Everybody remembers their first deal, but only a handful of first deals are particularly memorable. For Ioris Francini, President of IMG Events & Media and one of the sharpest strategic minds in the sports media industry, life at the agency began in less than glamorous fashion.
Joining Trans World International (TWI), IMG’s events arm, in the early 2000s, Francini was given the sports industry dealmaker’s equivalent of the graveyard shift. Thrown in at the deep end selling TV rights to individual international soccer games, the young Francini found a stagnant and, arguably, corrupt Italian sports broadcast market was proving largely unresponsive to his overtures. No national broadcasters were interested, no pay-TV broadcasters were interested. Employing the brand of twinkle-in-the-eye charm and hard-nosed tenacity that has gone on to serve him well on his journey through the ranks of IMG, Francini plugged away and eventually nabbed himself a deal at the last moment. “I finally convinced a regional Napolitan TV channel to buy it for €1,500, which to this day is probably the most exciting sale I’ve ever done because it was impossible!” he reflects.
Francini quickly combined his instinct and flair for sales with a cool aptitude for management. He was made Head of Sales for the EMEA region at IMG Media in 2007, managing the agency’s relationships with the ATP, MotoGP, and the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) among others. By 2010, he had been made a Senior Vice President and Head of Sales worldwide at IMG Media, and in 2012 he was made an Executive Vice President with the added responsibility of heading up acquisitions, a not inconsiderable show of trust given the risk inherent in that side of the rights arbitrage business.
When the William Morris Endeavour (WME) agency bought IMG in December 2013, a reshuffle – and redundancies and departures – became inevitable as the entertainment giant looked to consolidate its purchase by merging divisions and ironing out inefficiencies. Management and organisational restructuring, as well as the process of buying in to a new corporate culture, will always catalyse that process.
In July last year WME made its first formal, major restructuring move, merging IMG's media business with its events and federations business, as well as its fashion, golf, and tennis divisions into one unified entity – IMG Events & Media. Michel Mesquelier, President of IMG Media since 2009 and the life and soul of the agency on the European side of the Atlantic for years, would chair the new division. Francini would be promoted to the role of president.
IMG is the granddaddy of the sports agency world and, having founded its business on athlete representation, there is now effort from the very top to refocus on that strand of its work. Francini, however, works across almost everything but representation. As President of IMG’s events and media division, he oversees three distinct but inter-connecting verticals: production, rights acquisition and distribution, and management of media joint ventures.
Francini’s team is currently in the process of bidding for English Premier League soccer rights in selected international territories – and on this, Francini promises to be more aggressive than the agency has been in recent cycles.
“Football is becoming a more and more centralised commodity,” he adds. “We still think there is room for opportunities as a result of inefficiencies in some regions and markets. We think African football, Asian football and American football can still improve. The format can improve; the exploitation programme can improve. We’re still looking at how someone like us can add all that value and help them transition and modernise the sport.”
It is a sensitive area for a senior figure at an international sports agency to delve into. The ramifications of the FIFA scandal could well reach far beyond the federation itself and the Traffic Sports agency at the centre of the bribery allegations. Francini is careful with his words, and acknowledges that there are unscrupulous practices going on in soccer. “For us,” he says, “the higher the level of scrutiny, the higher the opportunity. It’s in our best interest to have scrutiny.” Whether that scrutiny will come to bear, given the closed-shop governance structures of many pockets of the soccer industry, is another matter entirely.
This is an excerpt from the October 2015 edition of SportsPro magazine.
Ioris Francini will be presenting ‘IMG: the next generation agency’ at SportsPro’s flagship event, SportsPro Live, on Tuesday 22nd March at Wembley Stadium.
As media partners of the event, GlobalSportsJobs receive 25% off the price of a standard delegate ticket. Simply enter the promotional code: GSJOBS when you register online.