Plano marketing firm Learfield adds GoVision to its sports stable
by Cheryl Hall
For the last two years, Greg Brown has been on an acquisition march, buying 12 companies as part of his strategy to make Plano-based Learfield a diverse sports marketing and services powerhouse.
Make that 13.
Learfield just bought GoVision, the folks in Argyle who provide giant LED video screens for events such as the NCAA’s Final Four, the Ryder Cup, the last three presidential inaugurations, last September’s papal visit to Capitol Hill and the recent memorial to Dallas’ five fallen officers at the Meyerson Symphony Center.
Providence Equity Partners in Rhode Island, which focuses on sports, sports media and communications enterprises, bought the majority stake in Learfield in 2013 and gave Brown the go-ahead and financial power to step up his diversification game plan.
Learfield’s core business is representing 123 colleges, conferences and sports arenas in selling rights to media, radio, coaches’ shows, sponsorships on the field and the court, and partnerships with corporations. But Brown has added complementary services such as stadium concessions and hospitality services, ticket sales, digital platform expertise and online streaming capabilities.
Learfield doesn’t disclose revenue, but industry sources estimate Learfield’s sales at about $450 million with healthy profit margins.
Chris Curtis, GoVision founder and CEO, has been on a buying spree himself, picking up two smaller video rental providers and three ancillary service companies in the last two years.
Not much will change at GoVision, which will keep its name, remain in Argyle and operate with the same 60 employees. Curtis and his management team will continue to call its plays.
But Curtis, who owned GoVision with a small group of investors, will have access to Learfield’s far-deeper pockets and huge contact network in the collegiate sports world.
With the added thrust from Learfield, Curtis expects GoVision’s revenue to reach $20-plus million this year, up 40 percent from 2015.
Therein lies the beauty of this deal, both CEOs say.
“There are doors that Learfield can open that we couldn’t open on our own,” Curtis says. “They also have financial resources to deploy so that we can continue to grow.”
That’s echoed by Brown: “There are any number of applications that our nearly 1,300 people bump into that we could steer Chris’ and GoVision’s way — fan festivals at stadiums, tailgate gatherings, more and more schools are doing Friday night concerts before football games.”
GoVision’s screens are put together by various sizes of LED units that are linked like Legos so they can be configured to just about any specification. It rents the screens to about 1,000 events a year — 45 percent sports events, 45 entertainment and 10 percent an amalgamation of everything from Southern Methodist University’s graduation to the Wal-Mart annual meeting.
At the 2014 Final Four at AT&T Stadium, GoVision hung its video boards underneath Jerrytron so more people on the floor could see it. GoVision has the NCAA contract for the basketball championship games through 2021, Curtis says.
About 10 percent of its business is installations, including the new screens at Love Field and Gexa Energy Pavilion. And it designed, installed and sold the world’s largest freestanding, center-hung video board at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee.
Last year, Learfield bought ANC Sports Enterprises in Purchase, N.Y., which specializes in LED signs for sports venues.
Brown and Curtis expect GoVision and ANC to feed off each other rather than cannibalize, since ANC’s video boards are typically permanent while GoVision’s are mostly rentals.
Many universities are going big with LED permanent screens in sports facilities but need temporary ones during construction, which can take several years. GoVision may have clients who’d be better off buying a permanent one.
Learfield has been a client of sorts for nearly as long as GoVision has been in business, but the two CEOs didn’t meet until the 2010 Final Four in Indianapolis. They quickly bonded when they discovered they’re the same age, grew up in small Iowa towns 41 miles apart and even have common friends from high school.
They’ve talked periodically about Learfield’s buying GoVision. The conversations became more serious about 60 days ago after two other unsolicited suitors came calling.
“My adviser [merger-and-acquisition specialist Glaucon Capital Partners] said, ‘Well, if you’re going to talk with them, you should to talk with all of the ones who’ve expressed interest,’ ” Curtis says. “We went back to Learfield and summed it up quickly.”
Curtis talked with CEOs at other companies who told that him selling to Learfield was the best move they’d ever made. “They all said Learfield does what it says: helps you where it can but otherwise lets you run your business.”
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Curtis says it allows his original cadre of friends and family investors to cash out handsomely.
He says he rolled back most of his proceeds into Learfield, as did four of his top managers.
“And I get to wear purple. That’s a given,” says Curtis, a diehard fan of his alma mater, Texas Christian University, which is an equally loyal GoVision customer. “TCU is not a Learfield school, but I’m going to work on it.”
AT A GLANCE
Ownership: Providence Equity Partners and Learfield management
Business lines: Multimedia rights, licensing, stadium concessions, ticket sales, digital services and LED signs.
Clients: 123 colleges, conferences and sports arenas, each with Learfield staff on campus. Nearly 1,300 colleges do business with Learfield’s extended business lines.
Employees: 1,250 nationwide
Annual revenue: Approximately $450 million, according to industry sources
SOURCES: Learfield and industry sources
Title: President and CEO, Learfield
Grew up: Leon, Iowa
Education: Bachelor’s degree in public administration and political science, Truman State University, 1984
Personal: Married to Geri for 28 years, daughter 17, son 15
SOURCE: Greg Brown
Founded: In 2002 by Chris Curtis
Business lines: Provides large-scale temporary and mobile LED video boards and ancillary services.
Previous ownership: Curtis and a small investor group.
Employees: 60 full time
Annual revenue: $20-plus million forecast for 2016
SOURCE: Chris Curtis
Title: Founder and CEO, GoVision
Grew up: Chariton, Iowa
Resides: Flower Mound
Education: Bachelor’s degree in journalism, Texas Christian University, 1979
Personal: Married to Nicole for 24 years. They have a 19-year-old daughter and 16-year-old triplets, two sons and a daughter.
SOURCE: Chris Curtis
(from Dallas Morning News)
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