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CAA Sports finds new wave of international growth

(Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images,)

  • Agency counts Formula 1, Red Bull Racing, Riot Games among its key global clients
  • Headcount for new Singapore office soon to double
  • More than $2bn in international property sales brokered since start of Covid-19 pandemic

Amid the usual corporate activation, fan engagement activities, industry conferences, and business meetings surrounding Formula 1’s Singapore Grand Prix held early last month, there was also an anniversary celebration of sorts, as well as a global reunion for prominent agency CAA Sports.

The division of Creative Artists Agency, which represents F1 as part of its property sales operation, used the occasion to mark one year since the company opened its office in Singapore to develop its business in the Asia-Pacific region. And more broadly, the race also marked one of first major in-person confluences of CAA executives from around the world since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020.

“We had folks there from our London office, our Munich office, myself, [CAA Sports co-head Mike Levine], [CAA president] Jim Burtson, our media rights folks from both the United States and London, even some of our music agents, really all walks of the agency,” says Paul Danforth, CAA Sports president since 2019 and with the agency since 2007. “It showed how all sides of the CAA business are coming together internationally.”

The reunion, and the agency’s working presence in Singapore both for the race and with its permanent office, also represented a notable signifier for how critical operations outside of the United States have become to CAA Sports. Beginning slowly with the 2011 establishment of an office in London, United Kingdom, CAA Sports’ international presence now also includes offices in Manchester, England; Milan, Italy; Munich, Germany; and most recently the Singapore location. And that global profile, particularly around talent representation, was further boosted earlier this year by CAA’s purchase of ICM Partners.

And with a battery of top-tier global clients that includes F1, Riot Games, and Red Bull Racing, among many others, as well as a wide array of global star athletes, international operations now represent the fastest-growing segment of CAA Sports. Overall, CAA Sports employs nearly 350 people for its non-US offices, and the Singapore location led by CAA Sports APAC president Adrian Staiti in particular is due to double in size to more than 30 people in the coming months.

“It’s the growth engine of our sports business,” Danforth says of the agency’s international operations. “We’ve had good momentum here in the US, but the trajectory outside of the US has been incredible. 

“And even though we started on this journey in 2011, it’s really accelerated over the last two years,” Danforth says. 

CAA Sports co-head Michael Levine (l), Formula 1 chief executive Stefano Domencali, CAA Sports head of international Matthew O’Donohoe, and CAA Sports president Paul Danforth at the Singapore Grand Prix. (CAA Sports)

Pandemic Boost

That global acceleration derived in no small part from the pandemic itself, surprising even CAA Sports executives internally. Among the first major elements of society to return from lockdown, first in a modified fashion and then fully, were sports, with many European leagues standing among the leaders in that recovery. And during the pandemic period, CAA Sports has brokered more $2bn (€2.05bn) in international property sales.

“Sports was able to navigate the pandemic in a lot of ways that other segments did not. This showed global [chief marketing and executive officers] that they need to be part of sports,” Danforth says. “It’s sort of the one thing that stayed constant throughout the pandemic.”

And one of the sports industry’s foremost pandemic-era success stories has been Formula 1, which has seen a sizable influx of American-based brands over the last two years, expanded media coverage, and new US races in Florida and Nevada become part of the overall global circuit

CAA Sports has been a key figure in that escalation, helping broker a wide array of commercial deals for both Formula 1 overall and Red Bull Racing. Most recently, the agency brokered a pact in which Amazon Web Services, the information technology service management subsidiary of the online retail streaming giant, escalated its existing Formula 1 relationship to become a global partner of the property.

“With such a data-driven sport as F1, this partnership has been a natural fit – helping the sport better utilize, analyze, and act upon data to deliver insights to fans that weren’t possible before this collaboration,” said Matt Garman, AWS senior vice president of sales, marketing, and global services. 

But Danforth acknowledges that having conversations with key brands about Formula 1, particularly in the US, was not an easy prospect until the last couple of years.

“When we first came to talk to US brands about Formula 1, they looked at us like we were crazy,” Danforth says. “But the combination of the Netflix series [Drive To Survive] and Liberty Media buying Formula 1 has opened up to US marketers and executives the power of Formula 1 around the world. A lot of people in a very short of people of time have become F1 fans.”

Danforth has worked particularly on the international efforts with Matthew O’Donohoe, CAA Sports’ head of international sports and based in London. And as their efforts have continued, other rival agencies such as Endeavor’s IMG and WME, Octagon, Legends, and Wasserman have similarly looked beyond the US to expand their operations.

“Competitors are going to be everywhere,” Danforth says. “But what we try to focus on is building our team and letting that speak for itself. Our competitors are going to do what they’re going to do. We can only control our own destiny.”

Other areas of the world such as the Middle East and Africa have become increasing areas of focus for the sports industry, fueled by events and leagues such as the upcoming men’s Fifa World Cup in Qatar and the new Basketball Africa League. But O’Donohoe said CAA Sports’ expansion into those areas will remain measured and careful.

“We’re never in a rush to plant flags in territories,” O’Donohoe says. “It’s foremost about finding great people and backing those people and those territories with resources.”

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