Casey Wasserman lunches with the Clintons on occasion.
The CEO of Wasserman Media Group has been friends with the NFL commissioner for 30 years.
Wasserman, 40, just spent six months working alongside Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who hand-picked him to pitch the city as a host site for the 2024 Olympics.
His connections with the elite are so extraordinary in quality and quantity, they may even exceed what one might expect from the grandson of the late Lew Wasserman, the last Hollywood mogul.
“They’re more than connections for Casey, they’re relationships,” said Kathryn Schloessman, President of the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment Commission. “These people genuinely like him and he likes them. He doesn’t just know them for the sake of having connections.”
Wasserman chuckled as he leaned back in his office chair, almost in disbelief at the enormity of his network. But his web of influence is just one of the reasons he is the most powerful figure in Los Angeles sports.
There is the talent agency he founded in 2002 and has since molded into a global leader that represents more than 1,300 athletes, among them Andrew Luck, Russell Westbrook and Giancarlo Stanton. There is his philanthropic arm, the Wasserman Foundation, worth a reported $320 million in assets.
His devotion to the city where he was born and raised – he graduated from UCLA and lives in Beverly Hills – is no small factor in his efforts to build L.A. into a sports hub measured on an international scale.
But because of the quiet manner in which he operates, Wasserman isn’t a familiar face even among the sports-loving public in his own hometown. It is the elite circles, however, where he is a household name.
“The importance and the basis that those relationships can have on a career, no question I learned that from my grandfather,” Wasserman said. “So much of his reputation was built on the quality and the depth of his relationships with people in all sorts of industries and walks of life. And me through osmosis of being around him so much, I saw that first hand, whether it was in politics or religion or business or philanthropy. Whatever the platform was, there was a deep personal connection that allowed him and the other party to create something together.”
Lew Wasserman was the most powerful man in Hollywood not long into a career that spanned six decades. Casey, who has a strained relationship with his biological father, gravitated to his grandfather as a child. The MCA boss’ profound commitment to love and guide his grandson is the act Casey Wasserman labeled the greatest thing his celebrated grandfather ever did.
Before Lew Wasserman died in 2002, the education of his daughter’s boy had long since taken effect.
Casey Wasserman negotiated labor peace for the Arena Football League as the 26-year-old owner of the now defunct Los Angeles Avengers.
He brokered the deal in 2010 for Farmers Field, the proposed downtown stadium intended to draw an NFL team back to Los Angeles. AEG abandoned the idea in March, but Wasserman defends his vision to the ground.
Of the current proposed NFL stadiums gaining traction in L.A., the Farmers Field location was unmatched, presenting staggering economic possibilities as a host for sporting events like Final Fours and providing a perfect venue for concerts in the heart of the entertainment capital of the world.
L.A’s Wasserman-led bid for the 2024 Olympics was lauded by many of the city’s leaders, but Boston was chosen as the United States representative in large part because L.A. had twice hosted the Olympics before.
Neither Farmers Field nor the Olympic bid were high percentage plays, but Wasserman’s role in events of such scale are an indication of his stature in his hometown and the potential for him to massively alter the city’s sports landscape in the future.
He isn’t running from failure. To the contrary, he is always looking for his next opportunity. “There’s literally nothing I would shy away from,” Wasserman said. “Not that I would guarantee success because that’s not possible, but there’s nothing I would shy away from. I’m not afraid to fail in that sense, but you’re never going to know if you don’t try.”
Wasserman Media Group has been calculatedly conservative in certain ventures, but the agency has grown to represent an industry-leading 20 percent of the NBA. In all, it represents 800 more athletes than it did in 2007, five years after WMG was founded by Wasserman with family money. The agency is positioned for exponential growth in the years to come, according to Wasserman, who cites windows for success that may be closing before long.
The business of sports is just one of Wasserman’s many focal points.
He manages the delegation of millions of dollars in philanthropic efforts, including an undisclosed hefty contribution to the Wasserman Football Center, a $65 million UCLA football practice facility scheduled to break ground in the fall of 2015.
Wasserman’s diverse interests landed him on the board of dozens of prominent organizations, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
The largest cultural construction project in the world was born when he united LACMA and the Oscars organization, which are currently producing a $300 million movie museum on Wilshire Boulevard for which the Wasserman Foundation provided significant funding.
Wasserman spends plenty of time travelling to his global properties, but his loyalty lies in the city where he was born. He goes so far as to say he feels a responsibility to contribute to the prosperity of L.A., a potent combination when combined with his passion for the business of sports.
“L.A. is one of the great cities in the world on a scale that very few others are,” Wasserman said. “If you want your event and your product to see the world, L.A. is where you bring it.
“Whether it’s Olympics or World Cups or all-star games, I’m passionate about it and to the extent that I can help the city of L.A. continue to build its presence on the global sporting stage, that’s something I’m very committed to,” Wasserman said. “And so giving back of my time and my effort and our resources here and personally and professionally, I feel that responsibility but I embrace that responsibility.”
There is no endeavor too large for Wasserman’s ambition. Whether the mayor is calling on him or whether he is brokering deals with some of the largest entities in sports, Wasserman has carved out a unique position for himself.
“He is in a position to carry the baton for Los Angeles for the next 20 years,” President and CEO of the L.A. area Chamber of Commerce Gary Toebben said. “Every community passes the baton from one generation to the next. He’s the new face of the new generation for sports in Los Angeles.”
The man GQ dubbed “a kosher Kennedy,” Wasserman doesn’t just look the part. His power is difficult to define because of the many forms it takes and many channels through which it is distributed, but it is undeniably real.
By Clay Fowler, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Photo Credit: Rainer Hosch