IMG deal makes TV sports rights hot properties again

IMG, the sports and media management agency which represents Tiger Woods and Maria Sharapova (pictured left at the Australian Open), and which is already the BBC’s biggest external programme supplier, has bought CSI Sports and so acquired the television rights for clients including the Football Association and the England and Wales Cricket Board.

The news comes as, separately, the FA Premier League has secured an overseas TV rights deal worth £625 million that will enable it to pay clubs relegated from the Premiership around £30 million – or the same amount champions Chelsea won last season.

The IMG purchase of CSI, for an undisclosed amount, sees the west London-based agency bundle together even more rights. IMG aready handles the TV rights to Wimbledon and the Rugby World Cup.

To these, IMG can now add CSI properties which also include the Football League (including the Carling Cup), Cricket Australia, New Zealand Cricket, Cricket South Africa and Zimbabwe Cricket as clients.

CSI was formerly part of Octagon Worldwide, which in turn was owned by Interpublic Group. The management of CSI Sports subsequently became independent following a management buy-out. Chris Guinness, a former president of CSI and a former IMG employee, will head up the new operation.

After several years in which television sports rights have been in the doldrums, and which witnessed the financial collapses of ITV Digital, KirchMedia in Germany and Swiss-based ISL – all of them exposed by paying too-hefty sports rights fees – this latest IMG deal represents the sort of consolidation which, in the business world, would normally be seen as a sign of growing confidence in the sector.

IMG, of course, was founded by Mark McCormack in the 1960s, initially to act on behalf of golfer Arnold Palmer. The business rapidly expanded into golf and tennis, and at times has acted for the likes of Sebastian Coe during his record-breaking days, SJA member Ian Wooldridge, and Pope John Paul II. Now, is client list includes Maria Sharapova and Tiger Woods.

With companies in its group including sports producer TransWorld International and the production company Tiger Aspect, as well as its programming for the BBC, which includes darts, snooker and golf, IMG produces 800 hours of cricket a year for Sky Sports. IMG Media also distributes football club channels for Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Barcelona.

Overseas boost

The new overseas Premiership rights deal is the latest indicator that the TV sports rights market is beginning to warm up once more for companies such as IMG.

The £625m is a healthy addition to income already announced from domestic broadcast and internet contracts.

BSkyB and Setanta are sharing the domestic television rights for Premiership matches from the 2007-2008 season, the Irish-based company breaking Sky’s previous monopoly of exclusive live rights to show games in the UK, a measure which was insisted upon by the European Union.

The domestic TV rights auction generated £1.7 billion for the Premier League, with BSkyB paying £1.3bn for its four packages of games and Setanta £392m for its two, which will give it 46 live matches each season.

Read David Bond’s interview with Premier League’s Richard Scudamore by clicking here.