“That's the power of culture. It is one of the unique things that connect people around the world, connect people locally and globally.”
Casey Wasserman is the CEO of Wasserman and chairman of the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games hosted by Los Angeles; excerpted from an interview with the National Museum of American History, October 25, 2016.
“Growing up with my grandfather was a unique experience”
Growing up with my grandfather was a unique experience. He also acted as my father, so I had a very personal childhood with him, not just as a grandfather but much more sort of daily interaction as a fatherlike figure. And the one thing that was important to him always was that I did and I pursued what I was passionate about, that I didn’t go in the entertainment industry because he was in it. Frankly, he had no nepotism in the corporate bylaw at MCA [Music Corporation of America] so the thought of even working at the company was not an option, even if that was my passion. And so he did an incredible job of making me think about what I wanted to do with my life, as opposed to following in his footsteps. I traveled all over the world with him, and that sparked my passion for not just sports but the business of sports and the exposure I had to sports things, sports events, sports people, sports leaders. It was really an incredible opportunity, and so, for me, him raising me really shaped my perspective, really molded my early years of childhood, and really sort of made me aware of the passion I had for sports.
“That’s the power of culture”
The power of culture, to me, speaks to the opportunity to leverage cultural moments, whether it be sports or music or entertainment or food or fashion or art, to connect with people in their passions. That’s the power of culture. It is one of the unique things that connect people around the world, connect people locally and globally. It is a true sort of differentiated passion point for people, and our job as an agency, whether it’s representing talent or brands or properties, is to use those moments to create successful business interactions and opportunities.
“Men cry around sports; it’s a unique aspect”
Sports is unique. They only give ticker-tape parades to three kinds of people: war heroes, astronauts, and sports teams. You win the World Series, you go to the White House. And you win the Super Bowl, you go to the White House. It’s not just something you do, it’s something that’s expected to happen. You know, not a lot of other things in the world, or in this country, do you have success and you’re recognized by the president of the United States at his house for a ceremony, and that’s a unique thing. So it shows you the place in our society that sports has. It is truly unique in the world, and it’s why it’s become such a valuable business enterprise; it’s why it’s so emotional. Men cry around sports; it’s a unique aspect. It brings communities together, brings countries together. It can bring the world together for 17 days, like the Olympics. Sports has a permanent place. So if you live in Los Angeles, the Lakers are part of your childhood through your adulthood, and you pass that on because the Lakers are an ever-present, constant place in your life.
“You’ve got to be present to understand their perspective”
I always say that the language of sport is global but how it manifests itself is very local. And you need to be present and relevant and aware of what happened locally to make those connections powerful, and you can’t do that sitting in your office in L.A. It’s why I travel so much. That’s why we have offices all over the world. That’s why we have locals in those offices all over the world. It’s just the reality of life. I think that applies to every business – it could be politics or entertainment or finance, you know? You’ve got to go be present to understand their perspective and their view on life and their view on culture and their challenges and opportunities and the nuances of their society and sport. Ultimately, it’s our job to be local. It’s not their job to adjust to us.
“The Olympics are the ultimate bridge builder”
The Olympics are certainly a microcosm for many of the issues and the challenges and the opportunities that are unique to America. And clearly the Olympics are the ultimate bridge builder, and we need America to be seen in the world, if we’re going to be successful in a bid, to be seen as a country that builds bridges and engages with the world. Obviously, it’s about inclusion and engagement. I mean you’ve got the Olympics and the Paralympics. There are more countries with Olympic committees than there are countries that are members of the U.N. So you really have to be engaged with the world and open. Obviously, when it comes to athletes with physical differences or physical disabilities – changing the mindset of a culture that they’re no different than any other athlete, and, frankly, in some ways they’re more remarkable – is a big opportunity. I think the Olympics, hopefully, in America can bring out the best in us and show the best of us to the world.
“Being authentic and in the moment is clearly the most valuable thing”
I’m not sure I’m in a position to give advice to future culture makers, nor am I to give advice to current culture makers. Having said that, I don’t think people have preconceived notions of what it means to create those cultural opportunities and moments. What’s relevant today may not be relevant in 10 years, and I don’t think anybody can predict the future and understand where things are going. So being authentic and in the moment is clearly the most valuable thing for anything that is cultural in nature, and I think what that looks like is impossible to say.
On Sandy Koufax’s glove
You can’t be a Jewish kid growing up in L.A. and not have a great reverence for Sandy Koufax. The guy who had rookie baseball cards in his Dodgers uniform that he got as a bar mitzvah present, who observed the high holidays during the World Series, was the greatest pitcher of all time, and maintained elegance and grace long after his career was over. I mean, he is truly one of the great icons of baseball and sport in America. But for him to be a Jewish American is even more meaningful for someone like me who grew up in L.A. as a fan of the Dodgers and as a Jewish kid who played baseball.
On Prince’s guitar
He was one of the iconic artists of my childhood. Purple Rain, in many ways, changed the perception of music, movies, and films, and I think to every kid of our generation, he’s one of those artists that you know. He pushed the boundaries in lots of ways, and the caliber and the quality and the quantity of music. He was just a remarkable talent. I saw him in concert. I remember he was that edgy kind of Michael Jackson-like figure who just had talent beyond most people’s imagination and exhibited it in ways that you couldn’t even predict. You can’t be my age and not have had Purple Rain and that music have an impact on your childhood.
On the Rocky costume
Is there a greater example of sport and art coming together? That movie is so embedded in American culture that you almost think that that fight was real. There is a statue of Rocky Balboa in Philadelphia. What does that tell you? How crazy is that? One of the great sporting towns in America has a statue of a fictional boxer from a movie. It’s one of, if not the most iconic sports movies of all time and it’s hard to say anything beyond that, frankly, and the fact that it still connects with us today is pretty remarkable too.