WPP is forming a new global sports rights unit called ESP, the holding company confirmed Monday. It will work with sports teams, leagues, federations and other sports entities to maximize the value of their properties and other assets in the marketplace.
The unit, which is being organized under WPP’s media management arm, GroupM, has already picked up several clients including the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association and the City Football Group, which owns soccer teams in New York, UK, Australia and Japan.
Dominic Proctor, chairman of ESP and President of GroupM Global, said:
"The global launch of ESP Properties brings leading commercial and creative capabilities to some of the world’s most celebrated names across sports and entertainment. Sport is a driving force in media and we want to serve the market better by assisting rights holders in optimizing their properties and creating more winning partnerships with leading brands."
John Kristick has been named global CEO of ESP Properties. Previously, Kristick was global CEO of GroupM Entertainment & Sports Partnerships, an entertainment and sports consultancy unit that focuses on the sports-related content and sponsorship needs of brand clients. Much of that operation is being integrated into the GroupM media agencies, which include Mindshare, MEC, MediaCom and Maxus, although a corporate piece will remain intact at the GroupM level.
Kristick confirmed that ESP Properties will have over 150 staffers from the start (the official kickoff is Tuesday) because, in addition to some new talent, it is folding several existing WPP brands into the new company, most notably Chicago–based sports strategy consultancy IEG. Laren Ukman, IEG’s CEO and co-founder, has been named CEO of the North America region of the new company. “It’s a startup from a position of strength,” Kristick said, adding that IEG would be the “backbone” of the consulting side of the new ESP entity.
Also, WPP has just acquired control of London-headquartered sports marketing firm Two Circles, which will continue to be led by CEO Matt Rogan as a stand-alone unit within the ESP group.
As for its remit, Kristick said the company will help its rights-holding clients to “better understand their assets,” and help them optimize packaging, pricing and other go-to-market aspects of their properties.
Kristick also confirmed that ESP is working with the Cavaliers to sell sponsorships and rights outside of North America. With the sport’s popularity in many regions of the world, "they are in a good position" to exploit a portfolio of assets in overseas markets, he said.
Other regional ESP heads include GroupM’s Jonathan Hill, who will lead ESP in the EMEA region -- while another GroupM veteran, Jin Wei Toh, will oversee the company’s business in the Asia-Pacific region.
For WPP the move is the second recent foray into the sports marketing business. In January, the holding company led a $250 million investment syndicate for a new entity called Bruin Sports Capital, a global sports marketing firm launched by George Pyne, the former president of IMG Worldwide’s global sports and entertainment business.
And starting ESP also signals WPP’s growing interest in content development, 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, the China-focused CMC Creative Fund.
The startup is also the second investment in a sports-related operation by a holding company in as many weeks. Last week, Dentsu confirmed that it’s acquiring a one-third interest in Laguna Hills, CA-based sports agency Athletes First for $16.5 million.