Gareth Bale. Picture: REUTERS/LISI NIESNER
Gareth Bale. Picture: REUTERS/LISI NIESNER

Los Angeles/London — ICM Partners, a Hollywood talent agency representing the likes of Samuel L Jackson and Beyoncé, has agreed to buy London-based Stellar Group to move into the lucrative world of English soccer.

Los Angeles-based ICM announced the deal in a statement on Thursday. It’s the group’s third acquisition in Europe this year, following deals for UK music promoters Primary Talent International, and Albatros, a Stockholm-based agency focused on writers.

While many of its peers are firing staff and slimming down due to the pandemic, ICM is using $150m it raised last year from Crestview Partners to expand into new businesses and internationally. Its two largest competitors, CAA and Endeavor, operate significant sports-representation businesses. UTA, another rival, has a partnership with Klutch Sports, the home of LeBron James.

ICM’s purchase of Stellar opens the door to a market where agents hold ever-increasing influence and collect hefty fees on the transfer of players. Stellar’s list of clients includes Gareth Bale, the Welsh soccer player who joined Spanish giant Real Madrid in 2013 for a then world-record fee of about £80m — a deal the group and its co-founder Jonathan Barnett helped broker.

Founded in the 1990s by Barnett and David Manasseh, Stellar represents athletes across a range of sports. According to the most recent accounts filed with the UK’s Companies House, it generated revenue of £29.2m and pre-tax profit of £4.8m for the year to end-October 2019.

Barnett and Manasseh will become executive chairs of a new unit called ICM Stellar Sports, according to Thursday’s statement. Barnett said the ICM deal would help Stellar expand operations in North America.

“We have found the ideal partner to help our clients further their earning potential in an ever-flattening world in which athletes are brands with global appeal across numerous off-the-field revenue streams,” he said.

US companies and investors have increasingly been looking for ways to tap into the growing global appeal of European football. A flurry of takeovers in the past 18 months means Americans now own 20% of top teams in the UK, France and Italy, according to data from KPMG Football Benchmark. Private equity firms, including CVC Capital Partners and Bain Capital, remain in the chase for an interest in the media rights of Italy’s Serie A league.

Stellar was advised by Investec Bank Plc on the ICM deal. Financial details weren’t disclosed.

Bloomberg

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