Industry News

Learfield, IMG College merger can “safeguard” US college sport’s future

IMG College’s proposed merger with Paciolan-owner Learfield will be beneficial for both companies and the US college market according to a prominent sports academic.

Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sports Enterprise at Salford University, told SportBusiness International that the coming together of the sector’s two marketing giants means they can focus on the best interests of college sports rather than considering how to gain an advantage over their rival.

The merger, announced in October after months of speculation, is believed to be built around the idea it will take college sports to a new level, competing with other major sports and entertainment properties, from the NFL to Live Nation, for marketing dollars and ticket sales.

The two parties have worked as partners in IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions since 2012, and last year sold $10m (£7.5m/€8.3m) of football tickets, $1.3m of basketball tickets, 55,000 new football season tickets and raised $15m in donations for its college and university clients.

“Competing with one another in sports characterised by a strange dynamic – massive at home, but not overseas – is a zero-sum game,” Chadwick told SportBusiness International.

“One senses that collaborating for the greater good seems to be their chosen strategy; indeed, it is almost as though the integration of competences is something of a patriotic duty, intended to safeguard the future of college sports.”

In announcing the deal, Patrick Whitesell, co-chief executive of WME|IMG, said: “This merger will bolster the opportunities available for brands across the sports landscape and deliver greater value for our partner schools through enhanced services in areas including data, ticketing, and retail insight.

“We are confident that together we will better enable our partner institutions to generate much-needed revenue and look forward to furthering our investment in this space and generating enhanced value for collegiate sports.”

The IMG College division runs almost 90 universities and conferences, while Learfield, which recently struck a multimedia rights partnership with the Atlantic 10 Conference, has more than 130 college partners. Together, the two agencies manage rights for close to 90 per cent of the North American universities competing in the ‘Power Five’ conferences.

Image: D. Myles Cullen