Courtesy of Casey Wasserman
Casey Wasserman has an app that reminds him how many days are left until the opening ceremony of the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Sitting in Wasserman’s offices wearing a black suit, with a US flag artwork on the back, the 49-year-old sports and music executive checks his phone: less than 1,650 days until the LA28 campaign he’s leading is complete. “I don’t know that I signed up for 14 years of voluntary work,” he says, “but look, here we are.”
About a decade ago, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called Wasserman and asked him who would lead the effort to bring the US Olympic and Paralympic games to the Southern California city. A few weeks later, Garcetti called him back: Those people aren’t going to work. He wanted Wasserman to take on the herculean task himself.
“I told him, ‘This is a difficult thing to do in the best of circumstances — and, by the way, I have a job,'” Wasserman says. A few weeks later, the mayor called him again and said: “I don’t want to do this to you, but I am the mayor.” It is important to our city. You have to do this. “
In 2015, when Wasserman launched a campaign to bring the Olympics to LA, he had 13 years to build his sports and entertainment agency (then called Wasserman Media Group). But fun was in his DNA. The grandson of famed Hollywood talent agent and MCA president Lew Wasserman, the younger Wasserman learned the ropes of the industry from him, and says that even though he’s in theater instead of film, he still plays his grandfather’s lessons in his head every day. he taught him.
Although MCA did not own sports rights, Wasserman’s grandfather was a sports fan. They would go to London with them in the summer while Lew worked across the pond. Once, at Wimbledon, Wasserman saw Nike founder and businessman Phil Knight “in shorts and a polo shirt and a straw hat,” he recalls. “When I went to Wimbledon with my grandfather, we wore suits and ties.” He asked his grandmother to let them know.
“I believe there were happy people there.” “He’s not the one I want to meet,” says Wasserman, who says he has never dealt with celebrities. “I wanted to meet Phil Knight.”
A self-proclaimed “prodigy who loves the side of sports,” Wasserman started his business in 2002, just months after Lew’s death. One of his first purchases was The Familie, a fitness center in Carlsbad, Calif. “The X Games were new, and there was an opportunity to buy a business that was a leader in its space – small, but a leader in its space – in a growing world,” he says. “Or to be honest, where the regular players didn’t exist.”
Since then, Wasserman’s organization has made nearly 40 acquisitions, including the massive purchase of music group Paradigm in 2021, which brought a large multi-brand group including Coldplay, Billie Eilish, Janelle Monáe and Ed Sheeran under its umbrella. Now the company is comfortably in the line of sports and music (as well as film and TV, following their 2023 acquisition of the entertainment management and production company Brillstein Entertainment Partners) with clients ranging from Kendrick Lamar and Diplo to basketball stars Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. and Brittney Griner. It’s a great place to be as LA28 board chair, watching the days dwindle with interest.
“Hopefully, by the end of the closing ceremonies and the Paralympics, you’ll hear the real LA,” Wasserman said. “Which means more star power, more music.”
How will sports and entertainment interact at the Olympics?
The Los Angeles Olympics must be true to who and what LA is, just as the Paris Olympics will be true to who they are. We don’t have the Eiffel Tower. We don’t have Versailles. That’s why people say Paris is the most beautiful city in the world, because maybe it is. But we are the creative capital of the world. We have star power that no one else in the world has, and you will see more of it.
Where did your love of sports come from?
I was born to love sports. I have always loved the sports business. It goes without saying that my family was involved in drama, and I grew up with my grandparents. They all liked to watch sports. MCA Universal has never had anything in the game, but [my grandfather] I had a lot of friends in and around the sports business, so I really liked sports.
What did you learn from your grandfather Lew Wasserman?
He was not alive from the beginning [my] business, but spending as much time as I do [with him] For as long as I did, I heard many stories. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about something or a story he told me and use it in my business or tell someone else in my business what I learned from him through storytelling.
Why did you decide to go into music in 2021 and get a part of Paradigm music?
For us, if we are going to expand beyond the representation of athletes or talent in sports or around sports, music is always more because of the close connection: the importance of the two businesses, their value as live events that are very important in the world. where there are no other requirements. The combination between sports and music, is what makes each other.
I tried to buy Paradigm for three years. Maybe I had a drink – not really a drink, but let’s call it a drink – with it [Paradigm founder] Sam Gores every week for about two or three years. He never made it through. COVID happened, it changed the world overnight, it changed the business overnight, and [I] he received a call from him and his brother, who was his investor, and [they] said, “We have to sell the music business, and you spend a lot of time in and around, and we have to do this.”
I think it was April 4, 2020. And after 13 months, we closed the deal. And we were in the music business.
What’s the point of buying a music label when live music has stopped?
Because we believe in the music business. We are not buying tomorrow; we are buying for the next 100 years. We believe in its value and power, buying a business that had the best musicians in the world – I’m biased – and bringing them together and encouraging them with culture and support and leadership and ideas, which we’ve done since we had it. It doesn’t matter if you’re our biggest customer or if you’re playing in front of 10 people, we care about them. Because for me, my name is on the door.
Do you like music if you like sports?
I like sports. I like watching sports on TV, it’s no different than listening to music. But I love the business side of the game, and I love the business side of the music industry. Fortunately for us, I’m not the one choosing the artists we sign because, hopefully, it’s not my biggest contribution to the business. I support our agents fully so that they can do their job to the best of their ability and thus attract and care for customers.
Do you meet a lot of athletes who want to get into music or musicians who want to get into sports?
People thought that was a thing. That was always a myth. Simply put, if you’re that great of an athlete and you’re a good musician, it doesn’t matter if you’re represented by the same person or not. And if you are a good athlete and not a good musician, it doesn’t matter who represents you. An agent does not do things that should not happen. You can’t make someone who they are not.
That integration is a skill we have across the company. With athletes, the entire sports market is about sales. Every sporting event has its own display of the game – on the uniform, off the pitch. It is an important skill that you have when you are a sports agent with the amount of clients and business that we have. Now, in a time and place where those things are in demand, we have the skills and capabilities that I don’t think our competitors have. We have produced excellent results for our musicians in terms of sales.
You’re not going to make the best player in the NBA the greatest singer in the world; so the skill you have for representing the best player in the NBA now works for representing the best singers in the world and vice versa.
So you see someone like Shaquille O’Neal – NBA star turned DJ – as a distraction?
Shaq is unique in many ways. He is a friend and a good person to be around. But he has such a great personality. Whatever he does, no one will be surprised. He will try and do everything. He is fearless in that way.
What about Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who is reportedly filming in the studio?
Yes, but those things are only a few. This does not mean that interest does not exist. No one has had the same success [in music and sports]. What Shaq will earn as a DJ will pale in comparison to what he earned in his prime playing basketball.
Why is there such a big difference between music and sports?
Sports and music are alive, so being able to show them together is fun and productive. Pa [Formula 1] On Saturday and Las Vegas, we booked 40 acts – not 40 artists – in four days. You go to any game in the world and when it stops, music comes on the speakers. This is because music and sports are universal languages.
What is Wasserman’s strategy for business growth?
Well, we’re in the service business, and service businesses are surprisingly simple. They only grow in two ways: You get more money from existing customers or more money from new customers. That’s it. As far as I know, the only way to do these two things is to have multiple services for your customers or multiple areas to serve. Our business is not difficult.
We are not driven by anything other than what we believe in [our clients’] interest. And today, it has proven to be the best method of consistency and success and growth. This does not mean that we are unstable. We’ve done about 40 acquisitions in 20 years, and we’ve gone from one person to 3,000 people. Obviously, we are a growing business.
Can Wasserman go public?
I like to say that I am terrible at two things: reading minds and predicting the future.
This article will be available in Feb. 10, 2024, of Billboard.