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 in a black hoodie, framed artwork of the US flag behind him, the 49-year-old sports and music executive checks his phone: just under 1,650 days until the campaign is done. The LA28 he drives. “I’m not sure I knew I was signing up for a 14-year volunteer job,” he says, “but here we are.”
Nearly a decade ago, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called Wasserman asking for suggestions on who could lead the bid to bring the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Games to the Southern California metropolis. A few weeks later, Garcetti called him back: Those people wouldn’t work. He wanted Wasserman to take on the Herculean task himself.
“I told him, ‘This is a difficult thing to do in the best case scenario—and, by the way, I have a job,'” Wasserman says. After a few weeks, the mayor called him again: “I hate to do this to you, but I’m the mayor. It is important for our city. You have to do this.”
In 2015, when Wasserman officially launched the campaign to bring the Olympics to LA, he was 13 years into building 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 while he’s in sports instead of film, he still plays the lessons in his head every day of his grandfather. learned it.
Although MCA never owned sports rights, Wasserman’s grandparents were avid sports fans. He would join them in London in the summer while Lew worked across the pond. Once, at Wimbledon, Wasserman spotted Nike founder and businessman Phil Knight “in shorts, a polo shirt and a straw hat,” he recalls. “When I went to Wimbledon with my grandparents, we were in suits and ties.” He asked his grandfather to introduce them.
“I’m sure there were fun people there. I didn’t want to date that,” says Wasserman, who claims he’s never been hit by a celebrity. “I wanted to meet Phil Knight.”
A self-proclaimed “weird kid who loved the business side of sports,” Wasserman started his agency business in 2002, just months after Lew died. One of his first acquisitions was The Familie, an action sports agency in Carlsbad, California—not because he was an avid skateboarder or snowboarder, but because he saw an untapped niche. “The X Games was relatively 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 world that was growing,” he says. “Or more frankly, where the entrenched players weren’t.”
Since then, the Wasserman agency has made almost 40 acquisitions, including its major acquisition of Paradigm’s music division in 2021, which brought a massive, multi-genre roster including Coldplay, Billie Eilish, Janelle Monáe and Ed Sheeran under its purview . Now the company sits comfortably at the intersection of sports and music (as well as film and television, following its 2023 acquisition of entertainment management and production company Brillstein Entertainment Partners) with clients ranging from Kendrick Lamar and Diplo to professional basketball star Shai Gilgeous -Alexander and Brittney Griner. It is an ideal position to be in as chairman of the board of LA28, looking forward to the passing of the days.
“Hopefully, all the way through the closing ceremonies and the Paralympics, you’ll feel the authenticity of LA,” says Wasserman. “Which means a lot of star power, a lot of music.”
How will sport and entertainment overlap at the Olympics?
The Los Angeles Olympics must be authentic to who and what LA is, just as the Paris Olympics will be authentic to who they are. We don’t have the Eiffel Tower. We don’t have Versailles. This is why people say Paris is the most beautiful city in the world, because it probably is. But we are the creative capital of the world. We have star power that no one else in the world has, and you’re going to see a lot of it.
Where did your love for sports come from?
I was born with an interest in sports. I have always loved the business of sports. Obviously, my family was in the entertainment industry and I grew up being raised by my grandparents. They both liked to watch sports. MCA Universal never owned anything in sports, but [my grandfather] I had a lot of friends in and around the sports business, so I got a lot of exposure to the world of sports.
What did you learn from your grandfather, Lew Wasserman?
He was not alive at the beginning [my] business, but spending as much time as I did [with him] as long as I’ve been listening, I’ve certainly heard a lot of stories. There is literally not a day that goes by that I don’t think of something or a story that he told me and use it in my business or tell someone in my business something that I learned from him through the story.
Why did you decide to get into music in 2021 with the acquisition of Paradigm’s music division?
For us, if we were to expand beyond the representation of athletes or talent in or around sports, music was always a logical extension because of the close connection: the importance of these two businesses, their value as live events that matter in a world . where it doesn’t really matter. The intersection between sports and music is somehow created by each other.
I tried to buy Paradigm for three years. I probably drank – not really drinks, but we’ll call them drinks – with [Paradigm founder] Sam Gores every other week for approximately two to three years. It could never penetrate. COVID happened, changed the world overnight, changed his business overnight and [I] got 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 it, and we have to do that.”
I think it was April 4, 2020. And 13 months later, we closed the deal. And we were in the music business.
What was the idea behind buying a live music agency when live music was on the decline?
Because we believe in the music business. We are not buying it for tomorrow; we will buy it for the next 100 years. We believe in its value and its power, to buy a business that had some of the best music agents in the world – I’m biased – and bring them together and empower them with culture, support, leadership and perspective and spirit, which we have done since we owned it. It doesn’t matter if you’re the biggest client we have or an act playing in front of 10 people, we take each and every one of them seriously. Because for me, my name is on the door.
Do you have the same passion for music as you do for sports?
I love sport. I like watching sports on TV, I don’t like listening to music. But I love the business side of sports and I love the business side of the music industry. Fortunately for us, I’m not the one who decides which artists to sign because, hopefully, that’s not my biggest contribution to the business. I am supporting our agents to the maximum extent so that they can do their job to the best of their abilities and therefore attract and retain customers.
Do you meet a lot of athletes who want to do music or musicians who want to do sports?
People thought that was a thing. This was always a false theory. It’s really just, if you’re a great athlete and you’re that good of a musician, it doesn’t matter if you’re represented by the same person or not. And if you’re a good athlete and not such a good musician, it doesn’t matter who represents you. Agents don’t do things that shouldn’t happen. You can’t make someone what they are not.
The overlap is the skill set we have across the company. With athletes, the entire sports industry is about brand association. Every sporting event has branding built into the presentation of the game – on the uniforms, off the field. It’s an essential competency to have when you’re a sports agent with the caliber and scale of clients and business we have. Now, in a time and place where those things are desired, we have a talent and a skill set that I don’t think our competitors have. We have produced outstanding results for our musicians around brand deals.
It’s not like you’re going to make the best player in the NBA the greatest musician in the world; is that the skill sets you have to represent the best player in the NBA now apply to represent the best musician in the world and vice versa.
So you see someone like Shaquille O’Neal — the NBA star turned DJ — as an anomaly?
Shaq is unique in many ways. He is a friend and someone who is wonderful to be around. But he has such a great personality. Whatever he does, no one will be surprised. He will try to do everything. He is fearless that way.
What about Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who is reportedly recording in a studio?
Yes, but these things are few and far between. That doesn’t mean the interest isn’t there. There has never been anyone who has had equal success [in music and sports]. What Shaq will earn as a DJ will pale in comparison to what he earned at his height playing basketball.
Why is there so much crossover between music and sports?
Sports and music have direct relevance, so the ability to present them together can always be interesting and create value. IN [Formula 1] race weekend in Las Vegas, we booked 40 shows—not 40 different artists—over four days. You go to any sporting event in the world and when there’s a stoppage in play, the music blasts over 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 extremely simple. They only grow in two ways: You get more revenue from the customers you have or revenue from new customers. This is her. As far as I can tell, the only ways to do these two things is to have more services for your customers or more geographic areas to serve them. Our business is not complicated.
We are driven by nothing but what we believe it to be [our clients’] best interest. And today, this has proven to be a good formula for sustainability, success and growth. This does not mean that we are static. We’ve made almost 40 acquisitions in 20 years and gone from one person to 3,000 people. It is clear that we are a growing business.
Would Wasserman go public?
I like to say that I am absolutely terrible at two things: reading minds and predicting the future.
This story will appear in the February 10, 2024, issue of Billboard.