CAA partner David “Doc” O’Connor’s new bosses as The Madison Square Garden Company have confirmed his hiring as president/CEO and set a July 15 start date. That brings to a close a 30-year run at CAA as one of the Young Turks — Richard Lovett, Bryan Lourd, Kevin Huvane and Jay Moloney were the other core dealmakers — who took the reins after the exits of Michael Ovitz and Ron Meyer, and grew the agency into a dominant force in Hollywood and the sports business. According to an MSG release, O’Connor will be responsible for setting the company’s overall strategic vision to advance its sports, media and entertainment businesses. He replaces Tad Smith, who left to run the Sotheby’s auction house.
The major sports pieces are the New York Rangers hockey team, a perennial playoff team, and the New York Knicks, which stunk up the court last season but had a solid NBA draft under Phil Jackson and an abundance of salary-cap space with which to sign free agents to build around Carmelo Anthony.
The CAA braintrust wished him well: “Doc is more than a great partner and business executive; he’s an incredible person and close friend whom we’ve had the tremendous pleasure of working with for more than 30 years. We couldn’t be happier for Doc. It’s a dream come true for a lifelong New York sports fan, and we know he will be terrific in his new role.”
He comes to MSG as the company is preparing to separate its entertainment and sports businesses, which includes the New York Knicks and New York Rangers, and entertainment venues, from its media business. Venues the company controls include Madison Square Garden, New York’s Beacon Theater and Radio City Music Hall, the Forum in Los Angeles, the Chicago Theater and Boston’s Wang Theater. The media business includes MSG regional sports TV networks and other properties.
O’Connor brings “an extensive understanding of the entertainment and sports worlds, including deep industry relationships and a history of successfully creating platforms for growth,” MSG Executive Chairman James Dolan says. “We are confident that his expertise will be crucial to our efforts to strengthen our legendary brands and pursue growth opportunities that expand our business and increase shareholder value.”
O’Connor’s been at CAA for more than 30 years, including 20 during which he served as managing partner of the worldwide entertainment and sports agency. In 2006 he helped to launch CAA Sports, which represents athletes, coaches and broadcasters as well as brands including MSG. Two years later he co-founded Evolution Media Capital, a CAA-affiliated investment bank, management and advisory firm. And three years ago he was part of the group that created CAA Eleven, a subsidiary that manages the media, sponsorship, and licensing rights for National Team Football in Europe.
“Growing up in New Jersey, some of my earliest and fondest memories involve The Madison Square Garden Company – from my first professional hockey and basketball games to my first rock concert to Radio City Music Hall and the Christmas Spectacular,” O’Connor says. He adds that he has “a unique perspective on how to maximize assets and pursue strategic growth.”
Macquarie Securities’ Amy Yong applauded the choice of O’Connor after word of his hiring spread. He could bring “a breath of fresh air” to the MSG spinoff by negotiating an “arms-length agreement to the benefit of both” companies, creating a new capital structures for the companies, and securing approvals from the IRS, debt owners, and the board.