WPP is launching a sports rights agency called ESP, representing Manchester City, the England and Wales Cricket Board and NBA’s the Cleveland Cavaliers (left with LeBron James), among others, in overseas markets.
Last year WPP invested in George Pyne’s Bruin Sports Capital. Pyne is a former senior executive at IMG, sold to Sliver Lake 18 months ago, but Bruin remains a minnow. ESP says it will employ 150 people across the world and work closely with Pyne and Bruin.
The name ESP is an interesting one. Does this mean that the new company will deploy extra sensory perception or is it a nod to leading Disney-owned sports channel ESPN? Actually it seems to be a rebrand of existing unit GroupM Entertainment & Sports Partnerships.
Either way WPP has been interested in sports for some time with a number of sponsorship interests. ESP will sit in GroupM, WPP’s ‘media investment’ company which is by far the biggest media agency group in the UK and one of the top three in most global markets. It seems to have decided that, to grow in a highly competitive market, it needs a more hands-on role than that of a major investor in someone else’s company.
WPP also owns stakes in studio The Weinstein Company, Media Rights Capital, Fullscreen and Vice Media. GroupM has claimed to be the biggest backer of independent productions in the UK and also has has a Hollywood office.
ESP Properties (to give the company its full handle and it will cover entertainment as well as sports) has bought a majority stake in London sports marketing agency Two Circles.
Two Circles was founded in 2011, employs 55 people and its clients include England and Wales Cricket Board (listed as one of ESP’s founder clients), Valencia CF, Liverpool FC, Lawn Tennis Association, Ascot Racecourse, Harlequins, Bath and Wasps Rugby.
CEO Matt Rogan and MD Gareth Balch will remain in charge. The agency has won numerous sports-related awards and had revenues of £2.7m to August 2014.