WPP is placing a huge bet on the continuing appeal of sports content to both fans and marketers. It confirmed Tuesday that it is leading a syndicate investing $250 million in Bruin Sports Capital, a global sports marketing firm launched by George Pyne, the former president of IMG Worldwide’s global sports and entertainment business.
Pyne said last summer he was departing IMG -- in the wake of its acquisition by talent agent and program packager William Morris Endeavor for about $2.4 billion -- to form his own company backed by investors. At the time it was reported that he was looking to raise as much as $500 million to build and operate the new firm.
Bruin Sports Capital will build its portfolio by creating businesses as well as through acquisitions and investments in established sports marketing businesses, sports federations, leagues and franchises.
WPP will have a “preferred partnership arrangement” with Bruin Sports Capital that will allow its operating companies’ clients access to first-look media and sponsorship opportunities within Bruin’s businesses.
“WPP’s investment in sports and sports content through Bruin Sports Capital is an important part of its strategy, as it impacts new markets, new media, data investment management and the application of technology and horizontality,” said Sir Martin Sorrell, founder and CEO of WPP.
Sorrell added that Pyne, who was COO at NASCAR before joining IMG, “is a major talent in the sports business world and based on his track record, I’m confident that the clients who work with WPP’s operating companies will be given access to many high-value media and sponsorship opportunities. GroupM, our wholly owned media investment management company, manages over $100 billion in billings and there is growing interest on the part of clients to invest some of that portfolio in content and sport.”
The investment in Bruin Sports Capital is part of WPP’s growing commitment to content, with sports being a key part of its content strategy. In addition to GroupM Entertainment, WPP’s portfolio includes investments in MediaPro, CSM Sport & Entertainment, VICE, Indigenous Media, FullScreen, MRC and, most recently, the new China-focused CMC Creative Fund.
WPP already works with a large number of premium sports organizations and properties across its operating companies, including the IOC, FIFA, UEFA, Premier League, La Liga, F1, Manchester United, City Football Group, NASCAR, NBA, PAC-12, and the NFL. It also works with retired Brazilian football legends Ronaldo (via a partnership in 9ineSports & Entertainment) and Pele (via a partnership between GroupM and Legends 10, the exclusive global agent to Pele).
Pyne said that “Identifying unique opportunities, attracting world-class management teams, establishing a culture of innovation and creating real value is what will make up Bruin Sports Capital’s DNA. Bruin will be opportunistic and nimble in pursuit of its goals.” Pyne added that points of differentiation that will define Bruin Sports Capital include its “unparalleled access to the best deals; long-term, flexible capital; extensive operating expertise; strategic capital in WPP and other investors; and finally, our speed of execution.”