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What the IMG/William Morris Merger Could Mean for IMG's Fashion Business

As the future of New York Fashion Week comes increasingly into question, the producer of the whole shebang, IMG, is about to come under new ownership.
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As the future of New York Fashion Week comes increasingly into question, the producer of the whole shebang, IMG, is about to come under new ownership.

Giant talent agency William Morris is said to be in final talks to acquire IMG for an estimated $2.3 billion, the Wall Street Journal reports. William Morris is backed by private equity firm Silver Lake, and it's assumed that the deal will result in a merger between WM and IMG. Which begs the question: What does this mean for IMG's fashion business?

Of course, IMG is a huge company that also has a considerable sports component, but we're most concerned with its modeling and fashion week legs. And chances are the merger will affect the former more than the latter -- in a good way.

"I see [the merger] as a real win for IMG Fashion," Robert M. Gutkowski, a partner at Innovative Sports and Entertainment, which advises private equity firms in sports, entertainment and media company investments, tells us. "IMG is going to have a very strong opportunity to take advantage of their talent that wants to move into film and television, while remaining in house." For example, when a model does a film, the revenue generated will remain within the company -- instead of going elsewhere. "And a tremendous amount of models move into entertainment and movies." Sounds like there will soon be more model-slashes than ever. And vice versa. Actress Kim Basinger, for instance, just signed with IMG models.

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Gutkowski also suggests the merged company could get "more aggressive" in the fashion business, perhaps going on to acquire other agencies or production companies.

While IMG's sports business is likely what attracted William Morris to it, it seems unlikely that IMG's fashion sector will suffer from the transaction. However, there is the question of the name. IMG is such a strong brand within the fashion industry, as is William Morris in the entertainment biz, and it's unknown whether the merger will result in the two becoming one. Gutkowski doubts it: "Both are strong brands and I don't think they'll want to sacrifice either, but you never know." Ultimately, it depends on how Silver Lake thinks it can get a return on the money it's putting in.

Which also likely means even more pressure is on to make IMG Fashion Week more profitable and conducive to business. In a WSJ article detailing IMG's plans to revamp the biannual event last month, IMG’s SVP and managing director Catherine Bennett described NYFW as "a cluttered, often cost prohibitive and exhausting period for our industry to effectively do business.”

So while the merger may mean more opportunities for IMG Models than IMG's fashion weeks, that doesn't mean the latter won't undergo some changes in the near future.