Ari Emanuel Talks CAA-ICM Deal, Says Pact is ‘Validating My Strategy in ’08’

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A day after CAA clinched a deal to acquire ICM Partners, Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel told an industry crowd on Tuesday that he considered an ICM acquisition more than a decade ago, before Endeavor pulled off its acquisition of William Morris Agency.

Emanuel weighed in on the big news in Hollywood during his long-scheduled Q&A at the Recode conference in Beverly Hills. He dismissed the idea of UTA as an acquisition target for Endeavor and he took a swipe at CAA for engaging in a Scarlett Johansson’s high-profile lawsuit against Disney.

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“I appreciate them validating my strategy in ’08,” Emanuel said of CAA’s acquisition during the wide-ranging interview with Recode executive editor Kara Swisher. “They’re just coming at it 13 years late.”

When Swisher pressed him on the prospect that Endeavor would try to buy UTA, Emanuel flatly replied, “We don’t need it.”

Emanuel weighed in on the state of WME, which he asserted has seen “double-digit” growth for the past 10 years, the future of the movie business and Endeavor’s work to help clients leverage their own celebrity and social media platforms.

Swisher pressed Emanuel on the growth of Endeavor as a larger entity that is now home to UFC, Professional Bull Riders, IMG and host of other businesses in addition to WME. She pressed Emanuel on how WME clients benefit from Endeavor’s extensions. Emanuel’s response include a snarky dig at CAA and its most vocal leader, managing director Bryan Lourd.

Emanuel said that Endeavor companies benefit from the larger enterprise being in business with media giants on a bigger level, such as PBR’s licensing pact with CBS and UFC’s megabucks long-term deal with ESPN.

“You have so much business with that company that it gives you leverage,” Emanuel said. “As opposed to not having leverage and therefore suing. We negotiate deals for our clients and make them a lot of money. Certain people decide they just want to sue people. I’m not sure that’s the job that they were hired for.”

Emanuel cited Dwayne Johnson and Michael B. Jordan as clients that benefited from Endeavor’s reach. Jordan created an ad agency in partnership with Endeavor. Endeavor helped Johnson finance his investment in the XFL football league out of bankruptcy proceedings last year.

“We want to be not only in the representation business but in the ownership business,” he said. “We don’t stand still.”

Swisher also pressed Emanuel on Endeavor’s first failed attempt at going public in fall 2019. The company had a successful IPO in April and its shares have held steady in the $30 range since, fueled by investor optimism about the demand for UFC fights.

Emanuel acknowledged that the company needed the full force of the UFC behind it to sustain the kind of earnings to be viable as a public entity. After the first IPO went south, Endeavor bought up the remaining half of UFC that it did not own, which made all the difference this past spring. Emanuel cited Morgan Stanley and managing director Brian Stearns by name as helping them salvage the IPO. “We worked really hard over 18 months. We clarified our verticals,” he said.

Emanuel did not apologize for his taking a $160 million payday around the time of the first IPO, a move that roiled the waters within Endeavor as other staffers had to wait for liquidity. Emanuel noted his personal investments in the company and the original Endeavor agency when times were lean.

“Last time I checked, I did found the company. I did invest in the business. I didn’t take a salary,” he said. “We went through very tough times. I financed the company. I paid people very well. It is what it is.”

Emanuel and Swisher engaged in some spirited back and forth about the state of the movie business and movie-going in particular. Emanuel predicted that box office numbers will eventually rebound strongly, perhaps not to pre-pandemic levels, but he scoffed at the notion that the theatrical experience was on the wane.

“The movie business is not going away,” he said.

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