UPDATED: Happy Walters, a veteran sports agent and executive who worked to bring stability to the non-entertainment units of troubled Relativity Media, is leaving his post as co-president of the bankrupt multimedia company and chief executive of its sports division.
The departure of Walters represents yet another high-level loss for Relativity, following months of litigation and stress since the company filed for Chapter 11 protection on July 30. Walters is said to be forming his own sports and media venture in Los Angeles.
The one-time music promoter and sports manager had served as co-president of Relativity along with Tucker Tooley, who announced Oct. 5 that he would exit the company, which is in the midst of trying to sort out its next incarnation, following a bankruptcy auction that appears poised to divide the company into at least two pieces.
Walters and Tooley’s exits follow CFO Andrew Matthews’ departure, announced Wednesday, and the earlier defection of Robbie Brenner, the Relativity production chief who departed in September for Jeff Kwatinetz’s management and production company, The Firm.
Relativity released a statement: ““As Relativity continues to position itself to emerge from Chapter 11, [CEO] Ryan Kavanaugh has terminated the employment of both Chief Financial Officer Andrew Matthews and President of Relativity Sports Happy Walters.”
Walters released his own statement thanking Kavanaugh for his “vision” in launching the Relativity Sports platform. Walters said that supermarket magnate Ron Burkle was taking over as chairman of the company’s sports division. Burkle has previously been an investor in Kavanaugh company and in the last week has emerged as part of a group that backed Kavanaugh in keeping control of all of Relativity’s divisions, except for the TV division. Walters said Relativity Sports, which represents professional athletes, has “a solid foundation for continued growth.”
Relativity Sports wowed the NFL this year when its landed more first-round draft choices than any other agency. Walters had helped manage the careers of NBA star like Amar’e Stoudemire, Jimmy Butler, Iman Shumpert and Dwight Howard and NFL players such as Larry Fitzgerald, Dez Bryant and Marshawn Lynch. He did not provide details about his new venture, but said in a statement: “This is the appropriate time for me to write the next chapter of my career, and I look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead.”
After running Relativity’s subsidiary sports agency and then serving as co-chief operating officer, Walters in 2014 took the post of co-president of the company, which had film and television production operations, along with a digital unit, an arts college, a fashion agency and the sports division. He ran the company’s day-to-day operations along with Tooley.
It was Walters and Tooley who had to guide Relativity through some of its toughest days during its financial meltdown, including informing 75 employees on the day before that bankruptcy filing that they were being laid off without severance pay, according to sources inside the company. Insiders said CEO Ryan Kavanaugh was mostly absent from the company’s Beverly Hills headquarters after the bankruptcy filing.
Walters came to Relativity in 2009 to head the company’s music group and Rogue Sports, its nascent sports management unit. Having already succeeded in both worlds before coming to Relativity, Walters quickly built the two divisions, particularly the sports agency. The agency made a substantial jump up in rank in July of 2012 when it acquired SFX Baseball and Maximum Sports Management.
The agency now claims 300 MLB, NBA and NFL athletes, including San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner, Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard and Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. A report in the bankruptcy case said the agency employees 20 agents and a total of 77 people.
Relativity Sports was excluded from the July 30 bankruptcy auction. The parent company owns only about one-quarter of the sports unit, with various agents and others owning the remainder.
Walters started his career in the music business. As owner of Buzztone Music and later founder of an independent record label, Immortal Records, he worked in conjunction with Sony’s Epic Records and artists like Cypress Hill, Wu-Tang Clan, Fleetwood Mac, Rage Against the Machine, Method Man, Velvet Revolver, Incubus and Korn.
Switching to sports, Walters quickly made an impact. With partner Dan Fegan, he eventually had major stars like the Rockets’ Howard and New York Knicks power forward Amar’e Stoudemire under contract, along with Cleveland Cavaliers center Anderson Varejao.
Relativity Sports made a big impression at this April’s NFL draft, with six of its clients being selected in the first round, beating out bigger name agencies like CAA for the top spot in the closely-watched market of college gridiron stars.