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SBJ/November 10 - 16, 2003/Forty Under 40
Published November 10, 2003
People who know Casey Wasserman say he doesn't act his age. xxxxxx "Casey is a young guy of about 28 going on 65," said Arena Football League Commissioner David Baker. "I have never met a guy with a better network. ... He carries the connections of someone who has been in the business for a while."
Baker said that since Wasserman bought the Los Angeles Avengers in 1998, he has gained the trust of other AFL team owners, who include Jerry Jones, Pat Bowlen and Jerry Colangelo, to the point that he has been elected vice chairman of the league and is slated to be elevated to chairman next year. Wasserman took a lead role in negotiating the AFL's current labor and television contracts, Baker said.
Ken Schanzer, president of NBC Sports, who negotiated the network's deal to broadcast AFL games with Wasserman as one of the league's two top negotiators, said, "He's got a maturity and an approach that is well beyond his years."
Schanzer remembers sitting directly across the table from Wasserman while negotiating the AFL deal last year. "I would look him in the eye and he in mine," Schanzer said. "I was impressed that someone as young as Casey was as knowledgeable and professional and competent as he was."
While many men grow up with their father as their primary role model, Casey Wasserman's grandfather, Lew Wasserman, was his. "For all practical purposes, my grandfather raised me," Wasserman said.
Lew Wasserman was widely remembered as the last of the old-time movie moguls when he died last year at the age of 89. Wasserman was chairman and CEO of MCA, agent to such stars as Jimmy Stewart, Bette Davis and Ronald Reagan, and confidant to world leaders such as Lyndon B. Johnson.
Casey Wasserman had breakfast with his grandfather every Saturday and Sunday "my whole life," he said. He traveled the world with his grandfather and sat in on business meetings. "He exposed me to his world, and it was the greatest education you could get."
Wasserman got a different view of sports than most boys get growing up. His family went to Super Bowls with NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and to Wimbledon with IMG founder Mark McCormack.
Wasserman, in fact, met one of his mentors in the sports business, NFL executive vice president Roger Goodell, during those Super Bowl trips, as Goodell was then part of Rozelle's staff.
Wasserman's other mentor in the sports business is Anschutz Entertainment Group President and CEO Tim Leiweke, and they met in the late 1990s, shortly after Leiweke moved to Los Angeles to build Staples Center. "I met Tim at a political fund-raiser at my grandfather's house for President Clinton," Wasserman said.
Leiweke and Wasserman joined last year in an effort to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles in a new stadium to be built privately in downtown Los Angeles, but shelved the plans when a number of political obstacles cropped up.
Leiweke said when and if the NFL returns to Los Angeles, he expects Wasserman to be involved in some way. "Anyone doing football here without Casey would be making a mistake," he said.
Now, however, Wasserman has been concentrating on building his Wasserman Media Group, which this year acquired sports marketing and naming-rights company Envision and action sports marketing and representation firm The Familie.
Wasserman is reluctant to provide details on his plans for Wasserman Media Group, but he says he wants to build a company that represents athletes in sports that affect lifestyles.
"Action sports, in the broadest sense, is a lifestyle," Wasserman said. "Basketball, golf and tennis are much more lifestyle sports than baseball and hockey."
Wasserman said that with companies being sold and experiencing financial difficulties, there are a lot of opportunities now to acquire companies and build an agency. "A lot of what was done in the 1990s will be undone in the next five years," he said.
Wasserman said he does not aspire to build a company as large as IMG. But, he said, "Clearly, IMG is the model company" of what he is striving to do.
Meanwhile, Wasserman's mentor Leiweke predicts, "In the next five to 10 years, Casey's company will be one of the leading sports property and sports representation companies."