Talent agency WME’s parent company Endeavor Group Holdings Inc. is planning to go public, a move that vindicates the company’s recent shift toward producing and selling content rather than focusing exclusively on talent representation.
Beverly Hills headquartered-Endeavor said in a May 23 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it plans to sell company shares — at a yet-to-be-disclosed price — on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker EDR.
The planned initial public offering fans flames of an ongoing dispute between talent agencies and screenwriters, but it also reveals that the dispute is of secondary importance to Endeavor’s business. Last year, the talent agency attributed $2.2 billion, or 63%, of its revenue to entertainment and sports content, according to the filing. Talent representation made up $1.3 billion, or 36%, of the 2018 revenue.
The filing showed a company that is growing quickly, turning a profit in 2018 after years of net losses, under the stewardship of Chief Executive Ariel Emanuel, Executive Chairman Patrick Whitesell and private equity firm Silver Lake Partners.
Emanuel, who has led Endeavor since 1995, deemed going public to be the next step for a company that has been diversifying its business model, taking ownership stakes in entertainment and sports companies, and producing original content.
“We believe being a public company will only further accelerate our ability to look around corners and open up new categories and opportunities for those in the Endeavor network,” Emanuel stated in a letter accompanying the regulatory filing.
The Writers Guild of America is currently suing WME and other talent agencies for breach of fiduciary duty, claiming their forays into entertainment content management undermine the interests of writers.
Endeavor going public “strengthens the call for the conflicted and illegal practices of major talent agencies to end,” the guild stated in March, when it was rumored Endeavor may go public. Messages left with the union May 23 were not returned.
“Endeavor may be putting the interests of their stockholders in conflict with their clients,” said Jason Squire, professor at the USC Cinematic School of Arts and a former WGA member.
But Squire added that going public hammers home that selling entertainment and sports content — and not talent representation — is the future of Endeavor, which Squire said is increasingly influenced by private equity.
Menlo Park-headquartered Silver Lake Partners has poured money into Endeavor since 2012. According to the regulatory filing, Emanuel, Whitesell and Silver Lake are set to control a majority of the company. Each will receive an undisclosed amount of “Class Y” common stock, which will have 20 times the voting power as other common stock.
Silver Lake’s investment coincided with Endeavor acquisitions including the Ultimate Fighting Championship mixed martial arts league, sports marketing agency IMG Worldwide, streaming technology firm NeuLion Inc., and Professional Bull Riders Inc.
In 2014, Endeavor recorded $1.3 billion in revenue and a net loss of $508 million. By last year, the financial picture had changed dramatically. Endeavor reported $3.6 billion in revenue and a profit of $231 million.
For the first quarter of 2019, Endeavor dipped back into the red, with a $134 million net loss and a hair more than $1 billion in revenue.
The more than 200-page filing devotes one paragraph to the ongoing standoff with the Writers Guild, stating that “the outcome of the dispute could have an adverse effect on our business.”
The guild conflict appears to be one of several concerns. The SEC filing included an extensive discussion of antitrust lawsuits filed against the UFC, alleging the league monopolized the market for elite mixed martial arts athletes.
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