WPP enters global sports market with big investment in George Pyne’s Bruin Sports Capital

WPP is the lead investor in $250m of funding for a new global sports marketing company Bruin Sports Capital. Bruin is the brainchild of George Pyne, former president of IMG’s sports and entertainment business which was sold to Droga5 investor William Morris Entertainment for $2.3bn last year.

IMG Names George Pyne PresidentWPP was touted as a possible buyer for IMG when it came on the market. Boss Sir Martin Sorrell has obviously decided that a well-funded and connected start-up – Pyne (left) is a former COO of US motor racing competition NASCAR – is a cheaper way of boosting WPP’s position in sport.

Sorrell says: “WPP’s investment in sports and sports content through Bruin Sports Capital is an important part of its strategy, as it impacts new markets, new media, data investment management and the application of technology and horizontality.

“George is a major talent in the sports business world and based on his track record, I’m confident that the clients who work with WPP’s operating companies will be given access to many high-value media and sponsorship opportunities. GroupM, our wholly owned media investment management company, manages over US$100 billion in billings and there is growing interest on the part of clients to invest some of that portfolio in content and sport.”

As well as its GroupM Entertainment business, WPP’s investments include MediaPro, CSM Sport & Entertainment, VICE, Indigenous Media, FullScreen, MRC and, most recently, the new China-focused CMC Creative Fund.

Pyne says: “Identifying unique opportunities, attracting world-class management teams, establishing a culture of innovation and creating real value is what will make up Bruin Sports Capital’s DNA. Bruin will be opportunistic and nimble in pursuit of its goals.

“The key points of differentiation that will define Bruin Sports Capital include its unparalleled access to the best deals; long-term, flexible capital; extensive operating expertise; strategic capital in WPP and other investors; and finally, our speed of execution.”

Sport is, indeed, the key to the ‘content revolution’ these days, with footballers and racing drivers earning more than movie stars. When IMG came on the market Sorrell said it was “too expensive.” Maybe SMS has, indeed, decided that very big deals are now out of the question and it’s better to spend his shareholders’ money on smaller stakes in growing businesses, although any start-up, even with a famous industry figure like Pyne, clearly poses risks.

We could be hearing more from SMS and WPP soon though. WPP has been linked with Tesco’s DunnHumby data business, which is valued at between one and two billion pounds. Which would be a very big deal indeed.

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