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SBJ/March 3 - 9, 2008/Forty Under 40
Published March 3, 2008
As Steve Astephen pushed through the gate of University of Phoenix Stadium and into the Super Bowl, a couple in front of him turned around and stopped.
"Yo," a young man said. "You're that guy from 'Life of Ryan.' I love that show. Can I have your autograph?"
Comments like that have become commonplace for Astephen over the last several months. He's heard similar remarks from everyone from Eli Manning's agent Tom Condon to his own client, Jeremy McGrath.
While MTV's reality show "The Life of Ryan," about skateboarder and client Ryan Sheckler, has made Astephen a familiar public face, his name and face have been both familiar and dominating in action sports since he first represented an action sports athlete more than a decade ago.
Today, the Wasserman Media Group principal manages an action sports division that features 10 agents, four consultants and one salesman. His team manages more than 65 athletes, including some of the sport's biggest names: surfing's Iron brothers, skating's Bob Burnquist, BMX's Dave Mirra, FMX's Nate Adams and supercross' Travis Pastrana.
Part of the reason those names sound familiar is because of the roster of corporations - PlayStation, Target, Oxy, Subaru, Slim Jim and others - that have endorsed and promoted them. And part of the reason those companies have backed them is Astephen.
"No one can better sell a corporate room on the value of action sports," said X Games general manager Chris Stiepock. "He's been one of the most instrumental people in getting corporate America to take action sports seriously."
Born into a lower-middle class family in the Boston area, Astephen left home at 17 and moved to Vail, Colo., not long after he graduated from high school. It was there he discovered snowboarding and realized that no one was watching out for the riders' interests. To fill that void, he wound up launching an agency in a garage office with one client.
"He modeled himself after (IMG's Mark) McCormack, saw an opportunity in action sports and found clients who are very loyal to him because he's incredibly loyal to them," Stiepock said.
Throughout it all, an East Coast aggressiveness pervaded Astephen's approach to corporate America. It's an attitude that may not always win praise but always serves him and his athletes well.
"I'm a true believer you're born to do this stuff or you're not," Astephen said. "I believe in the athletes and believe that they deliver value and an important demographic. Now with younger fans (who grew up) with action sports now having kids of their own, we're going to be expanding along with them."