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Oops, he did it again.
At 62, Ari Emanuel is now lord and master (or more precisely, CEO) of not one but two publicly held companies. Still, he could not resist bashing his longtime rivals at CAA when presented with a mic at the Bloomberg Screentime conference. And those weren’t the only comments that made some of his associates cringe.
Emanuel is credited with leading his company into expansion, often with pricey acquisitions. The logic of some of these deals escaped observers — Professional Bull Riders? OK, but overcoming the odds, he transformed Endeavor into a public company in 2021. And in September, TKO Holdings, the combined UFC and WWE, began trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
Other agents — Mike Ovitz comes to mind — yearned to transcend their client-servicing roles. Emanuel has achieved that dream, yet all these deals later, he is still apparently in the grip of his inner agent. When Bloomberg’s Lucas Shaw asked him about actress Julia Ormond’s recently filed lawsuit against CAA, in which she asserts that her former agents, Bryan Lourd and Kevin Huvane, were aware of Weinstein’s misconduct, Emanuel pounced.
CAA should hire an outside person to investigate the claims, he said, while Lourd and Huvane should take a leave of absence. “They didn’t apologize,” he said. “They didn’t deny it. They didn’t. So from my perspective, it’s horrific.” He continued: “You’re sitting in a situation where Kevin and Bryan are to Harvey Weinstein, like [Ghislaine] Maxwell was to Jeffrey Epstein. They were leading them to this man.” (In a statement, CAA said it had retained an outside law firm, Paul Weiss, which “found nothing to support Ms. Ormond’s claims.”)
Emanuel wasn’t done. He took a shot at CAA’s rich $7 billion valuation in French billionaire François-Henri Pinault’s deal to acquire a majority interest in the agency. “We’re worth a lot more and we have more morals,” he said. That was too much even for one of Emanuel’s colleagues. “Come on!” he said. “Fuck. ‘We’ve got morals’? That’s going to come back to haunt you.”
Actually, no need to wait for that. Anyone in business with the UFC’s wife-slapping Dana White or the WWE’s alleged sexual predator, Vince McMahon, is already living in a house from which one should not throw stones. And Emanuel has said nothing about cash-cow UFC fighter Conor McGregor, who has faced multiple sexual-assault allegations over the course of years, most recently in June. The UFC issued a statement saying it would “allow the legal process to play out before making any additional statements.”
(This month, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has said it will no longer oversee the UFC program because of a dispute over McGregor. “We have been clear and firm with the UFC that there should be no exception given by the UFC for McGregor to fight until he has returned two negative tests and been in the pool for at least six months,” the agency said. The UFC responded with a legal letter demanding a retraction and apology.)
Speaking of predators, wasn’t it Emanuel who was memorably photographed visiting former client and credibly accused, post-Access Hollywood tape Donald Trump at Bedminster just days after the 2016 election?
Emanuel has long prided himself on speaking truth to power. In 2008, he loudly dressed down Ben Silverman, then co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, in the studio’s executive dining room for missing meetings and a partying lifestyle (and Emanuel wasn’t even having lunch with Silverman when this happened). In 2010, Emanuel reportedly woke up in the middle of the night and texted his partner, Patrick Whitesell, that WME had to dump Mel Gibson after his bigoted outbursts made news. And just last year, Emanuel justly called out companies doing business with Kanye West after the rapper’s antisemitic tweet — specifically mentioning Apple, Spotify and Adidas, all of which do business with Endeavor. But when callouts are selective — when the same person has nothing to say about his fight-club colleagues or former Endeavor board member Elon Musk, who’s turned Twitter into a cesspool of bigotry and misinformation — it tends to undercut one’s moral authority.
When it comes to going after CAA, Emanuel has a thing. Ten years ago, red CAAN’T posters parodying CAA’s white-on-red logo appeared around town. “I knew it had to be Ari,” said one producer at the time. Much has happened in the intervening years, but Emanuel is still battling. Recently, he’s been dialing CAA agents to see if any might want to make a switch as partners there anxiously watch how the spoils will be divided following the Pinault acquisition. Emanuel’s comments made him “look small,” one associate says, noting that the agency business became a third of the company’s business following the UFC acquisition. Says a colleague: “He can’t get it out of his fucking system. You’re not a super-agent anymore. You’re a mogul. It’s so beneath you.”
This source figured that Lourd, who was speaking the following day, would come across as cool and elegant, with a subtle dig. Not this time.
“We all know Ari Emanuel to be incredibly performative, erratic, and in my mind always a self-serving human being, not only to the detriment of his colleagues but his clients, the few that he has left, and more importantly to his investors,” Lourd said, enumerating traits that no one wants to see in a CEO.
A former WME insider offers an explanation for Emanuel’s inability to let go of his CAA hostility. “Part of it is actual resentment for Bryan and Richard [Lovett]. Less Kevin. Ari had to build and work for everything, and they inherited a business they act like they built. It’s sort of petty. At the same time, it’s not untrue.”
Meanwhile, Emanuel touched other topics at the Bloomberg conference that led to more cringe at Endeavor. Talking about which companies would survive the upheaval in the business, he said, “I would not put my money on Paramount.” Endeavor has plenty of business with Paramount, including streaming and broadcasting deals for the Professional Bull Riders.
Emanuel also revealed, seemingly for the first time, that Endeavor made an offer for the PGA tour. “We put in a bid,” Emanuel said. “It’s one of the great sports. I love it. You know, I think we could add to it what we’ve added to all of our sports.” Pressed for whether this was a bid for a piece or the whole, Emanuel equivocated before saying, “You can’t buy the majority.” In fact, The Hollywood Reporter is told, TKO bid for 10 percent under the condition that the tour would pay the company $25 million a year, which isn’t likely to happen. The lack of context is the kind of thing that can spook regulators and investors, the latter no doubt keenly aware that TKO stock hasn’t been doing that well of late.
Whatever the agita, Emanuel’s colleagues know that he’s the one whose drive and vision took them where they are today — even if the dividends haven’t yet been paid to most of them. “He’s a machine, he’s an absolute force,” says a colleague. “He’s a celebrity now.”
Alex Weprin contributed reporting.
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