UPDATED: WME/IMG is looking to grow its operations in China, setting a joint venture with Sequoia Capital China to help expand its activities in sports and entertainment.
The partnership is billed as an effort to “enhance and accelerate” WME/IMG’s growth in the world’s most populous country. China Internet giant Tencent and private equity firm FountainVest Partners are also participating in the investment, which was spearheaded by Sequoia Capital China. The size of the investments were not disclosed.
“WME/IMG has had a formidable foothold in China for a number of years,” said Neil Shen, founding and managing partner of Sequoia Capital China. “With the incredible growth they have been experiencing domestically, we saw this as a perfect opportunity to help them replicate that success in China within both sports and entertainment. This partnership is another example that Sequoia Capital China plays an instrumental role in helping leading Internet and media companies grow and expand in China.”
WME/IMG has a presence in China at present through its promotion of tennis and golf tournaments, fashion events and many other live events. It also has been growing its roster of China talent such as retired women’s tennis great Li Na and professional golfers ShanShan Feng, Xi Yu Lin, and Liang Wen-Chong. The company has also operated mass participation events like The Color Run and Tough Mudder and helped stage Shenzhen Fashion Week and other fashion events. It negotiated media rights for the Chinese professional soccer organization known as the Super League.
The relationship with Tencent will undoubtedly help open doors for WME/IMG-backed initiatives.
“We believe there’s significant potential for WME | IMG’s impact in China,” said Tencent president Martin Lau. “Given our popular Internet platforms, as well as network of relationships within media and entertainment, we are presented with a unique opportunity to help them optimize their growth strategy in our home market.”
WME/IMG co-CEOS Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell billed the deal as another effort to grow the company that has been dramatically transformed by WME’s 2014 union with IMG. The firm has been on something of a deal making spree of late. In 2015, it acquired Professional Bull Riders and the Miss Universe Pageant. In conjunction with Turner, it former a joint venture for an online sports league, ELEAGUE.
“We have a deep history in China rooted in our sports business across areas as varied as events, media, representation and licensing,” said Emanuel and Whitesell. “Through Sequoia Capital China’s incredible effort in leading this consortium and creating this joint venture, we’re able to expand our business while embarking on new initiatives to create exciting opportunities for our clients and partners.”
James Rainey contributed to this story.