Upstart Management Company Range Media Partners Launches; Ex-Microsoft CMO, Grubhub Founder Stake Funding With Hedge Fund Billionaire Steve Cohen

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  • Michael Shannon
    Michael Shannon
    American actor and musician
  • Michael Cooper
    American basketball coach and player

The upstart management company that Deadline revealed on August 23 would be launched by Pete Micelli with principal backing from hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen, now has a name — Range Media Partners — additional new backing through Microsoft CMO Mich Matthews-Spradlin and Grubhub founder/CEO Matt Maloney. The company will launch with three more dealmakers who’ll become part owners along with the other agents transitioning to the manager side of the street.

Sandra Kang from CAA Global Brands Group, CAA Foundation’s Rachel Kropa, and manager Byron Wetzel (a New York-based manager who runs Wetzel Entertainment Group and has management clients including Michael Shannon) will round out the lineup of principals, with an additional founding member about to be named to lead a music division. They will join exiting CAA agents Dave Bugliari, Michael Cooper, Mick Sullivan and Jack Whigham, UTA agents Mackenzie Condon Roussos, Susie Fox, Chelsea McKinnies & Lucinda Moorhead and WME lit agent Rich Cook.

Along with Point72’s Cohen – who’ll supply “a substantial minority investment” and will be joined by former New York Knicks head coach David Fizdale – the other principal investment will comes from former Microsoft CMO Mathews-Spradlin and Grubhub’s Maloney.

All of the principals will be given an unspecified ownership stake. The company says its construct “will foster a company culture grounded in inclusion, respect, and fairness. The company is committed to providing equity to all founding staff, at every level, and recruiting and representing a diverse group of perspectives and backgrounds. As a company deeply invested in the well-being of its employees, Range Media Partners will establish a broad-based ownership of the success of the company from day one.”

In a joint statement, the founders said, “We are incredibly proud to begin this exciting adventure together. Each of us brings something unique and impactful to the table that contributes to our company’s mission and overall success. We want to take a deep, personal approach to our clients’ work while continuing to deliver great results. We have the utmost gratitude to those that have nurtured and supported our work for years, and we look forward to our continued collaboration. The entertainment community is such a special collection of hardworking artists and personalities, and we are honored to work alongside everyone.”

Perhaps it is the launch of a disruptive new representation venture in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic which since March has brought major agency and management company revenues to a trickle and sparked layoffs and furloughs to go along with a long stalemate with the WGA. Or perhaps it is unanswered questions of how a group of top young agents in their prime ages of 36-45 can build a rep-based business without being predatory, especially when many clients they’ve helped build into stars are being asked to remain by their agencies, and already have managers. Management is a civil game compared to agenting: poaching is rare, except when former CAA chief Michael Ovitz formed AMG and hired away CAA agent Mike Menchel and drew his star client Robin Williams, and brought over Tom Clancy from WMA. CAA ostracized Ovitz, hurting AMG’s ability to package series and movies. In any case, rare has a migration of agents to a new venture drawn the buzz, and shade, as I’ve seen over the week since Deadline divulged the company and its participants.

A 20-page deck on the company’s plans was leaked, widely, under the heading Moxie Media. The deck was written by Micelli, the former 23-year CAA vet who had just exited as eOne’s Chief Strategy Officer in April, and was quarantined with family in Lake Tahoe and figuring out what to do next. The document is closer to Jerry Maguire’s “mission statement” than an actual business plan, but it nonetheless was a bit barbed toward the status quo and provided a glimpse into areas a new company might be able to monetize.

That including areas like music and sports, and building clients into branded businesses (the company would take a 1/3 stake for facilitating and launching, with the talent splitting the rest with a financial backer), and leaning in hard on a production services business. Noting that no high level agency or management company had launched in over 25 years, the document posited the new company as the third revolution, after CAA’s creation in 1975 by Ovitz, Ron Meyer and a few others who left WME, and then Ari Emanuel, Tom Strickler and others exodus from ICM to form Endeavor in 1995. Noting that “current representation system is broken, lack of transparency has eroded trust,” the document made a persuasive argument that a well-organized management venture could find a seam in the marketplace. It didn’t make the new venture many friends among agencies which watched key players walk out the door and word is that when the exiting agents met with CAA brass, they had the document in their hands.

The other point of skepticism by shade-throwers was to note that billionaire backer Cohen had contributed to the inauguration of President Donald Trump, no beloved figure in Hollywood. Now, Cohen’s past is an open book because he is now in exclusive negotiations to buy the New York Mets baseball team. After outperforming rivals for years, his hedge fund, Capital Advisors, pleaded guilty in 2013 to insider trading and paid $1.8B in fines — $900M in forfeiture and the same amount in fines –in one of the biggest criminal cases against a hedge fund that kept Cohen from investing for two years. As for the Trump stuff, insiders said that he is not some MAGA hat wearing Trump acolyte; he has given over the years to politicians on both sides of the aisle and been generous to philanthropic causes. He supported the run of Democratic presidential Pete Buttigieg and has been a supporter of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and hasn’t backed either of the combatants in the upcoming presidential election. Pairing Cohen with the other two backers seems to give Range Media Partners plenty of hedge fund and tech money to launch properly.

Finally, rumors ran around that the partners were lured away from the major agencies by 7-figure paychecks. That was denied by insiders, who said motivations were the skin in the game equity stake, an opportunity to work with a crew who’ve been close friends despite many of them being competitors in the past, and a chance to try something disruptive while they were young enough. There are no big paychecks, the insiders said.

The unanswered question in the announcement today is what clients the new company will start with, and whether those who already have managers will be open to splitting commissions with other managers, or leave their existing agencies. After all, clients who haven’t worked in the past half year won’t love having to pay more for representation. It would be easy for Bradley Cooper or Tom Hardy to make the move, but it might be more cumbersome for Margot Robbie, who has a long relationship with her Management 360 reps who built her career along with Range partner Bugliari while he was at CAA.

The Range partner/owners aren’t the only top notch partners who spent their careers building at major agencies and moved onto management concerns. Among them, CAA agent Scott Greenberg moved with his lengthy list of filmmakers to work with longtime friend Rick Yorn at LBI (he’ll co-rep the clients with CAA), Theresa Kang-Lowe left WME to launch her own management company with a multi-year deal at Apple TV + and clients including Alfonso Cuaron, and WME agent Phil Sun joined MACRO’s Charles King to launch the rep firm M88 and took Michael B. Jordan with him. Respected TV lit agents David Stone (WME partner) and Ben Jacobson (UTA partner) left to launch The Framework Collective management company, and WME agent Duncan Millership left to join Anonymous Content. More exits are in the offing as the representation business resets itself in the streaming-dominated brave new world whose formation was exacerbated by the pandemic.

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