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Wasserman Buys Brillstein In Major Hollywood Management Deal

Author: Editors Desk Source: THR (The Hollywood Reporter)
September 18, 2023 at 11:29
Casey Wasserman's acquisition expands his portfolio beyond sports talent representation, lifestyle marketing and music booking and brings in hundreds of clients, including Brad Pitt, Florence Pugh and Tiffany Haddish.

Just over a year ago, the leadership of Brillstein Entertainment Partners — a pioneering Hollywood company founded in 1969 by talent broker icon Bernie Brillstein, who managed names like Lorne Michaels, Garry Shandling, Brad Pitt, Nicholas Cage and Mike Myers — started thinking about strategic options for their business, including a sale.

The management and production firm had been led by co-CEOs Cynthia Pett and Jon Liebman since 2005, when the duo bought out the stake of executive Brad Grey and Brillstein-Grey dropped the latter name from the shingle. (Notably, the late Grey, who went on to become CEO of Paramount Pictures, took the backend interest in HBO’s The Sopranos, which had been produced by Brillstein, with him.)

Liebman, a New York entertainment attorney who joined Brillstein in 1998, says informal conversations were held in 2022 with Casey Wasserman, whose namesake company — which includes sports talent agents and a booking agency — has been on the acquisition hunt, including buying Paradigm’s live music division. As Wasserman recalls to The Hollywood Reporter, when Brillstein leadership reached out, they weren’t looking to do a private equity deal “so they could take money off the table, this was about seeing if there was a strategic rationale to do something.”

Those talks led to a deal in which Wasserman has finalized the acquisition of Brillstein, the companies said Monday. Terms of the agreement weren’t disclosed but Brillstein will keep operating offices in Beverly Hills and New York and its 80 employees (including 30-plus managers) are expected to all stay on amid the ownership change.

In addition to the hundreds of management clients brought into the fold (including Brad Pitt, Florence Pugh, Tiffany Haddish, Adam Sandler, Rami Malek, Seth Meyers, John Ridley and more), the buy brings Wasserman deeper into the production space. The in-house unit Brillstein Creative Partners, led by Allie Goss, backs projects in development like spy series Simon Riske at Netflix and Ewan McGregor-starrer Lodi at Amazon. The company also inked a multiple-year, first-look deal with Paramount TV for scripted series development this April.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to be in the production business,” says Wasserman. “That’s important to our business and our clients on an existing basis and we think it’s only going to continue to be more strategic and more important.” Brillstein’s roster of produced shows over the years has included Politically Incorrect and Real Time With Bill MaherJust Shoot MeThe Larry Sanders Show and The Steve Harvey Show.

For Liebman, the decision to sell the company was necessary given the complex entertainment landscape now, a far cry from when Brillstein was founded, when there was only three TV networks and fewer clients to manage. “We made the decision for us to be part of a larger platform that has access to resources that can help us play a lot of instruments in the orchestra,” the Brillstein executive says. “And to be able to serve the clients needs across different areas would be a lot easier inside a company like Wasserman.”

Notably, Brillstein partners — including Marc Gurvitz, Sandy Wernick, George Freeman, Missy Malkin, David McIlvain, Alex Murray, Andrea Pett and Tim Sarkes — are making the move to Wasserman’s leadership team and taking clients with them. Liebman said that Wasserman will help unlock resources to build Brillstein’s digital and gaming talent representation divisions, amplify its brand endorsement group and help its clients start their own businesses (for example, a star launching a lifestyle brand).

Wasserman adds, “We clearly have the capacity, the opportunity and the balance sheet to support all of its initiatives.”

For Wasserman — who also serves as the chair for LA28, which helped organize Los Angeles’ 2028 Olympics game plan — the move takes his company beyond its footprint in sports and music talent agencies and brings in a roster of film and TV stars as management clients. “We have a big representation business in music and sports,” Wasserman says. “The lines are blurring quickly, as we all know, between what used to be siloed verticals and evolving to a place where talent has the opportunity to take advantage of opportunities across all sorts of disciplines.”

In recent years, the Hollywood management space has grown even more competitive between new entrants like Range Media Partners (Est. 2020) and production-management rivals like Anonymous Content, Artists First and Entertainment 360. Meanwhile, the Big Three major talent agencies — WME, CAA and UTA — have all scaled up with private equity-fueled investments and established large sports and music client rosters. (But affiliated production — thanks to a lengthy standoff between the talent agencies and the Writers Guild of America that began in 2019 — is mostly off the table for agencies, with all three agreeing to divest from their production labels down to a 20 percent stake. Management companies like Brillstein aren’t subject to those agreements.)

Since launching his firm in 2002, the Westwood-based Wasserman has rolled up multiple brand marketing and creative firms, including advertising agency Laundry Service, and now has just under 1,900 employees. In 2023 alone, the company acquired U.K.-based sports marketing agency CSM Sport & Entertainment, added the NFL-focused Caric Sports Management and snapped up Toronto-based lifestyle creative agency trevor//peter, among other deals for boutique firms. 

Last year, two of Wasserman’s investors, Redbird Capital and Madrone Capital Partners, took ownership stakes in sports teams (football club AC Milan and the NFL’s Denver Broncos). As such, they couldn’t own a stake in a sports talent agency and their stakes were bought out, with Providence Equity Partners financing new investment in Wasserman last November to fuel its growth plans.

Asked if Wasserman has any ambitions of taking his company public, the mogul sidesteps with a nod to Hollywood Golden Age studio giant Lew Wasserman: “To quote my grandfather, ‘I’m bad at predicting the future and even worse at making excuses.’

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