Variety‘s conversation with Casey Wasserman, chairman-CEO of Wasserman Media Group, concludes with a conversation about his complementary sports and entertainment management, marketing and content enterprise.
WMG and DIC Entertainment recently announced a Formula 1 deal with CBS TV. How do pacts like this one, with its medley of action sports, talent, branding and content, fit into the modern leisure industry? What are the mechanics of working in the realm? From his Westside offices, Wasserman weighed in.
Q: You own ventures such as the Arena Football League’s Los Angeles Avengers and Studio411, which produces, distributes and markets action sports content. Do you think action sports are the future of athletics?
A: Kids today are very independent in how they operate, in how they participate and how they think. That has generated the growth of action sports such as the Arena Football League. At the same time, you’ve had a huge renaissance of baseball. So you’ve got this mixed message. Traditional team sports will never go away. They may change. Their demographics will clearly change.
Q: WMG has negotiated television rights, the naming of stadiums, jersey sponsorships and other types of marketing. What do you believe will be the continued connection of sports to advertising?
A: Sponsored entertainment is already branded in action sports. You can’t go to a basketball or hockey game without seeing commercialism embedded in the programming. You can’t fast-forward through it because it’s on the sidelines, it’s on the jerseys, it’s in the stands. The first-down marker is sponsored by someone that’s virtual now.
Soccer is the biggest sport in the world, no question, on a global basis. … The revenue generated from the corporate logo on (players’) jerseys far outweighs any revenue generated from a similar corporate sponsorship opportunity here. We represent a soccer club in Italy called Juventus — probably one of the two or three most powerful soccer clubs in the world on and off the field. We’re in the process of doing a shirt sponsorship now as well as their new stadium renovation. The shirt sponsorship revenue is S18.5 million ($24 million) per year!
I think that sports will continue to grow in importance in the ever-evolving technological world, because not only is it … live, but there’s movement towards integrated advertiser-supported environments, as opposed to those that are traditional, commercial inventory supported.
Q: Increasingly, we see traditional entertainment executives migrating to sports and vice versa. What’s the reason for this?
A: (Laughs) If for no other reason, everybody in the entertainment industry thinks sports are cool, and everybody in sports thinks the entertainment industry is cooler. But having said that, I think what you’re seeing is the disintegration of the line between sports and entertainment. We’ve chosen a name, Wasserman Media Group, that captured all the businesses we were in. It’s not just sports, it’s not just entertainment, it’s not just music. It’s media — media in the broadest sense of the word. There are a lot of really talented sports executives and entertainment executives who are moving toward interesting opportunities.
Q: WMG includes at least five distinct businesses. What’s your role?
A: My job as CEO is threefold: one, to set the overall direction in which the company moves; two, to create a positive culture in which people work; and three, to enable the people here — who, frankly, are better at their jobs than I am — to be successful.
Q: Have you ever decided to staff up in anticipation of business?
A: We bought 411 Prods. last year and didn’t, frankly, buy it for what it was, but for what we can execute in a new business. We plan to turn the action sports video business into a traditional studio model. That required senior operations, distribution and production people before the business, in a revenue sense, warranted it.
Q: Would you ever consider integrating WMG with a large advertising agency?
A: No, I would say it’s highly unlikely. The two concepts we don’t talk about here are exit strategies or synergy. Synergy has come to mean forced interaction. If we do our job right — if I do my job right and get the right businesses here with the right people operating as best I can, they will work together. And if I do a poor job of putting businesses together with poor people at the top, they will never work together no matter how much I force them to. So synergy is not a concept I worry about because it’s a byproduct of doing my job right.
Unger is a leading exec recruiter. At various times, he led the media and entertainment practices of the world’s three largest executive search firms. He can be reached at email@example.com.