Ex-IMG duo Nicholas and Chesworth launch rights agency with Hayes

Ben Nicholas and Nick Chesworth, former senior media rights executives at the IMG agency, have joined together with Dominic Hayes, previously the commercial director at England’s Premiership Rugby, to form River Media Partners, an independent media rights agency.

Announcing the launch of the UK-based company today (Monday), River Media Partners said that it would “work with federations, rights owners, media platforms, investors and brands to create and distribute sports content opportunities on a global basis”.

One of the first projects will be to manage the media rights of English rugby union’s Greene King Championship and women’s Premier 15 club tournaments in a deal with England’s Rugby Football Union.

River Media Partners is also working with Rugby Europe, the administrative body for rugby union in Europe, on the development of its club and international competitions.

The forthcoming UK Pro Series tennis tournaments to be held at Weybridge in Surrey are also among the first projects. The series will run for six weeks in July and August and offers a prize fund of over $500,000 (€442,500/$400,400). British players such as Heather Watson, Harriet Dart, James Ward and Jack Draper have all signed up.

Other clients unveiled by River Media Partners upon launch include BT Sport Films, Premier Sports and Stats Perform, along with FitMg, Raceix, SportsMedia Ventures, 26West Sport and 3Rock Production.

Nicholas recently left IMG after 15 years at the agency, chiefly as senior vice-president, head of UK media and global digital sales. Chesworth joined IMG in 1996 and had been within the IMG senior management team since 2007. He was in charge of IMG’s business with World Rugby, while he also had direct responsibility for the agency’s Wimbledon, International Olympic Committee, Major League baseball and cycling business.

Hayes’ departure from Premiership Rugby was announced in February. He spent close to eight years at the governing body that oversees domestic competitions including the Gallagher Premiership and Premiership Rugby Cup. He came on board in 2012 from his then-position as World Wrestling Entertainment’s senior vice-president and managing director, international.

Malcolm Wall, the former chief executive of Virgin Media Content, has been named as chairman. Mark Nicholas, the broadcaster and former Hampshire cricket captain, has been appointed as a non-executive director, as has sports technology entrepreneur Aidan Cooney, who is to “provide ongoing strategic partnership through his digital agency InCrowd Sport”.

Wall said: “The sports market is in flux and traditional agency models are under review. We will be working with client and partner agendas front of mind as they seek to drive exposure, relevance and commercial return in the evolving market. Having worked across all areas of the commercial sports model, from traditional media rights deals to complex corporate funding propositions, the agency is ideally placed to enable clients to navigate the sector.”

Chesworth added: “While the global pandemic has underlined the value of live sport to the consumer and to media platforms, it has also highlighted the fragility of sports finance. The disruption of schedules and formats have meant that innovation, agility and streamlined costs have become incredibly important. These are the cornerstones of our proposition.”

Nicholas described the new agency as a “boutique operation run by savvy guys who know the market inside out”.

He continued: “My own view is that the time is exactly right for an agency that has clear, stripped-back thinking and direct client interaction at its core. River Media brings together three of the best and most respected men in the business. Their vast experience and in-depth knowledge of global markets makes them a go-to for anyone seeking to establish a place at the top table of sport.”