Sports | Music | Art | Media
Sports | Music | Art | Media
Co-Founder: Unlisted / Brand Lab, A Brand Incubator.
2002 - 2019: Managing Partner, Wasserman
1998 - 2003: Founder, CEO & Agent, The Familie
It’s the stuff of myth. A streetwise kid from Boston’s toughest neighborhoods gets a one way bus ticket to Vail in hopes of becoming a ski bum. Fast-forward 30 years and Steve Astephen is now one of the world’s most passionate and committed sports entrepreneurs, famous for a relentless work ethic, taking calculated risks and hedging his bets on athletes, sports and business models that traditional agencies either missed or dismissed - then celebrating all the way to the top of the podium with his teams.
In 2019, Astephen left a position as managing partner of Wasserman, a top global sports and entertainment agency with 1100 employees and 1500 athletes, because those street kid’s instincts are telling him that the game is about to change once again. He’s queuing up The Familie - a rebrand of his very first agency - with top talent from the NFL, NBA, golf, music, action sports, art, media and a division dedicated to women. His first music client, Machine Gun Kelly, currently sits at #1 with Ticket To My Downfall, effectively positioning him as the biggest rock star on the planet. Astephen’s simultaneous launch of brand incubator, Unlisted / Brand Lab - helmed by employee #1 from his first agency, Candy Harris - will model the formula he ran at Wasserman nearly a dozen times, most famously with Art of Sport and Stance, where he played a pivotal role from Day #1 in successfully architecting the modern athlete-equity business model.
It all started in 1988 when Steve rode into Vail with a tattoo that read “Self Made.” Years later he would add “No Longer.” But he will tell you he probably should have added that part when he got to Colorado because at every turn, people miraculously dropped into place to show him a path out of poverty. After a career-ending injury halted his skiing aspirations, he turned to snowboarding and built the area’s first retail snowboard shop off a loan - from the last bank he asked. It became an immediate money-maker - so much so that Vail copied him a year later after seeing the receipts.
“Those people probably don’t even know how important they were to my life.
I literally had no business being there.”
That generosity from strangers is something he reciprocates as often as he can.
“People ask me, do you really return every call? Absolutely. You have to be grateful for the people who come into your life - you never know when they’ll come back around. You get a lot of those.”
In 1994, with his first child on the way, he was offered a job with LaMar Snowboards in San Diego. “At this point, I hadn’t even been west of Colorado,” he says. In an industry that lived and died on authenticity with youth culture, he built an amazing roster of athletes for LaMar that rivaled the biggest brands in the sport.
Then one day Reebok tried to get into the action sports game, but quickly realized it was harder than it looked. Pro rider Kevin Jones, also one of Astephen’s LaMar athletes, was about to be terminated from his Reebok contract without notice. So Steve says “I'll call and say I’m your agent. I’ve seen Jerry Maguire. They can’t do that.” He got him a two year severance. And as Jones says now, “That’s the day The Familie was born.”
In 1998, Astephen went to IMG, at the time one of the biggest sports agencies, and said “I want to rep snowboarders.” They laughed. Back then, being an agent was transactional: attorneys repped athletes in league deals. Traditional stick and ball athletes didn’t need to build a ground-up brand for themselves the way that individual sport athletes did to receive exposure. Players just wanted to play and agents just wanted to lock in the deal. So Steve started The Familie from his garage.
With the field wide open and no competition, repping snowboarders turned into BMX, skateboarding and Motocross. Then Mt. Dew and ESPN got into the game with broadcast competitions. While luck was on his side, the timing was also perfect. If IMG had stepped up any earlier it would have been harder.
“From 1999-2001, our athletes won an average of 19 out of 28 ESPN Summer XGames medals. We swept the podium in every sport. It was then that I realized I was going to be okay.”
Astephen credits his success and drive to childhood - that feeling that it could all go away at any minute. His survival in a cutthroat industry in the digital age comes from an ability to not only recognize talent, but to recognize the whole person. His commitment to his athletes is legendary in the industry.
“You look for the athletes that check all the boxes. The ones that make you say ‘There is not going to be another one of them for a very long time.’”
When he sold The Familie to Casey Wasserman’s new agency in 2003 and took on a role there, Steve had the opportunity to expand his client base and build multiple brands within the company over a span of 17 years. And as digital, social media and personalized content started to shift the public consciousness, he found that athletes, musicians, artists and entertainers were all moving toward a business model and personal marketing strategy that he had utilized since his early days, in one form or another. He also found ways to hack the creative agency model by personally directing and producing nearly a dozen commercials, filming NBA, golf and other sports industry superstars authentically and efficiently. And his personal relationship to the talent allowed him to stay on brand, at half the time and expense of a traditional shop.
At the heart of the secret sauce that he believes will build careers across genres in the years to come is his team of super agents: a brand new agent / manager hybrid that currently doesn’t exist in sports or entertainment. The Familie and Unlisted / Brand Lab will also focus on an entrepreneurial model of client management - it’s that scrappy start-up authenticity, creativity and originality that gives a project or campaign freedom and flexibility to be truly disruptive. And as he builds another great team of internal talent, Steve is looking outside of the traditional “agent” space, to find leaders who understand brand marketing, digital media, content, and communications in their respective fields.
“When it comes to agents, no one comes close to possessing Steve’s level of vision and creativity. He always goes so far above and beyond for his clients, using his connections in sports, arts and music to build transformational platforms. His true differentiator though: he legitimately cares. Something you don’t experience often, in what can be a cutthroat business.” - Matt McGlynn VP Brand RBC