Ari Emanuel Burns CAA: "They're Still Stuck in the '90s"
The WME co-CEO dismissed the other agency during remarks at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen.
The agency wars are over — at least according to Ari Emanuel.
Faced with a reporter’s question about rival agency CAA at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen on Monday, the WME co-CEO responded with the verbal equivalent of a hand wave: “I don’t even think about them,” he said. “They’re a third of our size. I kind of think about them a third of the time. Ish.”
WME quadrupled in size and scope with the acquisition of IMG last year, growing to nearly 5,000 employees compared with CAA's 1,500-plus. Emanuel acknowledged that CAA was WME's top rival in the past, but no longer: "They're still stuck in the '90s."
Both agencies have been in an arms race to diversify, taking on outside majority owners to fund their rapid growth via acquisitions. For its part, WME sold a 51 percent stake to private equity firm Silver Lake Partners in order to finance its winning $2.4 billion bid for IMG. The gutsy merger also came with a substantial amount of debt, but Emanuel told Fortune moderator Adam Lashinsky that the financials were on track. "We’re ahead of the plan by at least 12 to 18 months," he said. "We’re ahead of schedule as it relates to the culture and people adapting to the new changes."
Emanuel also noted that the plan was for the agency to move away from the traditional representation practice: "When we started with the business, [IMG] was 70 percent representation and 30 percent in ownership of assets," he said. "We’re going to shift that about 5 percent to 10 percent. Buying businesses that we can own and operate as opposed to represent is crucial to how we’re going to create the mix of things we do."
Like CAA, WME has been on a buying spree. This year alone, it already has added Dixon Talent, MADE Fashion Week, Global eSports Management, ICON Sports Management, Artist Voice and Professional Bull Riders Inc.
Although Emanuel didn’t mince words when it came to CAA, he was more coy about the prospect of WME | IMG going public. "That’s probably an option," he said. "I’m not thinking about it right now. All I’m doing is operating the business."