The NFL season is now closed, so we move on to the business of baseball. One recent development on the business side involved the merger of two prominent agencies, The Legacy Group, which handles the on-field and contract management for such stars as CC Sabathia of the Yankees and Carl Crawford of the Red Sox among many others, with The Agency, one of the more established off-field athlete marketing businesses known for their work with retired athletes like Steve Young and Troy Aikman, golfers like Jim Furyk, coaches like Notre Dame’s Mike Brey, and others. The result is a more full service agency, called The Legacy Agency, which will be overseen by longtime sports marketing executive Mike Principe.
Principe most recently served as the Managing Director of Blue Entertainment Sports Television (“BEST”), running the company’s divisions in talent representation, television rights and production, event production and operation and sponsorship sales. Prior to joining BEST, the Long Island native held various executive positions with SFX Sports Group, Inc. (“SFX”) including that of Executive Vice President and General Counsel. He also served on its Executive Committee responsible for oversight and management of SFX. He has participated in over 35 of the sports and entertainment industry’s more prolific deals, with an aggregate transaction value nearing $600,000,000.
The formation of The Legacy Agency, with offices in London (where they raised their financing), New York and California, represents a growing change in the way athletes are being marketed from signing day through the end of their careers, especially with regard to baseball. While a handful of larger firms offer services to enhance athlete branding and business during a player’s career, few continue to provide outlets for supplemental income, as well as coaching and broadcasting, when a player finishes his or her onfield work.
TLA is looking to change that by combining the expertise of on-field career business management with solid post-career synergy that can help ensure that someone who chooses them for representation will have a partner in it for the long and ever changing haul of a career.
We caught up with Principe to ask about what legacy The Legacy Agency would like to have.
Q: BIG LEAD SPORTS: This was a merger of two very successful agencies which may not have overlap but certainly have their own style of doing business. What is the biggest challenge in merging two successful agencies?
PRINCIPE: This is different from other mergers because the business lines of The Agency and Legacy were complimentary, not competitive. So the transition takes time but is really seamless with what is now TLA. The execution of deals will be much easier and much more expansive for clients on both sides and that will make integration of the business much simpler for all involved.
Q: BIG LEAD SPORTS: One of the focuses is on the off-field side of baseball. What can be done better that is not being done now?
PRINCIPE: We believe baseball as a business is underserved from a client perspective. Our baseball agents do a tremendous job of representing our client’s interest on and off the field, and that is reflected in the successful signings and relationships our athletes have had. However there is always greater opportunity that can be realized in market for athletes, and many times those deals don’t get done. We think having the combined agency that focuses on the complete athlete will allow us greater penetration on the local level, which helps from a business and from a community perspective.
Q: BIG LEAD SPORTS: The Agency has done a great job of marketing the rights of many former athletes, do you think similar brands will be drawn to the baseball clients and why?
PRINCIPE: Yes. Brands are looking for frequency and penetration. We see great opportunity in baseball because of the ability to touch fans in so many ways, including now in the mobile space. The frequency of a 162 game regular season combined with the coverage, makes for a very impressive and very underutilized marketplace for brands these days to take advantage of. It is all about the access to the talent and building out a program which can consistently and effectively engage the consumer. Baseball provides that daily platform better than any other sport.
Q: BIG LEAD SPORTS: The Legacy Agency raised money and is being traded on The London Exchange, which is unusual for a business primarily dealing in American sport. What was the value to doing the transaction in London?
PRINCIPE: As we raised capital we used AIM, so we want to be close to our investor base.. At the same time we also recognized the need to continue to look for a growing client base given our capabilities, so beginning to grow the global business with brick and mortar in London gives us a foothold from which to move from. Also let’s not forget that baseball is continuing to be a growing global sport, and we think being able to have a presence in Europe to take advantage of emerging opportunities also made a lot of sense. For all those reasons a UK office makes great sense for us.
Q: BIG LEAD SPORTS: You had a successful run with two solid sports brands at BEST and SFX and helped guide them through some interesting transitions. What best practices were learned there that have helped you launch TLA?
PRINCIPE: This is not an overly complicated business at its core. It is still about people and relationships and having the ability to be smart and proactive. That is how successful firms stay successful. You also need to be fluid enough to realize what the changing marketplace is and be able to have the wherewithal and the personnel to adapt to what your clients need. Those that don’t adapt have issues. We also work in a business that can at times be emotional, because you are dealing with very strong personalities, so being able to balance all those things will make your brand vibrant and successful. We think this merger does all those things and provides a very unique and complimentary business model not just for our clients but for the industry as a whole.
Q: BIG LEAD SPORTS: Which side will benefit more from a business perspective, the baseball clients who now may have better opportunities or The Agency who will now have a wider roster to pitch to brands?
PRINCIPE: It actually works both ways. The Agency side now has a wider runway of talent to present to brands they already do business with, and in many ways that new roster will compliment and not compete with the talent they already represent. On the other side our baseball clients now will have cradle to grave representation that really is unusual for the sport, and that will help us with growing our talent base and enhancing our existing relationships. There is no downside to either; it is a totally different approach to the business.
Q: BIG LEAD SPORTS: Why did you see these two agencies as the ones who were a best fit to your vision?
PRINCIPE: It starts with the principals. They all share our common vision of creating a stringer platform for all our clients. They’re collective reputations are excellent and they have unbelievable knowledge and an experience base from which to grow from. It also doesn’t hurt that their clients, on both sides, are some of the best in their fields, whether that field is broadcasting or coaching or playing baseball or golf.
Q: BIG LEAD SPORTS: Neither of these groups is anything close to a startup, how do you deem business success in the first year?
PRINCIPE: One metric of success of our business in year one will be integration. Yes we are complimentary but they have both operated as a silo, so making sure we communicate effectively and combine forces is going to be key. That combination will really lift the profile and we believe will change the industry.
Q: BIG LEAD SPORTS: Any thoughts on areas where you could expand further? Global sports? Social and digital media? Hollywood?
PRINCIPE: Like everyone we are exploring the best additions to what we now offer, and how those additions fit our existing and future client base. We are not going to acquire companies or bring in staff just for the sake of doing so to keep up with the joneses. It has to make sense for the long term. One area we will expand into is events and properties which can utilize our client base and our knowledge of successful talent integration. That is a niche we have identified and can expand upon as we go.
Q: BIG LEAD SPORTS: What other emerging business lines are you looking at?
PRINCIPE: Well I really have a passion for women’s roller hockey. Seriously I have gone and it’s been a great experience in New York…a great “date”…and if it ever became viable I would be first in line. However in the real world we do see baseball as having great growth and won’t deviate too much from the lines we have right now. But this is an Olympic year and we will watch to see if there is something that makes sense for us. It’s a challenging time but we think this merger will set a new standard for clients and brands and we are excited about the next steps.