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As Casey Wasserman, the CEO of the eponymous sports and marketing agency, prepares for 17 days in Rio with his athletes, he's at the Allen & Company conference in Sun Valley. Here he's meeting with sports and media leaders and talking not just about deals, but what the future of sports will look like.
Wasserman says there's no question that sports content will gradually be made available outside traditional TV bundles — over the top.
"It will be a slow transition and by far the slowest piece of the media business," said Wasserman, citing the fact that sports deals are long-term, the next one not coming up until 2022. "I don't think it will be pure a la carte, but there will be lots of options for consumers, and I think sports is one of the things that has a consistent connection with the consumer."
And that changing landscape means media companies will have to shift from selling content to distributors, to selling directly to consumers.
"They have to become consumer-facing companies," Wasserman said. "If you want to sell product to people you have to know how to communicate with ... and market to, and monetize consumers in a more direct way, and I think that may be the biggest paradigm shift and challenge for media companies in the next year."
There's one deal in the works that Wasserman said speaks to media's embrace of new technology: Disney's reported negotiations for a strategic stake in Major League Baseball's streaming media company BAM. Wasserman said it makes sense for Disney to buy a piece of the company that already counts ESPN and HBO among its streaming customers. (Both Disney and MLB in the past declined to comment on the rumors.)
"I don't believe it's only about ESPN. It's about their entire breadth of cable properties and content properties," said Wasserman. BAM "has learned all the lessons, they've created the value, and I think for ESPN it's smart."
Wasserman said if BAM stays independent it would certainly struggle in competing with ESPN to acquire rights, so partnering with ESPN makes sense for BAM as well.
With so many questions about the health of the TV business in the face of cord-cutters and cord-nevers, Wasserman is clear that ESPN is going to handle this transition carefully: "Obviously they're not going to do anything to effect the value of their cable contracts and their distribution contracts, but there's no question they can start in certain areas and focus on going direct-to-consumer."
Wasserman said that ESPN might create a specific product around a sport — like soccer — or a set of rights, as opposed to the broad ESPN offering people are familiar with today.
Wasserman, a 15-year veteran of Sun Valley, also weighed in on the hot topics among the business leaders here. The vote on Brexit will have an impact on Wasserman's business, which is global, representing athletes and brands around the world.
"I think the challenge of Brexit is there's a lot of unknowns still today. In the sports world there's a lot of things that depend on the movement of talent, the movement of players. The soccer economy — the football economy — is pretty connected, so there's a lot to be figured out," said Wasserman. "Europe is going through a transition — and that transition clearly has a fork in the road.... if they keep the union together and they create a synthetic [union of sorts]. If it starts to unravel more, it has real implications for lots of people."
Though the panels at the conference take a decidedly non-partisan approach — and there's no politics on this year's agenda — the presidential election is very much a source of conversation among the CEOs here. Wasserman is a long-time Clinton supporter, and said she's clearly the better candidate for business.
"Hillary has clearly proven her ability to lead and unite, in lots of jobs from her early career, to being Secretary of State," Wasserman said. "Ultimately what makes business thrive is having a country that works well. In my view Hillary is an unbelievably qualified candidate to lead this country. She will give us credibility in the global marketplace, and she has the ability to address the problems that face the country, which are serious and real."
Wasserman said the political climate at the Sun Valley confab is "probably a little mixed."
"I think it's maybe one of the more unique elections anybody has every watched," Wasserman said. "Surely no one predicted this, which I think gives everyone pause."
Other than the election, the other rivalry Wasserman is deeply invested in, is the competition for the 2024 Olympics: He's chair of the Los Angeles bid for the games. As for the event in Rio, all the focus on Zika and safety concerns has kept expectations are low, and Wasserman thinks the games will be "spectacular."
"People on the ground will have an incredible experience; people on TV will see a majestic games," said Wasserman. "It's not how the Brazil government, seven years ago, thought it would go, but they will get through it."
Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns NBC Sports and NBC Olympics. NBC Olympics is the U.S. broadcast rights holder to all Summer and Winter Games through the year 2032.