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Sports Inc.

Marquee Group, an International Management Team That Matches Agents, Promoters and Marketers, May Be the Look of Sports To Come
Kenneth Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Ernest Hemingway, Jul/Aug 99

The heat is rising off the pavement on a steamy summer night in New York. But the partners of the Marquee Group, a worldwide sports and entertainment firm, are comfortable enough, sipping Stonestreet wine and taking bites of melon at Elaine's in New York. The folks encircling this table offer a window to the future of what sports may look like in the twenty-first century.

That future is not the Women's National Basketball Association or mediocre free agents who break the bank; not basketball shoes or football wagering. The future is one-stop shopping: a corporation, like Marquee, that manages, produces and markets sports and entertainment events and provides representation for athletes, entertainers and broadcasters. The future is global acquisition and consolidation--and sports firms that are publicly owned.

The Marquee Group was acquired by SFX Entertainment for $100 million, including debt.

In 1998, SFX paid the same price to gobble up FAME, the prominent sports agency that represents Michael Jordan and other NBA megastars. Two months before that, Marquee procured Park Associates, a United Kingdom firm that represents soccer players. Shortly before that it laid out $23 million to acquire the Hollywood production studio Tollin/Robbins, which is responsible for "Arli$$," a television show about a sport agent, as well as Varsity Blues, a film about smalltown high school football. If acquisitions continue at this pace Marquee's vice president of media relations Curt Block might need to learn speed writing just to get the press releases out. With business growing like this, there is ample reason to forget sports commerce for one evening and celebrate at a landmark restaurant.

Conversation jumps from one subject to another--why men like torpedo cigars, the best celebrity golfers, corporate acquisitions, the best 100 movies, thoroughbred racing, and the philosophy of Albert Camus--before settling on the mysterious allure of World Cup soccer.

"I saw a goal in a World Cup game yesterday," says Bob Gutkowski, the president and chief executive officer of the Marquee Group. "I'm 50 years old and I finally saw one!" Everyone's jaws freeze in mid-bite, as if E.F. Hutton had just spoken. "Who scored it now?" Gutkowski wonders out loud. "Was it Morocco or Norway? Or was it...I don't..."

"You want to know why they love soccer so much around the world?" vice president and Marquee cofounder Mike Letis asks rhetorically. "Because we [Americans] don't like it. If we liked it--forget it."

Realizing he's ignited an inferno, Gutkowski makes a gesture of corporate detenté. "We [Marquee] represent some great soccer players; so we love soccer," he says. "We represent 20 percent of the English national team."

With his distinctive white hair and beard, Gutkowski has been photographed time and again by New York's dailies. His high profile dates back to the early '90s, when he was president and CEO of Madison Square Garden and a ubiquitous presence in the arena's luxury boxes, cheap seats and pathways during the Knicks' overachieving Pat Riley run and the Rangers' Stanley Cup season.

In 1988, as president of MSG Network, Gutkowski inscribed his name in television history when he--and then-Paramount head Art Barron--negotiated a 12-year, $486 million deal for the rights to broadcast the New York Yankees on the Madison Square Garden (MSG) channel. People immediately wondered if he had paid too much. But after the channel's subscriber rolls increased to more than 5 million--and the network expanded to a 12-month operation--the wondering ceased. "If the Yankees were a brand name," says Letis, a big-hearted, Micawberesque character who insists that his cigar smoking contributes to memory recovery, "they'd be Coca-Cola."

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