MediaCom poaches IMG veteran Marcus John – is this curtains for IMG/WPP joint sports venture?

WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell is a keen sports fan, still turning out in the odd charity cricket match if there are enough big business noises on the field or in the drinks tent. He’s also a board member of Formula One.

Back in May WPP announced a tie-up with giant sports agency IMG to set up a sports licensing joint venture to be headed by IMG’s Bruno Maglione.

Now however MediaCom, one of WPP’s big media agencies, has announced its own plans to expand into sport with a new company MediaCom Sport to be headed by new hire IMG veteran Marcus John. John will focus on strategic advice, rights negotiation, rights activation and measurement.

This is a pretty broad remit and surely crosses into the territory supposedly occupied by the licensing JV with IMG. Pinching a senior IMG executive (John was formerly senior vice-president and managing director of IMG Consulting’s Asia-Pacific division) hardly looks friendly either.

MediaCom CEO Steve Allan says: “We need to be able to offer our clients the very best in advice and are therefore delighted to welcome Marcus to MediaCom’s global team. Marcus’ brief is to build the scale of our offer, establish strong ties with rights holders and make the best opportunities available to our clients.”

The whole works then.

Back in July WPP bought a stake in motor racing specialist Just Marketing International and MediaCom has also taken steps to boost its content business MediaCom Beyond Advertising by hiring producer James Morris as its boss. Being able to make your own sports programmes is clearly handy.

Sports are big business for both clients and agencies these days and Sorrell has always been happy to emphasise that big events like the World Cup and the Olympics drive global ad spend.

At the moment WPP’s presence in sports is a ragbag of interests, JVs (assuming the IMG deal is still on, which it well may not be), agency departments like the ones at MediaCom and minority stakes like the one in Just Marketing.

Sooner or later though these will surely be brought together, just as WPP’s research interests have been into Kantar.

It’s doubtful that there will be much of a role for IMG in this. Unless WPP buys it of course.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.