When Lowell Taub ’96 needs to explain what he does for a living, he just points to a scene from Jerry Maguire, the Tom Cruise blockbuster that came out the year he graduated from Cornell. “If I’m talking to people and they know the movie,” Taub says with a smile, “I tell them that I’m the guy who puts Cuba Gooding’s character on the camel.”
He’s being a bit modest. On screen, Gooding’s hotshot NFL player refuses to ride a camel for a local TV commercial, a second-rate gig that his agent (Cruise) struggled to land. But in real life, as head of global sports endorsements for CAA Sports—a division of Creative Artists Agency, one of the world’s leading talent agencies—Taub has no trouble brokering “show me the money” deals for celebrity athletes, which often enable them to earn more off the field than on it.
He’s the guy who landed a reality show for swimming sensation Ryan Lochte and a Lifetime movie for goldmedal gymnast Gabby Douglas. He negotiated a long-term partnership between legendary snowboarder Shaun White and GoPro cameras. For years, he has managed the contract between soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo—famous for his everchanging hairstyles—and Clear shampoo. “What I love about the job is the art of the deal,” he says. “There’s a rush there.”
Taub’s roster includes A-listers across professional sports, including NBA stars like Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Tony Parker—but a glance around his office on the twentieth floor of Manhattan’s Chrysler Building confirms a commitment to Olympic luminaries, a specialty he established sixteen years ago after signing four-time medal-winning swimmer Summer Sanders. A crystal globe—Bode Miller’s 2004 World Cup giant slalom trophy—sits on a windowsill. Autographed skis from Miller and top alpine racer Julia Mancuso adorn the walls, along with boards from White and street skateboarding champion Nyjah Huston. “I have no airs that, when anyone stands on a podium or has success, I helped them get there,” Taub admits. “I’m not their coach. I’m not there sweating alongside them. But I am part of the team, and it’s thrilling when they win—to share that joy and the fruits of their labor with them.”
Dressed in crisp jeans, a checked shirt and tie, and neon-yellow New Balance sneakers, the forty-year-old Taub explains that marketing Olympians has changed drastically in the past few decades. In years past, medal winners like gymnast Mary Lou Retton or speed skater Bonnie Blair would have a breakout moment during the Games, prompting corporations to come calling. Now, that strategy has flipped. Brands identify potential standouts more than a year ahead of the opening ceremonies, using those athletes to promote products in the months leading up to the Olympics. Part of Taub’s job is to extend that relationship, locking in lucrative, multi-year arrangements. “Let’s call it mutual exploitation,” he jokes.
Taub is always looking for young upand- comers, too. Most recently, he picked up two fourteen-year-old prodigies: Tom Schaar, who earlier this year became the second-youngest skateboarder to win the X Games, and snowboarder Chloe Kim, who is expected to make a flashy Olympic debut at the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea.
Still, Taub acknowledges that his decisions aren’t always prescient. He regrets passing on the chance to pair Miller with Red Bull about a decade ago, before the energy drink company took off. He also declined to take on soccer great Mia Hamm in 1997—a lapse that he calls “the biggest miss, maybe, of my career.” On the upside, in 2009 he helped Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic—whom Adidas had dropped in favor of Andy Roddick— land a mega-contract with Italian sportswear brand Sergio Tacchini after cold-calling the company. “It turned out the CEO was a huge Novak fan,” he recalls. “An eight-figure deal came out of it.” Clad in Tacchini apparel, Djokovic went on to win Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and the Australian Open and claim the top men’s spot. (He’s now a brand ambassador for Japanese clothing company Uniqlo.)
‘What I love about the job is the art of the deal,’ Taub says. ‘There’s a rush there.’Though Taub was always a sports fan growing up outside Philadelphia, he says he never planned to be an agent; his dream was to anchor ESPN’s “Sports- Center.” But he developed a knack for negotiating while working at several smaller talent agencies after leaving the Hill. One of his first deals was with New York Giants running back Tiki Barber, for whom he recalls setting up an autograph signing at the grand opening of a Sprint cell phone store. Taub spent seven years at SFX Sports Group before starting his own agency in 2005; two years later, Michael Levine ’93, a former boss who’s now one of the heads of CAA Sports, convinced Taub to join him at the powerhouse firm. “Lowell is someone who considers his job an essential and fully integrated part of his life,” says Levine. “He gives a great deal of himself to his clients, and they respect and appreciate that.”
Lately, Taub’s passions also include triathlon training; last spring, he completed a half-Ironman race in less than six and a half hours. (He’s quick to note that his time might have been an hour better if he hadn’t forgotten his cycling shoes and had to bike fifty-six miles in sneakers.) “Did I brag to my clients that their agent is a little bit athletic?” he muses with a laugh. “Yeah. A half-Ironman’s kind of legit.”