IMG taps Albrecht for global media

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It took the sports powerhouse firm IMG to get Chris Albrecht back in the game.

Four months after a violent incident brought an ignominious end to his 22-year stay at HBO, Albrecht resurfaced Monday in partnership with financier Ted Forstmann to run IMG's media group and a new $250 million private-equity venture for media holdings that counts IMG as lead investor.

"This was an opportunity for me to do some of what I've done before, which is work with a great brand that had a great team," Albrecht said. "At the same time, it was a chance to do something a little different than I did at HBO."

In May, Albrecht was arrested after an altercation with a girlfriend outside a Las Vegas casino, an episode that led to his dismissal weeks later. He admitted to a drinking problem and began attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. "It's been a real learning experience for me," he said. "I've had a chance to do a lot of personal work."

Albrecht attracted interest from suitors offering new opportunities, though he declined to specify with whom he had discussions.

"It's been a real eye-opener," he said. "Twenty-two years at one place, even a place as dynamic as HBO, you forget there's a world outside. I was very flattered by the attention people showed me from the traditional media companies, friends, different financial institutions."

As a limited partner in Forstmann Little & Co., Albrecht brings yet another outside source of funding to Hollywood circles. In addition to attracting other investors to the fold, Albrecht will plot a strategic course that likely will see IMG make acquisitions and take stakes — potentially setting up the company itself for a buyout at the hands of a conglom the size of the one he came from, Time Warner.

Given speculation that Albrecht, HBO's former chairman and CEO, was bound to reappear at the helm of a studio or network, it came as a surprise that Albrecht landed at IMG, which is primarily known in the U.S. for its representation of top sports talent like Tiger Woods. But Forstmann envisions Albrecht generating stateside the lesser-known growth IMG has achieved internationally.

Among IMG's international holdings are TWI, Tiger Aspect, Darlow Smithson and Nunet. IMG has produced 11,000 hours of programming in more than 200 countries.

"As small as we are in America is how big we are not in America," Forstmann said. "This company has never had anything remotely like Chris Albrecht. I see this as one plus one equals four or five."

In Albrecht, IMG gets a veteran TV exec with arguably the most successful track record in recent decades. In addition to the string of hits he delivered at HBO including "The Sopranos" and "Sex and the City," he brings expertise in talent representation, having worked as an agent at ICM and as a manager. (Contrary to recent reports, Albrecht has no involvement in the upcoming "Sex and the City" film adaptation.)

In addition to working on potential acquisitions and investments, Albrecht's influence will be felt outside IMG's media area.

"While certainly we're not going to interfere with successful businesses in which IMG is such a major player, I would like to see if the media group can help to utilize those relationships and help all of the different divisions of IMG," he said.

To illustrate how Albrecht could impact IMG, Forstmann offered the example of Heidi Klum, star of the Bravo series "Project Runway" and a client of the firm. He recalled with regret that IMG knew of her interest in doing TV but was unable to capitalize.

"We had a media group that was focused on totally different things, not adept at producing things," he said. "Now she's got 'Project Runway' with someone else. That's a very good example of what's not going to happen anymore."

Forstmann acquired IMG in 2004 for $750 million after having bought and sold companies including Gulfstream Aerospace and General Instrument. Albrecht will take an undisclosed share in the company, but is not putting up any of his own money in the new fund.
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