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Published March 3, 2008
Several years ago, Michael Levine was offered a chance to head up sales for all of Europe for his then employer, the formerly mighty SFX Sports. It was a big job for a 27-year-old, but Levine turned it down in favor of taking a chance on a new startup company called Sportscapsule Inc.
"I felt we weren't living up to the hype at SFX," Levine said today. "I got offered the job to run SFX sales in Europe. I didn't feel the company was headed in the right direction, and in retrospect, I was right."
SFX Sports, after being acquired by Clear Channel Communications, eventually changed from the biggest sports agency ever built through acquisitions to breaking up into pieces and fading away. Sportscapsule, a company that allowed children to create their own ESPN "SportsCenter" highlights from their Little League and other athletic exploits, went out of business due, Levine said, to being ahead of its time.
But Levine landed on his feet, getting hired by Van Wagner Sports Group in 2002 and eventually being promoted to president of the company. Van Wagner counts roughly 200 Major League Baseball, NHL, NBA and college clients, selling sponsorships mostly on rotating signage at facilities and generating annual revenue in excess of $200 million.
Now Levine is running CAA Sports, along with David Rone, former executive vice president of Fox Sports Networks, and Howard Nuchow, former president of business operations for Mandalay Baseball. And many in the industry have questioned whether or not CAA Sports may suffer the same fate as SFX Sports, since both companies were built through acquisitions of the best agents and executives in sports.
But Levine, who has the advantage of having worked at both companies, said CAA Sports and SFX Sports are very different. "CAA is hiring and adding people to the business for long-term success, as opposed to creating some sort of EBITDA buildup, rollup for Wall Street for them to flip," Levine said.
Levine, whose nickname is "Vino," along with Rone and Nuchow, has already scored some coups at CAA, including winning the coveted prize of representing the New York Yankees' new stadium for corporate sponsorships, as well as most recently signing NASCAR star Jimmie Johnson for representation.
"Vino's infectious enthusiasm for creating new opportunities has enabled him to have an immediate impact on the growth of CAA Sports," said Richard Lovett, CAA president. "Equally important to what he has accomplished is the manner in which he has achieved these accomplishments. His straightforward and personal approach is an incredible cultural fit for CAA and has been well-received within the agency and by our clients."
Richard Schaps, chairman and CEO of Van Wagner and Levine's former boss, said he was sorry to see him go. "When Michael left, it certainly was a disappointment," Schaps said. "He is an absolute superstar. He is well-liked by people above him and people below him."
Currently, Levine is part of a CAA team that has been in talks with the NBA about creating an animated television show, according to Adam Silver, NBA deputy commissioner and COO. "I am hopeful that it will happen," Silver said of the project. "As you know, CAA represents several top NBA players, including LeBron James (who is co-represented by Maverick Carter), Tony Parker and Allen Iverson. From the NBA standpoint, we know they are in good hands."
Silver is well-acquainted with Levine from his days at Van Wagner, when Levine did deals with at least 14 NBA teams as well as a leaguewide signage deal for the WNBA.
"He makes selling fun," Silver said. "Sitting on the other side of the table from him, he always makes me feel like he is doing me a favor when I do business with him - and, in fact, I think he is. That is how good a salesman he is.
"He's one of those salesmen who starts the meeting by saying, 'How can I help you?'"