For months, potential investors in a new Los Angeles football team have made their way to the gated home of former Hollywood talent agent Michael Ovitz. But these days, the owner isn't home. While aides show off glossy drawings of the $350 million stadium Ovitz hopes to build for the National Football League franchise he aims to attract, Ovitz is out doing deals.
The man once called the King of Hollywood is plotting his comeback. In months of tireless dealmaking, Ovitz has strung together a series of investments that may produce a new empire that will focus largely on "out-of-home" entertainment, which will include everything from interactive video arcades in malls to sports teams to Broadway production companies. Simultaneously, the onetime chairman of Creative Artists Agency (CAA) is building a new talent-management business. Ovitz' plan is to take stakes in movies and TV shows created by a stable of writers, producers, and stars he would manage, and also to create spin-offs, such as video games or even Broadway shows, that would lure consumers to his entertainment outlets.
COUNTERSUITS. The away-from-home entertainment plan is not exactly a new idea. In fact, it's essentially the same strategy that Ovitz' former boss and onetime friend, Disney Chairman Michael D. Eisner, has been pitching for years. Disney has already branched out to become a major player on Broadway--as a theater owner, producer of live stage shows, and owner of two sports franchises.
Ovitz' plans for the Great White Way have dimmed a bit already. On Nov. 18, Livent Inc., the theatrical-production company in which he invested $20 million for control, filed for bankruptcy protection. Livent founder Garth H. Drabinsky is suing Ovitz, charging he conspired to oust him, while Livent is suing Drabinsky, alleging fraud. The episode has raised questions about Ovitz' business acumen.
Scrambling to save the company--and Ovitz' plans to use it--Livent is shopping for outside investors to provide funds for touring companies of such Livent shows as Ragtime and Showboat. One possibility is concert promoter SFX Entertainment Inc., whose chairman, Robert F.X. Sillerman, already invests in touring productions. SFX refused comment.
Along with Ohio-based land developer Herbert Glimcher, Ovitz is building a 1.5 million-square-foot mall in Port Elizabeth, N.J. Ovitz' main contribution: a 150,000-square-foot entertainment complex with interactive sports games, a wide-screen movie theater, and other entertainment. He plans to team up with architect David Rockwell and Barry and Jim Loeks, who ran Sony Corp.'s theater chain, to build similar complexes in shopping malls around the country.
But Ovitz also wants writers, producers, and stars to create the content he can use to lure consumers to his theaters and other entertainment venues. To that end, he's launching a firm to manage the careers of up-and-coming actors, hotshot directors, and sports stars. He has signed up a dozen agents, and executives in Hollywood expect Ovitz to try to sign former CAA clients, such as directors Sydney Pollack and Francis Coppola. He has already recruited talent managers Rick Yorn and his sister-in-law, Julie Silverman Yorn, whose clients include Matt Dillon and Ed Burns. The plan is to let the actors and directors get a piece of the movies or television shows they create. Ovitz plans to invest in the productions and eventually make games or theme-park rides out of them.
Meanwhile, Ovitz is laying on the glam to land that football team. In late October, he presented his plan to a special NFL owners meeting in Kansas City, Mo. Ovitz' pitch was pure Hollywood: a 12-minute videotape including one of the female stars of Baywatch. He intends to call his Mission-style stadium The Hacienda, with a bell tower that rings with each touchdown. Next door, a shopping mall will be decorated with logos from the 31 NFL teams and have its own NFL interactive pavilion. "Very, very impressive," says NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue of the show. "Real Hollywood." Indeed it was. But that, of course, is Michael Ovitz' stock in trade.