SBJ/February 28 - March 6, 2005/Forty Under 40

Casey Wasserman



Arena Football League Commissioner David Baker remembers the first meeting he had with Casey Wasserman. Wasserman was 23 years old and making a pitch to own an AFL franchise. “I think he was nervous about his presentation,” Baker recalled. “He made it from a binder with three-hole paper and, I think, a No. 2 pencil. But he came on his own jet.”

• Age: 30
• Title: CEO
• Company: Wasserman Media Group
• Education: B.A., political science, UCLA, 1996
• Family: Wife, Laura; son, Emmet, 1
• Career: Worked with supermarket magnate Ron Burkle, evaluating business opportunities from 1996-1998; bought Arena Football League's Los Angeles franchise, which was later named the Avengers, in 1998; acquired sports marketing firm Envision, action sports representation firm The Familie and founded Wasserman Media Group in 2003
• Last vacation: Hawaii over Christmas
• Last book read: "State of Fear" by Michael Crichton
• Last movie seen: "Napoleon Dynamite"
• Greatest achievement: The birth of my son
• Greatest disappointment: That my grandfather doesn't get to see my son grow up
• Fantasy job: Director of the CIA
• Executive most admired: My grandfather, Lew Wasserman, former head of MCA
• Business advice: A CEO's biggest job is to manage bad news. I don't expect people to tell me when good things happen, but I do expect to hear when bad things happen.
If Wasserman came across then as green but fortunate by inheritance, now, seven years later, the impression is much different. It’s that of a man talented and accomplished in his own right. Wasserman now owns the AFL Los Angeles Avengers, and he’s held every leadership position among league owners. He has headed the labor, television and expansion committees at various times during a span when franchises grew in value from less than $1 million to between $10 million and $20 million.

His sports marketing, management and content company, Wasserman Media Group, has had an excellent year. Its marketing arm engineered the $180 million naming-rights deal between the British soccer club Arsenal and Emirates Airlines and subsequently was chosen to handle naming rights and shirt sponsorship sales for Italy’s Juventus soccer team.

Wasserman Media Group was part of a deal that will bring four Formula One races and ancillary programming to CBS this year. And it launched Studio411, a cooperative venture involving assets that the company acquired with action sports film studio 411 Productions and agreements with many of the top independent studios and producers.

“It’s been interesting watching him grow, not only as an owner but as an executive with a significant agency,” Baker said. “He’s got a lot of great achievements ahead of him.”

Wasserman Media Group’s revenue is in the low to mid-eight-figure range. Those aren’t IMG numbers, but the 30-year-old Wasserman acknowledges that the Cleveland-based agency is the model he’ll be following for the next four or five decades.

“But I’m bad at predicting the future and worse at making excuses,” he said. “I’m going to continue to invest in acquisitions and organic growth. Everyone talks exit strategy and end game. I’m thinking entry strategy. Are we going in with smart people? And are we operating it well? Then everything else takes care of itself.”

Rather than bet on single outcomes, Wasserman said it’s crucial to anticipate everything that could go wrong in a deal, even when things look good. He pointed to his purchase last year of filmmaker 411 Productions. Despite due diligence, he found a less stable, narrower business when the acquisition was done.

“But we were prepared for it and acted quickly,” he said, “and the result is frankly much better than what we had started off doing.” It’s now a broad-based production and marketing coalition involving the other top studios and producers.

With his family roots in early Hollywood — Wasserman’s grandfather, movie mogul Lew Wasserman, was his prime influence — and with his efforts focused on many nontraditional sports and leagues, Wasserman is asked about the eventual convergence of sports and entertainment media. “It’s interesting for people to think they’re not already converged,” he said. “That’s a misconception. Entertainment to me is just sort of content, generally speaking, that appeals to a broad range of people.”

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