Why star athletes like LeBron James and Kevin Durant are launching in Hollywood as producers

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Today’s sports superstars are no longer content to limit their efforts off the field to endorsing products or stepping into cameo appearances and roles. Athletes find more creative freedom – and more money – as producers and creators of content.

Of course, it’s still a professional shot to be the Olympian on the Wheaties box or the nickname on a pair of Nikes like Michael Jordan. It can serve as a career to move onto the screen as an actor, talk show personality, or game show host – although a recent host of the “Jeopardy! ” didn’t turn into a permanent win for Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

But agents, lawyers and analysts say athletes like LeBron James and Steph Curry are realizing that starting their own film and television production companies – or entering into exclusive production deals with potential for ownership – is more likely to put them on the fast track to join the ranks. of Hollywood’s greatest actors.

“This is a new trend that I think will continue to accelerate,” entertainment lawyer Lindsay Conner, partner at the law firm O’Melveny, told TheWrap. “Artists and athletes have realized that they can make money beyond the traditional areas of their special talent… as the nucleus of corporate entities that form around them. “

Companies, after all, the playing career of an athlete can long outlive.

“When you run your own business, you don’t work for the man – you are the man,” Conner said.

Production roles and partnerships also give athletes more control over the stories being told. Colin Kaepernick, founder of the production company Ra Vision Media, is creator / producer with Ava Duvernay on the Netflix drama series “Black & White”, which features Kaepernick’s high school years and the experiences that led to a life of social activism. The series premiered on October 29. Ra Vision entered into a first development agreement with Disney in 2020. The AppleTV + series “Swagger” was also premiered on this date, by Kevin Durant and the creator of the Reggie Rock Bythewood series, inspired by Durant’s youth. basketball game experiences on the AAU circuit.

WME athletic agent Kelly Sherman said athletes are looking to entertainment development to use their impact on society in new and different ways, with meaning that goes beyond product endorsements. Sherman added that for athletes, switching to entertainment content is “an incredible way for them to build their brand.”

LeBron James in “Space Jam 2: A New Legacy” (Warner Bros.)

Some industry watchers cite recent wave of investor interest in James and Maverick Carter SpringHill Company as a sign that Hollywood wants to harness the brand recognition that a sports star can bring to a production company. SpringHill, founded in 2020 and comprised of SpringHill Entertainment, Uninterrupted and The Robot Company, is the entity behind the blockbuster summer movie “Space Jam: A New Legacy,which featured James mixing it up onscreen with Bugs Bunny and other animated characters from Looney Tunes.

RedBird Capital Partners has been reported be in advanced talks to invest in SpringHill with a consortium including Fenway Sports Group and Nike. The investment would value the production company between 650 and 700 million dollars. The parties involved have not confirmed the information.

Conner and others compare the interest in SpringHill to the recent acquisition of production company Hello Sunshine from Reese Witherspoon for a whopping $ 900 million. Whether the “name” is an actor or an athlete, founding a business creates an avenue for investment.

“You can’t invest directly in the career of an actor or an athlete, but by asking an artist or an athlete to create a company for the content they produce, or other rights that they own or keep, this can attract more traditional types of funding for their operations, ”said Conner.

Other entertainment companies launched by sports figures in recent years include Steph Curry’s Unanimous Media, Dwayne Wade’s 59th & Prairie Entertainment (named after the Chicago intersection where Wade grew up), Chris Paul’s Ohh Dipp! Productions (who recently made a deal with Parker Paige Media for a series of competitions called “Playdate”) and Olympic speed skater Allison Baver Entertainment Allison Baver.

Other athletes are making content deals with existing entertainment companies, including Russell Westbrook, who partnered with eOne’s Blackfin to produce the documentary “Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre,” which premiered on the History Channel earlier this year, and Serena Williams, who in April announced a first televised deal for an autobiographical docuseries with Amazon Studios. Williams also sits on the SpringHill Board of Directors.

Lisa Joseph Metelus, CAA board member and co-head of basketball marketing and maintenance, told TheWrap that the recent moves by sports figures into content creation have been fueled by the social media.

“It really allows the athletes to take ownership of their voices and their stories; whereas in the past it has always been told by someone else, ”said Metelus. “These days, and it has been for some time, athletes don’t necessarily have to go to a journalist to tell their story. And I think it really helped them find their voice. And I think that led to other opportunities.

Pollock in black and white

“Colin in Black and White” (Netflix)

SpringHill’s director of content, Jamal Henderson, said the company was excited about the possibilities of developing ancillary businesses through SpringHill’s “store”, but added that ultimately the ownership allows executives to the company to focus on meaningful projects.

“What’s exciting about content is that it becomes another piece of the puzzle, but it’s also about things that we care about, like More than a vote (launched during the Black Lives Matter protests) or other efforts we’ve supported, ”Henderson told TheWrap. “Over the past few years we’ve really been trying to empower voices and try to do well in the world. “

Erick Peyton, co-founder and creative director of Unanimous Media, said Curry’s foray into production is based on inspiration. “I think there is a tendency for influencers and athletes to get into content… I can only say why we are doing it,” he told TheWrap. “Steph wants to inspire through everything he does, and the content is no different.”

Peyton added, “Of course we want to have a place at the table when it comes to creative control, ownership and development of a project, but it’s more about being authentic about the vision. . We all believe the profit will come, as long as you are genuine to the vision. “


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