Peter Bart: Peter Guber’s New Arena Is His Latest Sports Foray

Peter Guber
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

With Hollywood in a state of disruption, the town’s producers face a challenge to creatively reinvent themselves. Reflecting this process, Peter Guber, long a top movie dealmaker, this week set forth plans for the grand opening in 2019 of a privately funded 18,000-seat stadium (Chase Center) that will totally transform the Mission Bay section of San Francisco. Last year, a Guber-backed $350 million soccer stadium for Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Football Club in downtown L.A. also opened its doors –- the city’s first new open-air arena since the 1960s.

Why is a major filmmaker now producing stadiums? It’s part of Guber’s emergence as a major sports maven, encompassing co-ownership of the Golden State Warriors as well as the Los Angeles Dodgers, in addition to major stakes in entities like AXiomatic and Team Liquid, representing entry into gaming and e-sports. As in former years, Guber has star partners in these ventures — Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, for example — but from a different universe.

Confront Guber about all this and he will likely change the subject, since he’s long believed that media coverage is irrelevant to his aims, if not a distraction. We first encountered each other years ago, finding ourselves in new studio jobs with responsibilities far beyond what we had anticipated. Guber had just started The Last Detail at Columbia with Jack Nicholson; it was to be directed by Hal Ashby, who had just completed Harold & Maude for me at Paramount. We exchanged insights and alarm bells on this and other projects.

Guber went on to produce a range of films from Rain Man to Batman, ultimately becoming CEO at Sony. He also began teaching at UCLA (he is now an adjunct professor as well as a regent), a position that encouraged him to reflect on his career direction as well as that of the industry. Film goers, he realized, were eager to become participants, not passengers, in the process, hence active in their own rescue. That meant, among other things, watching films on their own time lines rather than on pre-set release dates. The producer could now emerge as a “connector” between the artist and the consumer, curating the product and marketing it virally.

Stephen Curry, left, Joe Lacob and Peter Guber John G Mabanglo/Shutterstock

At his company Mandalay, Guber continues to co-finance pictures but also delving increasingly into gaming and e-sports. The sports world has held a special lure to him: He initially acquired a succession of minor league baseball teams, then, together with a partner, Bruce McNall, made an early bid for the Dodgers — a foray that ended when McNall went to jail. Ultimately, Guber wrote a big check to acquire the then-stumbling Warriors with new partner Joe Lacob, thus setting the groundwork for one of the biggest success stories in modern day sports.

E-sports represents an extension of this success. Although it’s an international landscape, U.S consumers alone spent $29.1 billion on video game content in 2018. AXiomatic Gaming, in which Michael Jordan has newly invested, owns the Team Liquid professional gaming franchise, whose European team won the 2017 international tournament for Dots 2, which registered an $11 million purse. Team Liquid got its early start in South Korea where the popularity of StarCraft contests turned video gamers into pop celebrities.

All this triggers new excitement for Guber, but his focus at the moment is on the Chase Center, which spans 11 acres and aims to become not only the Warriors’ base but also an arena for concerts, conventions and cultural events. Privately funded, the Chase Center has stirred controversy in San Francisco since it’s propelling change in a major portion of the city. The Warriors, of course, were long a staple in Oakland, which resents its loss.

What further re-inventions will Guber propel? While Mandalay buzzes with new rumors of acquisitions, Guber is typically non-communicative about them. The excitement for him is in the
deals; coverage of them is a mere distraction.

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