CAA Insider Fires Back at WME: "They've Been Trying to Mimic [Us] for Years"

Ari Emanuel Richard Lovett Split - H 2016
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Ari Emanuel Richard Lovett Split - H 2016

In this week's THR cover story, WME|IMG co-CEOs Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell claimed that CAA is "freaking out" over their agency's success.

An insider at CAA has fired back at WME|IMG co-CEOs Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell's comments about the agency in this week's Hollywood Reporter cover story, which included claims that CAA is "freaking out" over WME's success.

"[WME's] increased financial pressure seems to increase their preoccupation with CAA," a source at the agency told Page Six. "Their worldview presented as 'vision' flatters us, as they have been trying to mimic what CAA has successfully been doing for years."

During their exclusive interview with THR, the WME bosses fired shots at their rival's handling of both clients and employees."We created an opportunity for equity in the company and to spread it around, unlike other people in our business who haven't done the same thing," Whitesell said of the offers that went out to 400 or 500 top agents and execs (reportedly in lieu of cash bonuses) after WME purchased IMG for $2.4 billion in 2014.

The comment was an indirect swipe at CAA. Both agencies have taken on significant outside money — WME is majority owned by private equity firm Silver Lake Partners, CAA by TPG Capital — to grow and diversify, but there is a perception that CAA's capital infusion benefits its managing partners the most, a sentiment Emanuel echoed: "Unlike other people who own different companies who took the vast majority of the money and put it in their pockets, to the detriment of our own financial upside, Patrick and I didn't think that was appropriate."

Emanuel declined to speculate on CAA's strategy and possible timing of going public, but he pounced on his rival when it came to intimations that WME|IMG's diversification compromises its leaders' attention to the core talent representation business.

"If I just put up [Emanuel clients] Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron and their movie and television business compared to the incredible movie and television business that [CAA has] done with Will Smith and the incredible television business they've done with Brad Pitt — [CAA's] freaking out right now," snarked Emanuel, who says he's still able to keep up with his rumored hundreds of daily client calls. "And the great thing is, now [CAA president] Richard Lovett is calling those people."

WME has in the past gleefully poked at its rival superagency. In 2013 it famously blanketed the town — especially the Westfield mall within walking distance of CAA's Century City headquarters — with posters tweaking CAA's logo as CAAN'T. And for years Emanuel called Lovett's office every day, just to get under his skin.

He was slightly more magnanimous in his THR interview when contemplating the future of the agency business. "I don't know how many years ago, Richard Lovett made this comment that they're going to represent everybody, right?" he laughed. "Those agencies are going to exist, it's great if they exist. We're just doing our thing."

"We respect our competitors," Whitesell added. "We battle them in the areas that we work against them."

Which, Emanuel added, is "20 percent [of WME|IMG's business] only."