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Ari Emanuel Slams CAA as ‘Stuck in the 90s,’ Talks WME/IMG Performance

WME/IMG is focused on broadening its asset base and expanding IMG’s ownership of content, co-CEO Ari Emanuel said Monday at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo.

He also took a swipe at CAA, asserting that WME’s rival is “still stuck in the 1990s” and that he no longer sees them as a fierce competitor. “I compete with them on three things. I kind of think about them a third of the time – ish,” Emanuel said when asked to comment on the recent round of agent defections out of CAA.

IMG’s financial performance is pacing 12 to 18 months ahead of the financial projections laid out after its 2014 acquisition by WME, Emanuel said during the joint interview held with his brother, Chicago Mayer Rahm Emanuel.

“We’re in great shape right now. We’re ahead of the plan by at least 12 to 18 months,” Ari Emanuel said. “We will hit every number, we will exceed every number that was planned.”

Emanuel was pressed by moderator Adam Lashinsky of Fortune about the steep $2.4 billion pricetag that WME paid for IMG and his vision for growing the company. Emanuel said there’s a big focus on balancing IMG’s representation business with ownership and distribution of content.

“When we started with the business (IMG) was 70% representation and 30% in ownership of assets,” Emanuel said. “We’re going to shift that about 5% to 10%. Buying businesses that we can own and operate as opposed to represent is crucial to how we’re going to create the mix of things we do.”

Emanuel was noncommittal on the possibility of an IPO when pressed by Lashinsky.

“That’s probably an option,” he said. “I’m not thinking about it. All I’m doing is operating the business.”

The initial work that needed to be done at IMG after the acquisition was to break down the company’s many silos and encourage them to work collaboratively — in the same fashion as WME’s famously teamwork-oriented culture. That inevitably meant some shakeups among the staff and streamlining of redundant departments with WME.

“We’re ahead of schedule as it relates to the culture and people adapting to the new changes,” he said.

Adding IMG to the mix has vastly broaden the size and scale of WME/IMG, making it an attractive partner for advertisers with its activity in sports, fashion and food events, coupled with WME’s heft in film, TV, music, publishing and digital.

IMG recently inked sponsorship pacts with Visa and Lexus that have a global focus. “Advertisers want to come to our company. We have the ability to deliver on multiple fronts,” he said. “We can help give them perspective about sports on a global basis.”

IMG’s recent acquisition of the Professional Bull Riders is a good example of an entity that will benefit from the WME/IMG and allow the company to build up an asset that it owns outright.

Emanuel said that when he started out as an agent more than 25 years ago, he admired IMG founder Mark McCormack, the legendary MCA mogul Lew Wasserman and CAA co-founder Mike Ovitz. With the union of WME and IMG, financed by the company’s majority owner, Silver Lake, Emanuel feels as though he’s reached the heights of his idols and added the important component of being a player in global advertising deals.

“We’re a unique asset in the changing landscape of entertainment and distribution systems,” he said.

Emanuel was pressed to comment on CAA by Sharon Waxman, CEO and editor-in-chief of the Wrap, who was in the audience. She tried to get Emanuel to confirm that WME was behind the placement of posters in Beverly Hills and Century City in 2013 that needled CAA by adapting the agency’s logo into the phrase “CAANT.” But Emanuel didn’t take that bait.

“I thought it was creative, whoever did it,” he said with a grin.

 

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