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Sources say offers fall below $2.5 bil after contenders dig deeper into agency's books

The IMG auction shifts to its next phase as of today with three contenders having made second-round bids for the agency.

With today’s deadline for offers to be submitted, the pool of those pursuing IMG has winnowed to the three entities with the highest profiles in showbiz: WME and its private equity partner Silver Lake; Peter Chernin’s Chernin Group with CVC investment firm; and ICM and private equity giant Carlyle.

Bidders have been told by the bankers handling the sale, Morgan Stanley and Evercore, that a response could come as soon as this weekend but more likely by early next week.

IMG parent Forstmann Little had initially hoped to reap as much as $2.5 billion for the company that has disparate operations around the world in sports management and marketing, rights deals and talent management. Sources familiar with the situation said that as the process unfolded and bidders received more detailed financial information, IMG’s ongoing earnings were less rosy than the numbers shared at the outset.

Sources indicated that the Chernin Group/CVC bid would come in under the $2 billion threshold. Details on WME/Silver Lake or ICM/Carlyle could not be confirmed.

The IMG auction has the potential to shakeup the showbiz talent agency landscape as a deal for WME or ICM would take either agency into a host of new business sectors — such as event and tournament production overseas. At the same time, the deeper look behind the curtain has led to head-scratching among some bidders as the company is said to operate in a balkanized form with little coordination among its various parts. That could present upsides for a new owner to streamline operations, but it would also make for a more complicated integration process at the outset.

CAA, with its private equity partner TPG, had been in the early running for IMG but did not advance to the second round last month. In recent days, speculation has increased that CAA might try to buy a piece of IMG’s international sports marketing operations, to complement its existing sports biz, from the new owner once a sale transaction is completed.

A rep for IMG declined comment.

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