Five years, almost to the day, since he sold his BEST sports production and management agency to a French global media group, Jonathan Blue is throwing his hat back in the ring.
This summer marks the end of his five-year noncompete clause with Lagardere SCA, which acquired Blue Entertainment Sports Television in June 2010. At that time, BEST — a unified, full-service sports and entertainment marketing, management and production firm — had become a leader in the sports and entertainment management industry.
It began with the 2006 acquisition of the tennis, events and television/media divisions from Live Nation, a California-based entertainment company that managed recording artists and promoted concerts.
BEST went on to make multiple acquisitions of pro and college sports and experiential properties. By the time it was sold, BEST had a client roster of more than 400 professional athletes, entertainers and media personalities; produced, owned, and operated several high-profile signature events; and also owned the television, production and distribution rights to several major sporting events worldwide. It was a roughly $23 million company that, prior to being sold, was No. 21 on the 2009 INC 5000 list of fastest-growing private U.S. companies, enjoying a 4,700 percent growth in three years.
“I had a five-year noncompete with Lagardere, and those five years are up,” Blue tells IL. “I want to get back into that business. I still have a lot of relationships, and I’m going to try and build something similar. With the noncompete over, I can do whatever I want.”
What does “whatever I want” mean?
“I’m looking at the sports media sector, the events sector, TV rights, digital rights, all ways to monetize the contents of sports,” he says. “I can’t give you the exact plans yet, we’re still having negotiations.”
The media that deliver sporting events have changed in five years, and Blue is the first to acknowledge that. But what hasn’t changed, he says, is people’s desire to watch a live sporting event. “People can binge-watch a TV series or movies on Netflix and On Demand or downloads, but live sports can never be replicated,” he said. “Once it has happened, nobody wants to watch an event where they already know the outcome.
“That thirst to see it as it’s happening in the moment continues to drive up value and marketing rights, so it continues to be a hot area for disposable income.”
Blue says contracts on major events are always coming up for bid, and there are smaller events ripe for being created, which is part of what he did with BEST.
He recently told Sports Business Journal that he “envisions a more diversified business that will include athlete and broadcast talent representation as well as other lines of business, including property and naming-rights sales, media and digital rights representation, as well as sponsorship activation.
“The acquisitions could involve buying the companies that have the rights or organically growing those type of rights and representing those type of rights,” he says. “We want to stay boutiquey but still be a factor. We don’t want to be all things to all people.”
He remains committed to this business. “We are not looking to sell this time,” he says. “I don’t want to go through another noncompete.”
And he remains committed to Louisville. His plan is to run the new business out of his offices at 333 E. Main St. “We’ll likely be making acquisitions all over the place, but our intention always is to grow our business in Louisville. It’s always my desire to bring more attention to the city, and to bring employment levels up here.”
So it’s back to the cutting edge of the sports media world. “We’ve always been on the cutting edge and plan to remain there,” he says. “Of course, that cutting edge is always moving, isn’t it?”