Cline-Thomas Group Acquiring Stake in Athletes First

According to multiple sources, Rudy Cline Thomas is close to a deal to buy a substantial stake in Athletes First. Multiple sources claim that the agency, which represents NFL players such as Aaron Rodgers or Dak Prescott has been searching for a strategic partner for more than a decade.

Cline-Thomas is expected to purchase the 33 percent stake owned by Dentsu Sports International, a subsidiary of Dentsu Inc. In 2015, the Japanese advertising giant bought its stake for $16.5million in a transaction that valued the agency as $50 million.

Athletes First has grown its client base to include coaches and broadcasters, from 180 to over 200.

Cline-Thomas is the founder of Mastry Inc, a venture capital firm. He has long advocated for building Black wealth through equity ownership and investment plays.

Cline-Thomas is best known for his work as a financial advisor with Andre Iguodala (Golden State Warriors guard). He was a former sports agent and has been a prominent voice in Silicon Valley’s athlete investor community.

andre iguodala and business partner rudy cline thomas

Athletes First is home to some the most influential agents of the NFL, such as CEO Brian Murphy, Todd France, and David Mulugheta. Athletes First received sufficient funding from Dentsu to acquire France in 2020, and Trace Armstrong in 2016, a top agent for the NFL and college coaches.

Based in Laguna Hills, Calif. the firm was founded in 2001 and has negotiated over $2 billion in active NFL contracts, according to Pickswise.

Athletes First also has Deshaun Watson, a highly-paid quarterback, as clients. Watson’s $230 Million guaranteed deal with Cleveland Browns continues its impact on quarterback negotiations throughout the league.

According to its website, the agency has negotiated deals with eight Super Bowl MVPs, and 102 Pro Bowlers. It’s also slated to have one of its greatest rookie draft classes, highlighted by Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud.

DSI used MKTG’s marketing agency to help it penetrate the U.S. through sports marketing and ad strategies. Dentsu’s first Athletes First investment was celebrated as a strategic partnership.

It would allow Dentsu to diversify its business and provide more marketing avenues for Athletes First customers while also giving Dentsu an increased presence in the U.S.

Athletes first partners has been able to increase its client base thanks to Dentsu’s extensive network, which includes Paralympics Properties (Team USA), the NBA Players Association and sports merchandise retailer Fanatics Inc. Six Flags Entertainment Corp. recently retained the agency to handle the sale of the Edmonton Oilers jersey patches.

Athletes First was acquired by the Cline-Thomas Group as several agencies consolidate their businesses. Priority Sports & Entertainment purchased Element Sports Group. Last year, Jet Sports was bought by Wasserman Media Group. Earlier this month, HYBE America purchased Quality Control (which also includes Quality Control Sports). It cost $320 million.

All of this comes as the agency model continues to be disrupted throughout sports.

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