At first, all the mayor asked of Casey Wasserman was advice. What would it take for Los Angeles to successfully bid for the 2024 Olympics?
Then Mayor Eric Garcetti wanted Wasserman to lead the effort. Now, three years later, Wasserman jokes that he should have known better than to take an unpaid, volunteer position.
But beneath the quip lies what those close to the LA 2024 chairman know — not only does he want to do it, but there is perhaps no one better for the job.
“For Casey, this is the ultimate combination of all his loves and passions — of sports, service, doing right by Los Angeles and with a philanthropic perspective,” said Arn Tellem, a former sports agent who worked for Wasserman and who is now part of the Detroit Pistons’ front office.
Under Wasserman’s leadership, LA 2024 is poised to secure a Games. To be sure, the two-year bidding process has posed new challenges, ones that Wasserman has juggled with his job and family.
But it’s Wasserman’s experiences as a leader in the sports industry coupled with the influence his grandfather, legendary agent and studio executive Lew Wasserman, and the 1984 Olympics had on him that have made Casey Wasserman well-suited for the endeavor.
“I just saw in Casey that rare leader who could bring that experience, that down-to-earth feel and a willingness to go for it,” said Garcetti, who made writing to the U.S. Olympic Committee about bidding his first act in office in 2013.
For his part, Wasserman was eager to try.
“I figured for two years, I’d make this sacrifice and see if we can’t pull this off,” he said.
It’s likely that the bid will. The International Olympic Committee meets next week and will vote on a recommendation to award Olympics in 2024 and 2028 to each of the remaining cities, Los Angeles and Paris.
For Wasserman, it would be the next step in an effort that has combined his love of Los Angeles, of sports and of business.
“I think the Olympics are a special achievement for him, and really a labor of love for him,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who has known Wasserman for more than 30 years. “I think he’s motivated by the fact that he can take these three passions and make something really special.”
Like most things with Wasserman, his love of the Olympics ties back to his grandfather. Lew Wasserman, the last of the Hollywood moguls and chairman and chief executive of the Music Corporation of America, was the founding chair and member of the LA84 board.
That gave Casey, then 10, an up-close look at the event.
While it was a unique experience, Wasserman’s closeness to his grandfather was not. Wasserman had a strained relationship with his father, so Lew Wasserman decided when Casey was 3 to fill that role for his grandson.
Over breakfasts every weekend at Nate ‘n Al, a Jewish deli in Beverly Hills, Wasserman imparted life lessons to Casey. Sometimes the talk was superficial. Other times, he discussed the movie industry. And sometimes, Lew made Casey do math problems.
“It was my parenting and my business school at the same time,” Casey Wasserman said.
Those breakfasts continued for 25 years, nearly every weekend until a month before Lew Wasserman died in 2002.
But Casey Wasserman, 43, still thinks daily about the things he learned from his grandfather, how to prepare for things, to anticipate and respond to problems.
“If nothing else, the kind of person I am, the kind of perspective I have, hopefully the kind of sensibility and sensitivity I have, is as much a direct result of my relationship with him as anything else,” Wasserman said.
While it prepared him for business, Casey Wasserman did not want to follow Lew into the film industry. Though proud of his grandfather, Wasserman didn’t want his career to come with a qualifier.
After graduating from UCLA, Wasserman bought into the Arena Football League and created the LA Avengers in 1998. In 2002, he started Wasserman Media Group, a sports, entertainment and lifestyle marketing and management agency.
“I had the freedom to choose my career. I had the opportunity to choose a career in sports,” he said. “It’s what I’m most passionate about. It’s what I love.”
Over the past 15 years, Wasserman has built the company, which is now known as Wasserman, in part through acquisitions. Today the company represents brands like American Express and Microsoft as well as 1,600 athletes, including Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook and Andrew Luck.
So quick was his ascent, Goodell used to tease Wasserman about how many times he could make a 40-under-40 list. What was true with Wasserman’s arena league team remains so with his business.
“He wanted to earn his stripes, he wanted to understand and make the mistakes himself and truly learn the business from the ground up,” Goodell said. “You have to admire that about somebody.”
Friends and colleagues credit Wasserman’s management style for his success. He builds a good team and supports it. He’s a builds relationships and sees the ways to align the interests of his clients.
USOC CEO Scott Blackmun called Wasserman, “a very thoughtful, long-term thinker,” something echoed by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
“That sense that when you’re dealing with Casey, you know there’s a certain permanence to him,” said Silver, a friend for more than 20 years. “He’s not just a person in a position. He’s the owner of the company, and what he does is part and parcel of who he is.”
So, too, is giving back. Lew and Edie Wasserman made Casey the president and CEO of the Wasserman Foundation, which they founded in 1952, when he was 21.
The foundation focuses its giving on several local causes, including education, arts & culture and health. It has endowed scholarships at six universities, but it also focuses on giving to Los Angeles public schools, fire fighters and police.
“The legacy of their philanthropy and their giving, and my ability to continue that during my lifetime, is about as fundamental as it gets to how I think about the world and who I am,” Wasserman said.
It’s also fundamental to how Wasserman sees sports. When he was leading the effort to bring the Super Bowl to Los Angeles, Wasserman asked Renata Simril, president and CEO of the LA84 Foundation, to speak to the NFL owners about the impact a major sporting event can have on underserved communities.
“For Casey to be mindful of using that moment to talk about the other side of L.A. I think really speaks volumes to the type of guy he is,” said Simril.
A LASTING LEGACY
Few, if any, Olympics have had the type of lasting impact as Los Angeles. The LA84 Foundation has funded youth sports programs for more than three decades, a legacy secured by Lew Wasserman’s encouragement as a board member to invest the money to ensure an endowment for the future.
Throughout the bidding process, Wasserman and LA 2024 have embraced that legacy but avoided the notion that Los Angeles would again save the IOC in a time of crisis.
Janet Evans, vice chair and director of athlete relations for LA 2024, saw that in Wasserman’s presentation at SportAccord this spring. We don’t have the answers, but we have new ideas and creativity, he told international sports leaders.
Wasserman and the LA 2024 team wanted to put forth a “different kind of American bid,” he said. Correctly or not, previous U.S. bids have been perceived as arrogant.
“I think Casey’s shown a sincere humility both by himself and as a leader and with his group,” said Peter Ueberroth, who led the 1984 Olympics. “I think they’re very competitive, but they’ve been humble.”
That’s been led by Wasserman and Garcetti, whom Simril called “our best assets.”
Thanks to his grandfather’s position on the organizing committee, Wasserman ran as part of the torch relay in the days leading up to the Games. That torch now resides in the LA 2024 offices.
He remembers opening ceremonies, baseball at Dodger Stadium and seeing Mary Lou Retton score a perfect 10.
“It had a dramatic impact on me,” he said. “I think it had an incredible impact on the city, both physically and emotionally.”
Wasserman is now poised to bring the Games back as the two-year bidding process nears an end. It’s included him leading an effort to raise more than $50 million to fund the bid. It has included a greater public role than Wasserman has taken professionally, but one that has played to his strength of building relationships as he has met with Olympic sport leaders.
A homebody by nature, Wasserman has balanced his business and spending time with his wife and two children with his role with LA 2024. That’s meant extensive travel, including trips to the Rio Olympics and a 40-hour stay in Sapporo, Japan, for the Asian Winter Games.
Fundamentally, the sacrifice is worth it. He wants to strengthen the Olympic connection with the city he loves, so he also wakes up nights thinking about the possible results of the IOC’s vote on Sept. 13.
Myriad factors go into it, and the possibility of a dual award leaves it unclear on what that vote will be for. But fundamentally, IOC members are deciding who they can trust with their brand for seven years. Or, possibly 11.
In the feedback Blackmun has already gotten, which he said is “unequivocally positive, and fairly voluminous,” Wasserman comes out pretty well.
“This is what he does,” said Evans. “It’s really simple. It makes perfect sense. I can’t imagine not wanting to put your greatest asset in the hands of someone like him.”
Author: Rachel Axon, USA TODAY Sports
Source publication: USA Today