Wasserman Buys Brillstein: Combo Logic and Talent M&A Learnings

September 22, 2023 by  Chris Erwin

RockWater Roundup

RockWater analysis to make you a better investor and operator. Today we discuss Wasserman’s deal to acquire Brillstein, and personalities as the future of sports media.

Wasserman Acquires Brillstein + Personalities as the Future of Sports Media

Wasserman Acquires Brillstein Entertainment Partners

by Chris Erwin


Wasserman just bought Brillstein. 2 takeaways…

  1. Combo logic is strong 💪
  2. Talent rep M&A is on fire! 🔥

Just in the past year, there’s been 6 traditional talent rep M&A deals.

Artemis bought CAA for $7 billion, APA merged with Artist Group International, UTA acquired James & Co, Range Media merged w/ Automatik, WME bought Ross Yoon, and Gersh sold 45% stake to Crestview.

And on the digital side, over 3 talent rep M&A deals.

Mondadori / Power Talent, Studio Now / Bad Moon, and KeyWords Studios / Digital Media Management. I’m forgetting one…

For the Wasserman / Brillstein deal, some key context…

  • Wasserman is strong in sports / athletes, music artists, brands, properties, and even newscasters and broadcasters
  • Brillstein is strong in entertainment clients and content production. Has 1st-look deal with Paramount and multiple projects with streamers, and has subsidiaries like Brad Pitt’s Plan B production biz

Combining allows both parties to adapt to changing media landscape…

  • Help talent clients build content businesses
  • Enable more talent collabs across wide variety of projects, which improves marketability and uniqueness of content experience for fans. Particularly for Brillstein’s growing scripted doc and podcast businesses
  • Share deal opportunities across broader talent base. New joint co can be a one-stop shop for brand, production, and commercial partnership time and dollars
  • Wasserman has data insights and analytics group, will help Brillstein better identify deal and content opportunities that align with client fandoms

Other things I find interesting about deal…

  • Brillstein retains name and branding
  • No layoffs for 30+ Brillstein managers, leadership remains in place
  • How much money was taken off table for Brillstein leadership? Or mostly rollover equity into new combined co?
  • In M&A sales process Brillstein had chance to talk to buyers not yet in representation, but went with partner who had 45+ years of rep experience. Saw bigger opp as scaling with experienced partner VS helping buyer enter into rep biz for 1st time
  • Wasserman growing aggressively through M&A, bought Paradigm’s live music biz in 2021, and in 2022 took an investment from Providence Equity for more M&A
  • With PE backing, implies there must be a future planned exit for joint co. Curious what timeline is there

Ok, I’d like to write more but jumping to client meetings in LA!

Of note, our team is working on a sell-side for a digital talent business right now focused on sports x gaming x pop culture. It’s exciting to see how active the market is, many datapoints to learn from!

Personalities as Future of Sports Media 👟🏅

by Chris Erwin


NOTE: I wrote this last week the morning before it was announced Charter-ESPN agreed to a deal. Still some good takeaways. How do you think it stands up?)

Sports media is past disruption.

Case in point…the ESPN VS Charter face-off.

15 million Charter / Spectrum customers have been without ESPN for nearly 2 weeks. Customers are furious. Negotiations are ongoing.

So let’s take a step back. Here’s the bigger problem…

▶️ Cable TV remains the cash cow for legacy media companies
▶️ But cable TV is falling off a cliff — down 7% annually, acceleraing from 2% declines 2 years ago. 42 million households abandoned pay TV in past 10 yrs, and TV is now less than 50% of US video view time
▶️ Media co’s are moving pay TV and new programming to streaming and socials, further accelerating decline
▶️ Streaming currently losing billions of $$ / year across industry, subsidized by declining pay TV business

This is not going to end well!

So distributors like Charter are thinking of abandoning pay TV, and instead just offering higher margin broadband Internet services.

Or are asking to also carry the programmers’ streaming apps if they’re already paying for the rights (aka carriage fees) to carry channels for pay TV. Aka I’m subsidizing your streaming, so let me participate!

Net net…all this means is that the future of sports media is in digital environments like social media, podcasts, and gaming.

And it will originate from personalities.

The below articles highlights 3 amazing origin stories of the creators building the future of sports media. Who are now hired by brands, leagues, and games to reach the next generation of sports fans!

The Professor’s streetball touring career slowed down and he went broke. To get more booking opps, he started posting videos to YouTube. A video of him dressed up as Spiderman doing his signature moves at a local park went viral. He now has 8 million YouTube subs, and 11 million more across Instagram and TikTok.

🏀 Top college prospect TJass got sick and couldn’t showcase talents to coaches due to byzantine NCAA rules. So after a viral video of him playing bball against his coach, he used momentum to do social media full time. Now he’s invited to NBA All-Star Weekend to cover the event.

🏀 NBA 2K player Pika was gaming as side gig and prepping for 9-5 gov job post college. Until she realized there was a way to pursue her passions full time. Now she’s also also attending All-Star Weekend, and helping promote sports video games

Now THIS is the future of sports media.

To boil all this down, here’s the key takeaway = follow the fans. They’ll tell you where the future is headed!

NOTE: These 3 creators are part of Long Haul Management. I worked with the founder Dan Levitt over 10 years ago at Big Frame, when we were disrupting the media business.


If these insights are relevant to projects you’re working on, ping us here. We love talking all things media x commerce!

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