The entertainment industry collectively raised an eyebrow 16 years ago when CAA decided to go big into sports.

Today, CAA Sports, steered by co-heads Howard Nuchow and Michael Levine, is the agency’s second-most profitable division, behind only film and TV operations combined. Beyond representing athletes and coaches, CAA Sports is active in a range of consulting and rights-brokering activities that have proven extremely lucrative. Moreover, the agency is well-positioned to take advantage of the growth in media opportunities for sports stars.

“The barrier to entry to so much lower now that our athletes have such direct and constant contact with their fans,” says Levine. “The social footprints of our athletes is bigger than those of most media companies. That isn’t lost on them. They’re very smart and they’re very aware of what they at their fingertips. Our athletes have been smart about playing the long game.”

NBA stars Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and NFL standouts Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Watt are among the sports figures that have worked closely with CAA to build business opportunities off the field.

Rodgers, quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, has sold a docu-series on college football to Amazon. Wade has expanded into broadcasting, brand consulting, licensing for his Way of Wade apparel line. The three-time NBA champion’s 59th and Prairie Entertainment banner has a host of TV projects in the works.

“The job of a sports agency is broader than it has ever been,” Levine says. “In the past you might’ve done an endorsement deal for an athlete but make maybe it makes sense for them to take ownership in a company. The opportunities that exist for these big-name athletes are endless.”

The level of business at CAA Sports today is exponentially bigger than the operation that Nuchow and Levine joined in early 2007. The two executives — Levine was an SFX Entertainment alum while Nuchow had been president of Peter Guber’s Mandalay Sports — were recruited to expand the scope of its then-burgeoning sports business.

“The beauty of it was our irrational confidence,” Nuchow recalls. “We were blissfully ignorant about where we stood. We didn’t realize how others might look (skeptically) at the investment being made. We had tunnel vision. We could clearly see what we were about to do.”

The turning point for the duo came later in 2007 when they signed the New York Yankees for representation, which meant brokering sponsorship deals for the storied team’s new stadium that opened in 2009.

“That was the pinch-me moment, after we came out of that signing meeting in the Bronx,” Levine says. “That felt like the moment we knew were going to be doing some things that no other sports agency had ever done.”

(Pictured: Michael Levine, Howard Nuchow)