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Ex-HBO boss to head global media for IMG

Chris Albrecht plans to generate programming for the sports agency.

September 18, 2007|Thomas S. Mulligan | Times Staff Writer

Former HBO Chief Executive Chris Albrecht, forced out after an assault arrest last spring, said he was joining the sports super-agency IMG to help it expand the reach of its small but fast-growing media business.

As head of global media for IMG, Albrecht, 55, plans to generate programming based on the firm's existing sports and fashion-industry properties and build a U.S. distribution network. But he also may produce broadcast and digital entertainment akin to what he did for HBO, where he helped create such monster hits as "Sex and the City" and "The Sopranos."

Albrecht will be a partner in the private firm, which is owned by Forstmann Little & Co., the Manhattan buyout firm headed by maverick financier Theodore F. Forstmann. Albrecht also will launch a strategic investment fund, with IMG as the lead investor, to help finance media projects, he and Forstmann said in interviews Monday. He will divide his time between New York and Los Angeles.

Albrecht resigned from HBO in May, days after being arrested in a Las Vegas hotel parking lot on suspicion of assaulting his girlfriend. As the scandal unfolded, Albrecht acknowledged a drinking problem, and The Times reported that HBO years earlier had paid a settlement of more than $400,000 to a former employee who alleged that Albrecht had thrown her out of a chair and choked her at work.

The executive pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery in the Vegas incident, received a six-month suspended sentence and agreed to undergo domestic violence counseling.

During the ordeal, prominent people in the entertainment industry continued to support Albrecht and predict that his career would have a strong second act. IMG, formerly known as International Management Group, was founded by the late Mark McCormack, who built it around the marketability of his first client, golfing legend Arnold Palmer. The company amassed a stable of top golfers, tennis players and other athletes, landing them endorsement deals that typically dwarfed their sports earnings. Current IMG clients include golfer Tiger Woods, tennis star Maria Sharapova and supermodel Gisele Buendchen. IMG gradually branched into event management -- it runs the British Open golf and Wimbledon tennis tournaments -- and television production.

Forstmann, who paid $750 million for the company in 2004, has shifted IMG's emphasis away from its talent-agency roots and more heavily into properties that it can own and develop programming around. For example, through its model-agency connections, IMG now owns "fashion week" in New York, Los Angeles and other cities, for which it sells sponsorships and creates programs for television, cellphones and other media.

Most of IMG's media revenue is generated overseas. A major part of Albrecht's job will be to beef up its domestic distribution. He said he hoped to use his relationships from the entertainment industry to help him get a running start at IMG.

"Unless I really miss my bet," Forstmann said, "a lot of people will be calling once they've heard the news that Chris is here."

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thomas.mulligan@latimes.com

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