WME-IMG Reveals New China Venture With Sequoia Capital and Tencent

THR Patrick Whitesell Ari Emanuel_THR_WME_0199 - H 2016
Miller Mobley

THR Patrick Whitesell Ari Emanuel_THR_WME_0199 - H 2016

The move comes as the talent agency and sports/fashion power aims to grow and diversify ahead of a possible IPO.

In another growth move, WME-IMG has inked a joint venture in China with some of the biggest players in the region.

Sequoia Capital is leading a new venture with WME-IMG, China web giant Tencent and private equity investor Fountainvest Partners, the companies announced Thursday. The value of the investments was not disclosed.

“WME-IMG has had a formidable foothold in China for a number of years,” said Neil Shen, managing partner of Sequoia Capital China in a statement. “With the incredible growth they have been experiencing domestically, we saw this as a perfect opportunity to help them replicate that success in China within both sports and entertainment”

Added Martin Lau, president of Tencent: “We believe there’s significant potential for WME-IMG’s impact in China. Given our popular Internet platforms, as well as network of relationships within media and entertainment, we are presented with a unique opportunity to help them optimize their growth strategy in our home market.”

WME-IMG, majority owned by private equity player Silver Lake, has been on a buying spree since talent agency WME paid $2.4 billion for the sports and fashion powerhouse IMG in 2014. The combined company, run by CEOs Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell, has diversified into several businesses, including a stylist agency, Professional Bull Riders, Miss Universe, eSports and others.

Earlier this year, the company took on additional investors in Japan's Softbank, which poured $250 million into WME-IMG, and Fidelity Management and Research, which added $55 million. Sequoia, a leading venture capital firm, is taking the lead on the China joint venture, and Tencent is considered key to the partnership because of its deep roots in the country.

WME-IMG is widely expected to pursue an IPO as it races rival CAA to grow larger and diversify beyond the traditional talent agency business.

The company already has a presence in China, which is fast becoming the world's most important media market. WME-IMG manages several golf and fashion events and Emanuel has a relationship with Alibaba chief Jack Ma.

“We have a deep history in China rooted in our sports business across areas as varied as events, media, representation and licensing,” said Emanuel and Whitesell in a statement. “Through Sequoia Capital China’s incredible effort in leading this consortium and creating this joint venture, we’re able to expand our business while embarking on new initiatives to create exciting opportunities for our clients and partners.”