My biggest takeaway from Wasserman’s acquisition of CSM Sport & Entertainment is that it immediately gives it enhanced global reach and expertise. It was known that CSM was in play for some time before Wasserman announced an agreement earlier this month, with the deal expected to close this quarter. Both companies share investment by Providence Equity — the firm became owner of CSM’s Chime Communications in 2015 and invested in Wasserman in 2022 — and while sources tell me that CAA Sports and United Talent Agency looked at CSM closely, many felt the Providence connection would help Wasserman land the deal.
This is a big, broad deal, as CSM has more than 1,000 employees and offices all over the world. CSM’s international business is appealing, the agency made early bets on sports in the Middle East and that segment has seen strong growth and been a revenue driver. The deal also gives Wasserman strong event and experiential marketing and activation expertise, an area that is one of CSM’s competencies.
One interesting area to watch is property sales. CSM has been selling in both Europe and the U.S., and while Wasserman consults with properties on research and valuation, it has always prided itself as being nonconflicted in selling commercial inventory and that positioning has been very successful. A shift to sales shouldn’t come as a surprise, as this is how the industry is evolving, with agencies recognizing that property sales is an exceptionally high-margin business, and this move is consistent in creating scale and value. I’ll also be watching how they integrate the businesses, as CSM brings a significant global workforce, and we will see how the agencies handle any client conflicts. As is often the case in sports business, existing connections were key to deal-making, as both CSM Executive Chairman Seb Coe and Casey Wasserman developed a relationship during their leadership of the London 2012 and LA28 Games, respectively.
This continues the current run of M&A for Wasserman, which in the past year has done deals for Jet Sports Management, BSE Media Group, Caric Sports Management, Trevor//Peter and Squadra Sports Management, but CSM is clearly its largest play. Finally, I’ll be watching the future of CSM Group CEO Matt Vandrau, who has run the company since 2016, and has one of the best personal styles I’ve come across from a CEO — with a welcome mix of grace, honesty and empathy.
There will be more consolidation across the agency landscape. I anticipate UTA will make a move that gives it a bigger presence in the U.S. I could see Shamrock, which invested in Excel Sports Management, being more active in this space, and Endeavor and CAA are always assessing opportunities. Bottom line: There is money on the sidelines and still a number of independent agencies out there.
SUCCESSION PLANNING: Where is the next level of leaders and why haven’t they emerged? As Roger Goodell, Rob Manfred and Bob Iger secure extensions, many of my sources have been asking this question. Succession planning is a key initiative at just about every company we cover. Of course, it’s important to recognize that these are great jobs and that surely has kept Goodell and Manfred in the fold. They both, obviously, have a ton of ownership support, which is what really matters. But these are also complicated jobs, and only a small handful of executives have ever held these positions. To get somebody new in, team owners or a board of directors would have to seek — and be open to — real change. Because of the complexity of these roles, it seems unlikely that they would put their trust in someone from the outside. It’s clear there is a greater level of comfort with executives who are familiar with the inner workings of their leagues and business and how to navigate various minefields.
WORD GAME: At an industry event recently, a longtime executive spoke up forcefully every time the word “innovation” was used, calling it overused — and misused. Their point was that it’s become an easy cliché and jargon for mere “improvements” we’re seeing across sports. They rattled off frequently mentioned “innovations” — digital ticketing for example — and countered that these were more natural improvements that come with gradual evolution. Not everyone agreed, but it created a good mental exercise where attendees questioned various implementations across sports and how they should be viewed. It could be semantics to some, but I found it to be a valuable exercise.
Abraham Madkour can be reached at [email protected].