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Hollywood Shows Interest in Sports Powerhouse IMG

With the deadline this week for the first round of bidding for IMG Worldwide, the focus in the industry is whether any number of entertainment players would emerge as a serious suitor for the sports marketing powerhouse.

CAA and WME Entertainment were expected to submit bids with their respective private equity partners, TPG and Silver lake, and Peter Chernin was said to be partnering with an international entity in a proposal. Others in the running are said to be a number of private equity firms, as well KKR.

Spokesmen for both agencies declined comment, and a spokesman for Chernin had no immediate comment.

Observers have long put the price tag for the sports event management and marketing giant, which reps NFL superstar Peyton Manning, at around $2 billion, which its investors put on the market following the death of Forstmann Little chief Ted Forstmann in November, 2011.

IMG is a venerable and unique brand in sports and will no doubt attract a number of bids from strategic and financial investors, especially in light of the recent successful sale of Learfield,” said Joseph Calabrese, chairman of the O’Melveny & Myers’ entertainment, sports and media practice.

Earlier this month, private equity firm Providence Equity Partners made a deal to acquire a majority stake in Learfield Communications, which marketing rights to sports at more than 50 universities. Although a sales price wasn’t disclosed, Providence reportedly paid a premium for its stake.

Although it handles major sports figures, IMG’s particular strengths are in college sports and international event production. For example, it handles retailing and licensing for the All England Lawn Tennis Club, which organizes Wimbledon. Its IMG College wing works with the NCAA and others on marketing, ticketing, licensing and brand management for more than 200 college sports properties in the U.S.

IMG, launched in 1960, when founder Mark McCormack made a handshake representation deal with Arnold Palmer, has grown into a sports event management and marketing giant.

CAA, with private equity partner TPG, has been considered one of the likeliest bidders ever since word surfaced that IMG would be put on the block. CAA Sports is one of the largest agencies in the sports world, with more than 800 athletes, as well as coaches, on-air broadcasters and sports personalities, and it has a property sales and sponsorship division with clients that include Madison Square Garden and the San Francisco 49ers.

WME Entertainment, with its private equity partner Silver Lake, does not have a separate sports entity, but represents clients like Michael Strahan and Tim Tebow in off-field hosting, marketing and endorsement deals.

Chernin’s company, The Chernin Group, landed $100 million last year from Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, adding to the $100 million raised from Providence Equity Partners.

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