Understanding the Interesting Learfield-IMG College Merger Fact Sheet

October 6th, 2017 | by Dan Gale
Understanding the Interesting Learfield-IMG College Merger Fact Sheet
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merger

Yesterday was a hallmark day for the Learfield-IMG College merger and something both parties should be celebrating. Coming together on terms in such a timely manner shows the power of what the ‘Super Rights Holder’ can bring to the marketplace and the urgency of this alignment for both parties.

I do find it somewhat interesting that they would publish a document, the Learfield IMG College Merger Fact Sheet, that displays the benefits of the merger while also highlighting their competition. You would think a monumental merger like this would be cause for celebration, partying and bragging…right?!

Well, it’s not done yet…

Putting the ‘Fact Sheet’ together for public consumption is a strong preemptive strike against any Justice Department questioning and shows there may be some slight concerns internally. Most likely it is more concern about education of those in the Justice Department on the industry of multimedia rights, more so than the fear of it not being approved. IMG College has been down this road before during the acquisition of Host Communications and is likely releasing this to educate the Justice Department as an effort to expedite the process. The faster this process can be completed the sooner the increased effects can take place.

The ‘Fact Sheet’ provides a strong starting point and educational piece for those outside of the industry.

However, there are a few items on there that raise concern.

First, let’s review the advantages listed from the merger from the document:

Merger

With the exception of item five, I agree with almost all of these advantages and have highlighted them in past articles on this topic (What the IMG-Learfield Merger Could Mean for Schools and What a Super Rights Holder Could Mean For Brands). The increased job opportunities would only come after an initial restructuring. These would be developed if they were to acquire additional rights at new schools and grow their Campus+ model. These jobs would be at a lower pay grade than those removed during restructuring but does paint a nice picture on future opportunities. This is exactly what you would expect to see from a merger announcement.

Now let’s get to the interesting part…

merger

Highlighting the competition in the marketplace is a direct education strategy of the Justice Department. There can be no other explanation of why a business would highlight other opportunities for your target market. This would be like McDonald’s taking out an ad to show where the nearest Burger King was located after they merged with Wendy’s. The only reason you would even think of this is to show you aren’t the only restaurant in town to prove there is still ‘Competition’ as that is a main part of the Justice Department review. Even though you think and know you are the best option and control almost 90% of the Power Five market, there must appear to be another hamburger joint in town!

I 100% agree with item one and have mentioned this topic in many interviews and talks with Athletic Directors over the past couple weeks. The ‘Super Rights Holder’ is not the railroad, oil or the telephone but a service option. There is a lot of competition for the same marketing dollars and the ‘Super Rights Holder’ still must compete for dollars in the space.

What I find most interesting about this article are items 2 and 3. The information being given highlights the additional options available for schools. It lists the limited barriers to entry and how schools can even bring their rights in-house. I find this ironic as one of the main pitches to schools is how much easier it is to use the structure of Learfield or IMG College and how their knowledge and relationships are better than any of the competition. I have yet to hear a pitch where either of these properties pushed schools to go work on their own!

merger

Lastly, I find it very interesting that they would post the logos of the major schools in which their competition holds the rights and list this competition as ROBUST! The strategy of ‘Hey look, we don’t have everyone!’ is interesting when you should be announcing how great the merger will be for all your partners. This further shows the educational need focused on the Justice Department to ensure this goes through fast an easy.

However, the logos listed within the document raise some concerns as some of these logos still have relationships with either IMG College or Learfield currently and are even still listed on their website as partners! Let’s take a deeper look as I appreciate their use of an * to cover their bases.

Stanford- Yes, Stanford does technically handle their rights in-house, but Learfield still helps with the national sales, back office, and structure. There is a partnership with the University and it is still listed on the Learfield website.

Big Ten Conference- The Big Ten Network just announced they will be handling the conferences rights, but the team in place will stay the same and Learfield still has a partnership in place. Again, still listed on the Learfield website as a partner. 

Boston College- Boston College has split rights with Fenway Sports Group and IMG College handling their radio rights. Boston College is listed as a partner on IMG College’s website.

Brigham Young University- This is an interesting one as I have been told all the former IMG College staff from BYU are current university employees, but IMG College is still listed as the rights holder with radio and having a team still in place… what is it??

What does this mean?

The ‘Super Rights Holder’ (from here on referred to only as Learfield) has some educating to do of the Justice Department. They are going to try and get through this as fast as possible, as time is money.

While this education is happening, administrators in the athletics world need to prepare themselves for the upcoming transitions. The best thing an administrator can do is ensure you have reviewed your current situation and done a deep evaluation of your model to acquire the right knowledge for when this is officially done.

For those who are thinking of going out for bid, or contemplating changing your structure, the time is now as it is business as usual until all is said and done.

This appears to be moving faster than anyone thought possible and athletic departments need to be prepared for what that means to them!

Dan Gale About Dan Gale
Dan Gale has been working in and around college athletics for the past 15 years. He has worked in fundraising and operations at the University of North Carolina, Temple University and East Stroudsburg University. He spent the bulk of his career at CBS Collegiate Sports Properties in leadership roles at the United States Air Force Academy, Old Dominion University, Towson University and University of Maryland. Upon leaving college athletics, he spent four years in the private sector building companies focusing with college athletics in the areas of technology and secondary ticket sales. He is currently the President of Leona Marketing Group, helping athletic departments formulate their revenue generation strategies and negotiating their multimedia rights.

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