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WTC sold to private equity firm

Written by: Dan Empfield
Date: Mon Sep 08 2008

Ironman Triathlon's new owner is Providence Equity Securities. In a sale completed within the last 48 hours, World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) transferred all its equity to a new corporation called World Endurance Holdings.

Providence Equity is large, as private equity firms go, with total committed capital of $21 billion. It specializes in media and entertainment. Its holdings include a large commitment to television, and one recent acquisition was all of Clear Channel's TV stations. It also owns a variety of cable providers, as well as Univision, the largest Spanish network in the U.S. The firm owns Warner Music, and the MGM brand along with theater chains.

WTC purchased the Ironman triathlon from Valerie Silk in 1989, and has grown the brand under the tutelage of various presidents: David Voth, David Yates, Lew Friedland and most recently Ben Fertic.

Few if any personnel changes are contemplated as a function of the purchase, and Fertic (pictured) will remain in his current position. "We're pleased to be working with CEO Ben Fertic and team to further grow the business," said Providence Equity Partners in prepared a comment. "We look forward to building on its tremendous success as the leading user-based sports brand in the World. We're supportive of management's current strategy and will provide financial and strategic resources to support Ironman's plans in the U.S. and abroad."

The standard investment time for Providence is 5-7 years, that is, Providence typically holds its companies for about that length of time before selling them. It can hold for as long as 10 years.

What strategic resources will Providence provide? There is one degree of separation between Ironman and several of Providence Equity companies, and the leverage opportunities are legion. Companies owned by Providence include Nextag, the leading comparison shopping search website for products and services; Hulu, a leader in streaming video programming; and the Yankee Entertainment and Sports Network.

Fertic enjoyed longstanding relationships with partners in Providence Equity, according to WTC's Blair LaHaye, who said, "There have been several discussions over the years." The recent expansion of WTC's platform over which it offers "the Ironman experience" through the launch and growth of the 70.3 series, as well as the granting of new licenses and the organic growth of its company-owned events, apparently grew WTC to the size that made a Providence acquisition viable.

This is not, however, an acquisition that's all about business, and devoid of passion. "Several of the Providence Equity execs are endurance athletes," said LaHaye, "and one of its board members is an Ironman athlete."

Ironman's headquarters will be moving, but not far. The new company will be headquartered in Tampa Bay, and the race office in Kona will continue as it has. Neither of the championship events -- Kona in October, or Clearwater in November -- will be affected at all. None of the events Ironman athletes have registered for will change.

The Gills family, and patriarch Dr. Jim Gills, offered the following statement: "Throughout the 20-year tenure of owning Ironman, our goal was to share the Ironman experience. We are passionate about Ironman, and the sport, and Providence shares this passion and vision. We believe that Providence can enhance Ironman's growth, and share the experience in new and exciting ways, which has always been our family's goal. It has been an honor to be part of Ironman."

"Providence's expertise in building and growing innovative, industry leading companies will be an exceptional fit with our long term goals," offered Fertic. "We appreciate their commitment to our unique culture, and helping us meet the increasing demands for a world class participatory events."


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