SportsPro Magazine featuring Wasserman CEO Casey Wasserman: Sept 2011 Issue by WassermanMediaGroup


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                            September 2011

Tackling the sports
industry head on
Surveying the social/
digital landscape
Page 40

The state of play in the
professional peloton
Page 84

Atlanta’s dreams for
the WNBA’s future
Page 104
CoVer sTorY | AGENCY

Wasserman’s World                                                                                                                                      Casey Wasserman photographed at Wasserman Media
                                                                                                                                                       Group’s central London office on Tuesday
                                                                                                                                                       2nd August 2011

Casey Wasserman and his global sports practice have been creating a stir for some time but, with further
expansion and diversification taking place, there is still much to be achieved in the sports industry for
one of America’s most talented executives.

By David Cushnan. Photographs by Graham Fudger

         “Since I was a little kid I have loved    someone who’s running a business, certainly       operations in athlete management, media
         sport but also been very passionate       a business of any scale. In the end I believe     rights, corporate consulting, sponsor
         about the business of sport, and          I have three fundamental responsibilities         acquisition and investment strategising
I continue to be completely energised              for this company. Number one is to make           across a range of sports and territories – as
by it. I’m unbelievably competitive and I          sure we’re all going in the same direction        well as major bases in Wasserman’s home
do this because I love what I’m doing –            and that’s all about strategy; secondly, I        town and New York, the company has
otherwise I wouldn’t do it.” As always, Casey      believe we need to create an atmosphere           established international offices in the heart
Wasserman’s words are chosen carefully and         that allows people to do that which they          of London and, more recently, Mumbai. As
delivered precisely, a skill that has served him   do best and that’s all about culture; lastly, I   he explains the overarching group strategy
well during his rise in prominence over the        think any CEO’s primary responsibility is         behind both recent acquisitions, Wasserman
last decade. Sports executive, philanthropist,     the ability to deal with bad news. Creating       says “it’s relatively unlikely that we’re going
would-be NFL team owner, member of the             the culture, setting the direction and dealing    to expand scope a lot” but adds: “We believe
Los Angeles social and business elite – it         with problems are my responsibility. It needs     that certainly over the next few years our
is for good reason that the 37-year-old is                                                           growth is going to be driven by continuing
considered amongst the brightest and most                “Creating the culture,                      to add depth where we have areas of
influential young business minds in the                                                              expertise and strength.
United States. His eponymous global sports             setting the direction and                        “Both acquisitions, frankly, fit in very
practice has grown from a staff of three to           dealing with problems are                      well with that. We had the opportunity
around 300 in a little under ten years and                                                           to acquire SFX Golf and that really, first
continues to expand and diversify, as two                 my responsibility.”                        and foremost, was a culture fit for us. We
major acquisitions in 2011 alone testify.                                                            had a very small golf practice, with a few
Despite his packed schedule and daunting-          to evolve as we get bigger, clearly, because      high profile clients, and culturally John
looking air miles count, Wasserman remains         you need to adapt to the environment you’re       Mascatello and his team fitted the way
very much in touch with every significant          operating in, but it’s never going to be a        we like to operate,” says Wasserman of
move made by the group he formed in 2002.          wholesale change in our core beliefs and how      the executive that will take charge of the
He wouldn’t have it any other way.                 we execute against them.”                         company’s expanded golf practice. “They
   And if there is a vitality about Wasserman        The evolution of the company, both              have an extraordinary client list with an
Media Group, now undoubtedly one of the            in size and specialist areas, is a topical        extraordinary set of executives having built
major names in the global agency business,         subject given Wasserman’s acquisition of          that business together for a very long time.
it would not be hyperbolic to suggest that         two significant companies in a matter of          The strategy was clear, the fit was clean and
much of that vim comes from the man                months earlier this year. April’s deal to buy     the opportunity and timing were right for
himself. “I think in almost every instance a       SFX Golf, a firm that counts the likes of         them and us. It gives us what we now think
company is going to take its personality, at       Rickie Fowler, Zach Johnson and Hunter            is the best young client base in golf.”
a minimum, and in some cases a lot more            Mahan amongst the clients it manages, was            According to Wasserman the purchase of
from its CEO. And in this case someone             preceded by the acquisition of London-            Reel, the company formed and run quietly
who founded the business is the CEO                based sports media rights practice Reel           but effectively by British executives David
and obviously is very active running the           Enterprises, which, amongst many others,          Kogan and Sara Munds, adds a crucial string
business,” he says during a typically flying       has advised the Premier League on its             to an important industry bow. “We have a
visit to Wasserman Media Group’s central           broadcast contracts for many years. As            media rights business that operates in the
London office in the first week of August.         statements of intent go, the deals are            US but we do believe in time that more
“I think that’s a good thing. I also think it’s    certainly impressive and add to a Wasserman       and more rights will be managed, owned
really one of the primary responsibilities of      armoury that already includes significant         and controlled by the rights holders as

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Wasserman’s extensive roster of clients includes NBA MVP Derrick Rose, Manchester United player Michael Owen and US PGA Tour star Rickie Fowler          “Creating the culture, setting the direction and dealing with problems are my responsibility,” says Wasserman of the company he founded nearly a decade ago

opposed to sold to third parties who then            a stroke it handed Wasserman an enviable                Although Wasserman had previously cast      desire to go is to empower the people around         manage a golfer or get involved with David            steeped in the culture of entrepreneurship
sell them to broadcasters or distribution            professional athlete client list; equally, if not    a footprint in Europe – most significantly     you to do their jobs. So while I may not, and        Kogan on the next Premier League rights               since childhood. His grandfather, and by
platforms. The role of the highly strategic,         more importantly, Tellem was able to bring           perhaps in brokering the deal between          nor should I, be doing everyone else’s job, it       deal – unless someone asks me to.”                    all accounts a very significant influence,
intellectual, connected, with-great-                 with him a group of experienced, credible            Arsenal and stadium naming rights partner      doesn’t mean I don’t know everything that               While Wasserman insists there is no                was the legendary American talent agent
experience advisors becomes more and                 executives and agents. “Any time you have            Emirates – he regards the SFX Sports           is going on at the level I should be and am          company “playbook” on acquisitions, he                and executive Lew Wasserman, making
more valuable and there’s no question in             the ability to acquire a practice of its scale       Group deal as “one of the two or three         helpful in providing direction and guidance          does insist that “there are very clear things         Wasserman Media Group something of
our mind, or the industry’s perspective,             and size, led by someone of his stature and          most important deals” in the company’s         where appropriate. My level of knowledge             we believe in that we need to make sure we            a natural progression. Wasserman today
that David Kogan sits at the top of that list        character, that’s pretty unique,” Wasserman          development, before emphasising again          hasn’t changed. And if we acquired six more          have alignment in”.                                   continues to run his family’s foundation in
with Sara Munds. Their relationships, their          says of Tellem, who today remains a vital            that “it only happened because we did          David Kogans around the world and David                 He continues: “Very rarely do acquisitions         parallel with his work in sport. His influence
clients, their business fits very well with          cog in the Wasserman machine as the head             Arn Tellem’s transaction.” Another key         and Sara were managing them, their roles             not work because you were completely                  has perhaps never been higher, particularly
ours and continues to diversify our business         of the company’s extensive management                acquisition Wasserman makes sure to            would change over time too. You can’t just           wrong about what the business was. Almost             in Los Angeles where he is the guiding force
internationally and in an area where we have         division. “That was clearly a very defining          mention is consultancy firm OnSport,           stay static in your approach or your role            always they don’t work because culturally             behind plans to build an NFL-specification
a good track record in the US.”                      acquisition for us and everything else we’ve         previously run by Gary Stevenson. “That        because you can’t grow a business that way.          and based on personalities people don’t get           stadium and attract one or more teams back
   Fuelling growth through acquisitions is           done in the management business has been             gave us such a broad base in a consulting         “We now have a very big, global sports            along. If we missed so bad on a business              to the city. Such is his growing stature, it has
not a Wasserman trend confined to 2011.              a result of that.” Indeed, that much was             practice of such standing and stature – hard   business and our goal is to continue to              then it deserved not to go right, but the             been suggested by more than one observer
When asked about milestone moments in                proved at the end of 2006 when Wasserman             to replicate,” Wasserman says now. “We’ve      expand on that basis. We’re going to                 personality piece is harder to understand.            that a move into politics would be a natural
the company’s development it is significant          was able to conclude a deal to acquire the           done a lot of work to continue to grow that    continue to be more and more aggressive              Those things sometimes take a long time               one; one executive went further, suggesting it
that Wasserman points immediately to                 football, rugby, marketing and events division       in the US and grow it overseas.”               and more and more strategic in that                  to reveal themselves; sometimes there’s               would not be too much of a surprise to see
the purchase of several other firms now              of SFX Sports Group, Europe. “I’m not                   Inevitably, the growth of the business      approach. But in the end what that means             things you don’t know about because they’re           him ultimately run for president.
integrated into the Wasserman empire. In             sure without Arn we ever had a chance of             through acquisitions has changed               is the people who manage the businesses              deeper inside the business. So we spend                  For now, though, it is the various and
particular he cites bringing legendary US            doing that deal,” Wasserman says candidly            Wasserman’s own role as leader and             in their respective units and territories            most of our time trying to understand the             oft-changing challenges of the business
sports agent Arn Tellem’s baseball and               of a transaction that included clients of the        figurehead. It is a change, however, he is     day-to-day have a lot more autonomy to               people and the culture and we believe that            of sport that are keeping him more than
basketball practices under the Wasserman             stature of Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard              more than comfortable with. “The only way      make decisions. That’s why people are so             if those things work we’ll either figure out          occupied. Technology ensures that the media
umbrella in early 2006 – Tellem having earlier       and Andriy Shevchenko, plus rugby stars              a business can scale to where we have come     fundamentally important to our success. I’m          the business or we won’t.”                            landscape in which the various strands of
left SFX – as a game-changing moment. At             Jonny Wilkinson and Martin Johnson.                  today from where we were and where we          not going to tell John Mascatello how to                Wasserman himself, of course, has been             his business operate is constantly shifting.

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“I think the world we’re living in today has                                                                                                      Wasserman oversees an extensive operation
created the role that we sit in and made it      Soccer in the US: a call for the extraordinary                                                   in the United States, as well as international
                                                                                                                                                  offices in London and Mumbai
more meaningful,” he suggests. “If you take
a football player in the UK, ten years ago we    Wasserman represents eight members              our country is either the best player in
did his team deal, did a few endorsements,       of the US team that lost out to Japan           the world being an American or the US
helped him with off the pitch opportunities,     in a dramatic penalty shoot-out in the          men’s team has an extraordinary result
personal stuff – that was the extent of it.      women’s World Cup final in July. Despite        at a World Cup. Neither of those things
Now there’s a whole level of engagement          the disappointment of defeat, the               would ever have a chance of happening
and exposure that they have the opportunity      performance and popularity of the team          without all the investment MLS has made
to attain given the world we live in. Our role   was seen as something of a watershed            and all the development they’ve done and
in terms of helping them to understand           moment in the development of soccer in          will continue to do to build the sport in
what that opportunity is, is helping them        the US. With the benefit of a few weeks         our country. But I don’t think the next
think about that communication and what          to consider the state of the sport in the       exponential leap of soccer in our country
it can do for them as a player, helping          country, Wasserman chooses his words            is going to be because MLS continues to
explore business opportunities around that       carefully. “The challenge that women’s          grow its base. Those successes will happen
new communication platform – and every           football has in the US is that they don’t       because of that investment, which has
six months there’s a new way for them to         have the infrastructure that men’s football     been going on for 20 years, in youth soccer,
engage with their fanbase and explore those      has to exploit the success that the US team     youth development and the US soccer
opportunities. The role we play is much more     had – such extraordinary success can be         federation, and the MLS’ development into
expanded, it’s more important, I think, in       lost pretty quickly, although the WPS as a      a real professional league of significance in
terms of creating value for the client than      nascent league has done a pretty good job       our country. That will continue to grow but
it was ten years ago because their ability to    of capturing the excitement.                    as we saw with the women’s World Cup, an
generate opportunity based on them as an           “I really believe that Americans like to      extraordinary result on a global level will
individual as opposed to being part of a team    be the best at things and so I think the        change the dynamic in our country forever
is much more enhanced.                           next level of ascension of the sport in         if it happens.”
   “That changing landscape is what’s exciting
to me every day about the sports business in
general because sports, relative to just about                                                                                                   could create it would be one that started the     amongst all parties to continue to meet and        concerns me, because frankly the labour
any other piece of the media business, is the
                                                 The Casey Wasserman report card                                                                 day after the Super Bowl and ended before         explore ways to try and continue to try and        deals shouldn’t be about the commissioners,
most fundamentally valuable, whether you’re                                                                                                      training camps started, so you miss almost        change the dynamics of the negotiations to         the union heads, they should be about
an athlete, a brand, a federation, a rights-     There is not a moment’s hesitation when         have created a very meaningful business         nothing meaningful. While the NFL has             try and create a result. I think that was pretty   making sure the business has an opportunity
holder, a property, a team. I think sports       Casey Wasserman is asked for his thoughts       for themselves.                                 now become a 12-month business, what              consistent and pretty remarkable. What             to work – not a guarantee to work, an
will continue to be more and more valuable,      on who is doing a particularly good job           “It’s also hard to argue with what            happens on Sundays is special in the United       concerns me is that what you have in the           opportunity to work – for all involved. And
while other media properties will continue       in the sports industry in 2011. “I think        the top clubs in the Premier League             States and not one game was missed. I think                                                          ultimately create a result that continues
to be more and more challenged, which will       you can take a look at what Major League        have done to build themselves as global         that’s a credit both to the commissioner and                                                         to build on the success that the NBA has
make the role of companies like ours I think,    Baseball has done on their online business,     brands. The one thing I’m continually           the head of the union that the negotiations
                                                                                                                                                                                                      “sports will continue to                        had recently, that allows the fans to engage
hopefully, more value to the whole economic      though Major League Advanced Media,”            amazed about is almost regardless of            for the most part were conducted privately         be more and more valuable,                        with the sport in meaningful ways like they
system that exists in the business of sports.”   he says of an offering that has won             where you are you’re certain to see a           and without rhetoric. I think that showed          while other media properties                      have. Neither side will end up where they
   The evaluation of economic models             acclaim across the industry and beyond.         Premier League club jersey on some kid          everyone – while they both wanted change –                                                           are today; neither side will end up where
has become something of a reluctant              “It’s hard to argue with the tremendous         in the streets, you’re certain to see the       was intent on actually making sure they did        will continue to be more and                      they were when the season ended. If they
pastime amongst US sports fans in recent         innovation they’ve created and success          merchandise in the stores and you’re            everything they could to get as good a deal              more challenged.”                           both started with that premise I think they’d
months, as first the NFL and then the            they’ve created around it. They do have         certain to see the product on television.       as they could get without risking the damage                                                         be much closer to finding some common
NBA became engaged in labour disputes.           the advantage of having very early on           The Premier League has taken advantage          of missing games. While people may have                                                              ground, which would be a step in the right
As Wasserman speaks in August, the               aggregated all the rights from the teams,       of its standing in the world of football,       been upset at the thought and the threat          NBA is quite the opposite, which is a lot of       direction from where they are today.”
NFL has just concluded a new collective          which gives them an operational advantage       has taken advantage of football’s               that games were going to be missed, any           rhetoric, a lot of posturing, a lot of blame,         With adversity, however, comes
bargaining agreement; the various parties        but they’ve done a very good job of             standing in the world of sport and done         small damage that may have been done to           without much of the same urgency and               opportunity and Wasserman stresses that the
in the NBA dispute, however, remain              executing against that.                         an incredibly good job of building a            the enormous fanbase of the NFL will be           consistency the NFL showed in its process.         significant work undertaken in recent years by
locked in stalemate. “You never want to go         “I think sports like the UFC are doing        business both for its clubs and for itself      quickly forgotten as soon as they kick-off          “My second concern is when any sides             the NBA to globalise the sport is presenting
through a work stoppage to get to a labour       really interesting things to create audiences   and I think that’s going to get bigger and      that first game.”                                 take positions that are so dramatic in their       previously unimaginable possibilities for
deal,” Wasserman says, referring firstly to      in a very challenging environment to            bigger – one of the areas where they will         He paints a less rosy picture, however, of      shift from the current environment, it’s easy      locked-out players, many of whom, of
the NFL. “You’d rather negotiate while in        create an audience. They’ve done it in a        enjoy their next economic benefit may be        the NBA labour dispute. “Even when the            to say you’re far apart. So, sure, they’re far     course, are represented by Wasserman. “We
contract. Having said that, if you were ever     very creative and cost-effective way and        the United States.”                             NFL was months away from training camp            apart – do they need to be that far apart? I       had eight players go to the Philippines in
going to design the single best lockout you                                                                                                      there was a profound sense of urgency             don’t believe so and that’s why the rhetoric       July and some of our players made more

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                                                                                                     substantially different from what teams
 The digital and social media conundrum                                                              at the bottom of the league can generate.
                                                                                                     Because of the NBA you have local and
 It is a constant thorn in the side of all            “I think the next big thing you’ll start       national TV rights but so many of the
 marketers, whether inside the sports              to see is how does the aggregation of a           dollars are going to be driven by those local
 industry or not: how exactly do you               community in a social media environment           rights now that it has just created a dynamic
 generate return on investment from digital        morph into social commerce? Whilst                that is untenable. It’s created a whole system
 and social media? Casey Wasserman – a             the fact that an athlete can have three           that, frankly, needs to be re-imagined.”
 man, incidentally, with a Twitter following       million followers on Twitter today is a              That, perhaps, is for another day in Casey
 of over 11,000 – believes the social media        means for an athlete to talk about his            Wasserman’s already busy life. His number
 part of that is a conundrum yet to be             training, his injury, what he’s doing, the        one professional concern remains his own
 solved, but adds that it is more a question       game, thoughts on politics, life, charity,        business. Further expansion of it is not
 of definition. “I would argue that satellite      whatever it may be and to build their             ruled out; indeed, quite the reverse. “There’s
 television is a form of digital distribution,”    relationship with their fans, tomorrow            huge swathes of the world where we have
 he says. “Leagues have figured out how            it can be a very different economic               no meaningful presence,” he says, frankly.
 to monetise that digital relationship with        relationship that derives substantial             “To best service our clients in the world we
 consumers, whether it’s through broadcast         revenue for the athlete – equally for the         live in today and the world we’re going to
 rights, fantasy applications or, over here,       teams, equally for the rights holders.            live in for the foreseeable future, we need
 gambling and gaming applications. There’s         Sport is one of the great natural                 to be able to deliver them the opportunities,
 significant business that has been created        aggregators of people the world has               the reach and the service that we deliver as
 and will be created through that new              ever known and technology has finally
 distribution ecosystem. Social media will         made it possible to speak directly to the
 be an unbelievably important part of that         aggregated; as opposed to talking about              “I’m not going to tell John
 ecosystem. Today, it has mostly been a            the aggregated now you can actually talk             mascatello how to manage
 means of aggregating an audience, not a           to the aggregated and in the middle of
 means of generating significant revenue,          that there will be a tremendous amount              a golfer or get involved with
 although I think that will change.                of commerce that transacts.”                          david Kogan on the next
                                                                                                       Premier league rights deal –
from those two days than they do for two           that are 300 to 400 miles north – Sacramento        unless someone asks me to.”
days in the NBA. That opportunity didn’t           and Golden State – I would be shocked if,
exist ten years ago. If Derrick Rose, the NBA      combined, their local television revenue was
MVP who we represent, can play 20 games            15 or 20 per cent of that number. That has        a best-in-class provider on a global basis.
on a par with the games he played in the           nothing to do with player salaries. That is a     That means we need to be where sport
Philippines he would make a lot more than          real economic problem that the NBA needs          fundamentally is important and that creates
he would make playing in the NBA next year.        to understand how to even out – not entirely,     real economic opportunity. We’re going
That’s a pretty interesting idea. I’m not saying   because that’s not fair; you don’t want to take   to continue being aggressive without ever
that’s what he wants or that that’s the best       away the incentives for teams to innovate. But    straying from our philosophies in terms of
result, but he’s not absent of opportunities       that disparity is unsustainable. While there      qualities and character.
to generate revenue and income based on            may be changes to the labour agreement               “We don’t worry about where we’ll end up
his talents any more whereas ten years ago         with the players to create more opportunities     but we spend all our time making sure how
there weren’t really those opportunities. It’s     for teams to create success, there have to        we get there is appropriate and best for our
a pretty interesting dynamic that all sides        be changes to the economic system of the          business. I’m going to continue to push and
have to deal with now.”                            league to create more opportunities to even       drive until someone gives me a reason to
   Though Wasserman doesn’t believe there          out the highs and the lows between the haves      stop, which I can’t imagine. I have nothing
are fundamental flaws in the economic              and the have-nots.                                else I’d rather be doing and no other group
models of the major US sports, he argues              “It’s no different to the spending in the      of people I’d rather be doing it with.”
that many leagues, in particular the NBA, do       UK. The revenue that Manchester United
face a significant challenge when it comes to      can generate – a lot of that is made up by
distributing revenues. “The LA Lakers just did     the substantial television revenue that’s         The October edition of SportsPro will see Casey
a new television agreement that on average         shared equally and the difference is there        Wasserman discuss his involvement in the bold plans to
is about US$205 million a year for 25 years        are no local TV rights, thankfully, because       build a world class stadium in Los Angeles and efforts
– in local television revenues. The two teams      that would exacerbate the problem – is            to bring the NFL back to the city he calls home.

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