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ADVANTAGE TAKES AIM AT IMG IN SPORTS MARKETING

“We’ve got to be the challenger brand to MacCormack’s IMG,” Alasdair Ritchie, appointed this week as Advantage’s president Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia, told Reuters on Friday.

The Interpublic Group of Cos Inc merged U.S.-based Advantage International with API Group of the UK in May to form a business Ritchie said was reckoned to be worth $300 to $500 million a year.

International Management Group, owned by U.S. entrepreneur Mark MacCormack, is market leader in a field estimated to be worth $11 billion in the United States alone, Ritchie said in an interview after joining the company on Tuesday.

“MacCormack are enormously strong in personality management – they have 200 golfers around the world. Our sports management is largely in tennis… but on event management we are as good as anyone and probably better,” Ritchie said.

The company, which is being renamed Advantage, was keen to get more closely into the management of personalities and take on golfers, he added.

Advantage represents the Commonwealth Games and the 1999 Cricket World Cup and manages celebrities including tennis champion Steffi Graf and dancer Darcey Bussell. Corporate clients include British Airways, Guinness and MasterCard.

“I’d be very disappointed if in our region we hadn’t doubled the size of this business in three years,” said Ritchie, who until recently was a senior international executive at Omnicom ‘s TBWA advertising network.

Ritchie wanted to introduce rigorous marketing planning to demonstrate how sports and celebrity management could create effective communication between brands and consumers. “Sports marketing has reached the point of maturity where it’s off the bottom of the budget level…But there’s still a tendency for it to be seen as the chairman’s choice – ‘He likes racing, so we’ll do racing,’. As an industry we have to destroy that attitude.”

It would introduce brands as yet unseen in the sports arena.

“There’s not a lot we can teach Coke. But there is a huge number of computer businesses, retailers, and particularly pharmaceuticals where brands are starting to be born.”

Twelve companies paid about $28 million each to become official sponsors of the 1998 World Cup soccer tournament amid an increasingly fierce battle among clubs and broadcasters to own television and intellectual property rights.

Advantage aimed to make acquisitions in major European markets, from the U.K., France and Germany to Italy and Spain. Here the company would look for chances to run sports events and make links with local brands.

The backing of Interpublic’s advertising and marketing services network would make Advantage more attractive than IMG to a company trying, say, to launch a soft drinks brand into Spain, Ritchie said.

“An Omnicom or a WPP will buy MacCormack ultimately because of the importance of sports marketing to the overall marketing business,” the former adman said. “He doesn’t have any of that.”

Reuters

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