker for the combined entity, after lengthy discussions of how best to reflect both agencies’ brands and legacies while also signaling the start of a new era. Although the acronym reflects the storied William Morris name, the merger will nonetheless mark the end of an epoch for Hollywood and the 111-year-old agency that grew up along with vaudeville, movies and the rise of the global entertainment biz.

There’s little drama about the outcome of today’s votes. Having come this far, both agencies have a lot to lose if the merger is derailed, WMA in particular. After all the angst stirred up by the expectation of massive layoffs and some WMA heavy hitters being left out of the top leadership echelon, the agency has had a hard time conducting business the past few weeks due to the uncertainty about its future (Daily Variety, April 24).

In fact, WMA and Endeavor were already starting to act as if they are soon to become one. It’s understood that Endeavor sent tech support staffers down the street to WMA’s headquarters last week to begin synching up files and figuring out how to make their respective computer systems compatible.

During the weekend, there was high anxiety among WMA agents who suspect they will not be asked to join the new venture. Though most haven’t been told one way or another — which left many at WMA feeling like they were twisting in the wind — insiders said the tenpercenters who expect to be let go face a conundrum: Do they wait to be laid off, so they can collect time on their contracts that might be as much as two to three years, or do they leave preemptively with as many clients as they can bring along? It’s no secret that Endeavor and WMA leaders were working the phones last week, trying to persuade clients to stay with the agency even if their individual agents may no longer be part of the combined organization.

Meanwhile, rival agencies are preparing to make their own moves in an effort to recruit agents and clients who will inevitably be on the market after the WMA-Endeavor union becomes official.

But even after today’s vote of the agency toppers, the merger won’t be 100% complete until it receives the necessary approvals from the states of California and New York in their capacity as regulators of agencies. It may also face an antitrust review from the Justice Dept.

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