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Ari Emanuel: Hollywood agent provocateur

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 Ari Emanuel
Ari Emanuel, photographed at the Vanity Fair Oscar party at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills on March 12, 2023.
(John Shearer / WireImage)

In Hollywood, there are moguls, there are power brokers and there are dealmakers. Then there is Ari Emanuel.

The formidable, f-bomb-spewing chief executive of Endeavor did not simply flip the Hollywood script; the uber-agent rewrote the entire playbook.

Discover the changemakers who are shaping every cultural corner of Los Angeles. L.A. Influential brings you the moguls, politicians, artists and others telling the story of a city constantly in flux.

Yes, he’s the inspiration for the hyperkinetic Ari Gold on the HBO series “Entourage,” but that caricature barely hints at the power the real Ari wields behind-the-scenes.

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By sheer force of will and a slew of pricey, diversified acquisitions (Ultimate Fighting Championship, Frieze, IMG among them), Emanuel, 63, transformed the talent agency he founded 28 years ago into a powerhouse global media company with tentacles in every aspect of entertainment, from art and fashion to movies, books and TV to sports and technology. In 2021, he took Endeavor public — the first of its kind in Hollywood to do so.

Such big, risky bets were viewed initially with skepticism, and to date the payoff has been a mixed bag.

In September, Endeavor made its latest move, snapping up World Wrestling Entertainment, merging it with the UFC to form publicly traded TKO, in a deal valued at $21.4 billion. TKO recently announced WWE’s flagship “Raw” was jumping from network television to Netflix, the streamer’s first gambit into live sports, in a 10-year deal valued at $5 billion.

Last October, Emanuel expressed frustration with what he called “the continued dislocation” between Endeavor’s stock price and its profitability and revenue gains, and announced it was exploring its strategic options, (usually the sign a company is putting itself up for sale). At the same time, the private equity firm Silver Lake, Endeavor’s largest shareholder, said it wanted to take the company private.

By April, Silver Lake prevailed. Endeavor announced it was ending its three-year run as a public company. The private equity firm will acquire all outstanding shares of Endeavor that it does not own at an equity value of $13 billion.

By owning a piece of every slice of the entertainment industry, Endeavor has the leverage to create multiple avenues of growth.

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Emanuel’s caffeinated vision to move beyond just representing clients — an enviable list that includes Ben Affleck, Larry David and Oprah Winfrey — took shape when he read economist George Gilder’s book “Life After Television.” The book charted a paradigm shift in which content and distribution were becoming commodities while creators and brands would hold the money and power.

Emanuel has dubbed his version of Gilder’s theory “the flywheel.” It’s his other favorite f-word.

It works something like this: Endeavor not only reps the talent and negotiates the deals but, by virtue of its expansive portfolio of properties, can stream the content, license products and produce live events. By owning a piece of every slice of the entertainment industry, Endeavor has the leverage to create multiple avenues of growth. At the same time, the strategy has positioned the company to compete head-on with the studios and streamers amid a host of new dynamics that have remade the industry.

One of the most powerful executives in Hollywood, Emanuel is also one of the most outspoken.

In May, he denounced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and called for his ouster while receiving the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Humanitarian Award. “Bibi Netanyahu is a failure,” he said during a speech that excoriated his leadership since the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel.

But perhaps, in a town where proximity to power is the next best thing to actual power, it’s telling that the guest list for Emanuel’s St. Tropez wedding to fashion designer Sarah Staudinger in 2022 became a barometer of one’s clout. “Are you an A- or B-list Endeavor client?” asked the buzzy, insider newsletter the Ankler, once the invites went out. “Guess you now know.”

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