Multiple sources tell Billboard that United Talent Agency is in advanced negotiations to acquire The Agency Group, in a move that would vastly boost UTA's profile in music, while paying dividends for a rapid expansion strategy by TAG.
TAG's roster of about 2,000 clients includes the Black Keys, Deep Purple, Guns N' Roses, Muse, Paramore, Nickelback, Bullet for My Valentine, The Kills, Gotye, Tegan and Sara, Merle Haggard and many others. While TAG has a presence in virtually all genres of music, including pop, rock, metal, country and EDM, the agency's urban business declined in May when VP of urban music Peter Schwartz and international agent James Rubin left TAG for WME, with such clients as Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, A$AP Ferg, Danny Brown, Yelawolf, Cypress Hill, Method Man, Redman, Run the Jewels and Action Bronson making the move with them.
For UTA's part, though its film and television roster boasts a wealth of superstar clients, including Johnny Depp, John Cusack, Kevin Hart, Sigourney Weaver, Seth Rogen and many others, UTA's music division is comparatively light, and took a hit when Rob Prinz, who launched UTA's music division in 1991, and agent Nikki Wheeler split for ICM in April, along with such clients s Hall & Oates (now with Artist Group International), Celine Dion and Bob Seger, among others. On the other hand, Kanye West earlier this year bolted CAA to join UTA, and UTA significantly grew its red-hot comedy division in March when CAA agents Greg Cavic, Nick Nuciforo and Gregory McKnight moved to UTA, along with clients like Will Ferrell and Chris Pratt.
The Agency Group is a privately held booking agency founded some 35 years ago by Neil Warnock, still an agent with TAG booking Dolly Parton. Warnock began a rapid expansion of TAG in the early '90s, a strategy ramped up again when CEO Gavin O'Reilly (who did not respond to a request for comment) assumed the helm of the agency in 2013. O'Reilly now oversees an agency with a staff of more than 200 in seven offices worldwide, with 90 agents booking nearly 50,000 shows annually.
Though he has given no signs of selling TAG, O'Reilly has indeed embarked on an aggressively expansionist agenda. Among TAG's recent moves: the creation of a branding division headed by Paul Conroy, former CEO of Dyrdek Enterprises; the acquisition of Nashville independent booking agency the Bobby Roberts Company, significantly expanding TAG's existing Nashville operation; the opening of a TAG office in Miami to focus on Latin business; the acquisition of Bond Music Group and London boutique Coalition, planting a flag in the EDM market; and the launch of dedicated casino, college and corporate divisions. TAG also has a literary division in New York led by Marc Gerald.
In an interview a year ago, O'Reilly pointed toward continued growth for TAG, giving no indication he was building to sell. "Buying agencies is a delicate negotiation, because it's always hard to arrive at a valuation that reflects people's efforts over many years," O'Reilly told Billboard in August of last year following the Bobby Roberts Co. acquisition. "I'm trying to expand our musical genres, in particular, because there are great opportunities."
A representative at UTA did not respond to a request for comment.