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LEIGH STEINBERG HAS A TAKE…ON EVERYTHING
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1,000 cable stations, 24/7 entertainment, and the future of Western Civilization from one of the guys who shaped it

 

ST: We have spoken about a cable TV station called the Sports Movie Channel. Is this the kind of thing that you envision as being part of your merger with Assante.

 

LS: Assante shares my dream and vision of building a high quality sports and entertainment net system that delivers a massive network of 24-hour sports related programming to 150 stations, 24 hours per day. The cable stations will need content, and athletics is a natural source of that content.

 

ST: Time Warner and A.O.L. are now merged.  What is your take on this?

 

LS: The Internet will need content, too--web sites, video, video games; sports shall provide an endless supply of ancillary revenue. I see sports and entertainment merging, the two fields coming together in a natural progression.

 

ST: What does Assante bring to the table?

 

LS:   Through Assante we are purchasing Eugene Parker's football agency, and combining agency franchises in hockey, wrestling, tennis and golf--we are creating a real multi-sport agency. Each one shall be autonomous, working as a municipality feeding a massive marketing arm of player endorsements, corporate sponsorships, leagues, teams, new stadia, and each will have special expertise in their field.

 

ST: You have experience at building stadiums and saving franchises. Have you ever thought about being on the other end of the negotiating table, as an owner?

 

LS: I've worked with sports teams and municipalities, trying to draw financing and referendums for stadium projects, referendums, p.s.l.'s and naming rights. We were successful in San Francisco, keeping the Giants at Candlestick until the new stadium could be built. We failed in L.A. when the Rams left. For me, there is more freedom working with different athletes, continuing to require that they maintain their civic responsibilities and focus on charitable organizations. I insist that athletes be role models, and that they re-trace their roots to the prep and college levels. An athlete can stand up and say, "Real men don't hit women," or "don't abuse children" and that can have a big impact. I can accomplish more doing what I do now than being tied to any one place as an owner.

 

ST: Do you see yourself, in your new role after the Assante merger, becoming actively involved with Hollywood from the development side as a producer, and if so, will you specialize in sports content alone?

 

LS: Yes, eventually I want to be active in all aspects of the film industry, not just as a "sports specialty,"  that's part of our mission. For now we are concentrating on sports-related themes. Of course, there are a lot of movies," like "Air Bud", in which the sports theme is just a coincidence, so it will all evolve.

 

ST:: Speaking of sports films, was "Jerry Maguire" supposed to be about you from the beginning?

 

LS: Cameron Crowe, who directed "Singles" and wrote "Fast Times At Ridgemont High", approached me in 1993 and asked if he could explore the world of pro sports. He ended up tagging along to a series of events, including the N.F.L. draft when Drew Bledsoe went number one. To be honest, when I first got married, it was hard on us because of all the traveling and commitments.

 

We were in Palm Desert, and I took Tim McDonald to show him off to the owners. We were in a room, and the news program "Money Line" was on television when Cameron asked him what he was in it for. McDonald pointed to the t.v. and said, "It's the money." Thus was born the phrase "Show me the money." I've had extensive experience working with actors. Cuba Gooding went to the Super Bowl with us, and his character is based on McDonald. He even pretended to be my client. I worked with Jerry O'Connell, who played the young quarterback in the film.

 

I also worked with Oliver Stone in "Any Given Sunday". He's very talented but not a very nice man. I worked with Al Pacino on his veteran coach character, and spent part of an afternoon with Cameron Diaz on the role of a woman in a male-dominated world. I worked on "For the Love of the Game"; my partner, Jeff Moorad and I were technical consultants and we went back to Yankee Stadium for that.

 

The company Jerry first worked for was supposed to be I.M.G. They descended on my office and used my wardrobe, and the view outside is the view from my office in Newport Beach. It's a photo, on a set.

 

ST: Okay, who was the Jay Mohr character based on?

 

LS: Off the record, it was --- ------.

 

ST: What are your memories of a dormitory at the University of California?

 

LS: I was a dorm counselor and Boalt Hall law student, when Steve Bartkowski was selected number one in the 1975 draft. I was brimming with legal experience not having tried a case. Those were wild days in sports representation, with agents buying players off college campuses. Owners had the option of just not dealing with agents if they didn't want to.

 

ST: Well, only nine years before that, <Packers center> Jim Ringo approached Vince Lombardi with an agent. Lombardi excused himself, made a phone call, re-emerged and told them, "Mr. Ringo has been traded to the Philadelphia Eagles." Still, there had been a period of bidding wars in which players made huge bonuses. Let's face it, when Pete Rozelle began the draft, isn't that another way of saying he colluded with the owners to hold down prices?

 

LS: That's exactly what he did, by creating the draft and merging the leagues.

 

ST: Okay, I'll just say it straight. Rozelle and the owners colluded on the prices.

 

LS: Right. Joe Namath had made $400,000. O.J. Simpson got $350,000 before the merger. The draft is completely unconstitutional.

 

ST: If Steve Bartkowski had never come along to change your life, what would Leigh Steinberg be doing today?

 

LS: I'd either be a political activist, trying to save the environment, maybe a U.S. Senator. Or I might have been involved in some aspect of the entertainment business, working in Hollywood. I had a chance to be a TV newsperson. I definitely wouldn't be a sports agent.

 

 

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