WME-IMG Gets $250 Million Softbank Investment at $5.5 Billion Valuation

Courtesy of WME
Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell

Silicon Valley private equity power Silver Lake incurred considerable debt to acquire IMG in 2014 for $2.4 billion.

Japanese telecommunications and Internet giant SoftBank is investing $250 million in WME-IMG. The investment values the talent agency and sports and fashion conglomerate at more than $5.5 billion.

"We're thrilled to welcome industry leader SoftBank to WME-IMG," read a joint statement from agency co-CEOs Ariel Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell. "SoftBank brings a unique industry perspective and a commitment to help us deliver valuable new opportunities to our clients and partners in markets around the world."

WME and its majority owner, Silicon Valley private equity power Silver Lake, incurred considerable debt to acquire IMG in 2014 for $2.4 billion, outbidding other suitors by more than $300 million. The new valuation suggests that bet is paying off, at least from the investor perspective.

"Ari, Patrick and the rest of WME-IMG's talented management team have a strong record of performance and transformation at the intersection of entertainment, sports and fashion," read a statement from SoftBank Director Ron Fisher. "We look forward to supporting WME-IMG as it advances the next phase of its growth, further developing and driving its client and content offerings."

The Financial Times first reported the investment news.

Like rival mega-agency CAA, WME-IMG has grown rapidly and diversified in the past several years, taking on private money to expand into sports, fashion, e-sports and other areas via a major buying spree.

Beverly Hills-based WME-IMG has brought on board celebrity stylists via its acquisition of the Wall Group and purchased the Professional Bullriding Tour and the Miss Universe pageant, among other assets.

Meanwhile, SoftBank has become an active player in Hollywood under president and former Google executive Nikesh Arora.

In 2014 it invested $250 million in Legendary Entertainment after talks to acquire DreamWorks Animation fell through. It also picked up niche streaming video service DramaFever for $100 million.

This year it has flipped both of those purchases, selling DramaFever to Warner Bros. and, along with other Legendary investors, cashing out its stake in the studio as part of China's Dalian Wanda Group purchase (rumored to be priced at $3.5 billion). SoftBank also struck a partnership deal with Netflix when the service launched in Japan last fall.

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