BY JERRY MILANI
Wayne resident Mark Lepselter may have more of the look of a boxer than businessman on first glance. Trim, straightforward and clean-shaven, the 41-year-old is all straight shooter and 100 percent North Jersey in manner and approach.
And it is that style which has helped him to quietly and steadily build a sports and entertainment brand, with the help of some household names and a cadre of rising stars in front of and behind the camera (many with New Jersey ties) into MAXX Sports and Entertainment.
Although many will know Lepselter's clients like Tiki and Ronde Barber, Lawrence Taylor, Jay Feely, and Rodney Harrison from their playing days, it is their business activities that has made MAXX into what it is today – a multifaceted agency that can handle diverse opportunities for players, broadcast talent and now non-sports celebrities in areas ranging from publishing to endorsements and acting.Take this past week as an example. MAXX signed recently-retired, 20-year NHL veteran Jeremy Roenick to assist in his broadcasting pursuits, while fellow client and former Olympian Dominique Dawes was blogging for Yahoo.com from the US Olympic Summit in Chicago, radio personality Sid Rosenberg was beginning his new gig on WQAM in Miami, former Rutgers and NFL quarterback Ray Lucas was debuting as the color analyst for Scarlet Knights football and Harrison was set to make his debut for NBC on "Football Night in America," (alongside Barber).
Let's also not forget Taylor, whose in-depth, sit-down with Michael Kay aired for the first time Friday night on "Centerstage" on the YES Network. Not bad for a week of work for MAXX clients.
"Today sports and entertainment is so much more about relationships and return on investment for the brand than it ever was before," Lepselter said. " Our goal for our clients is to be able to match them with companies that synergistically fit with their reputation. There are great opportunities even in a challenging environment."
The roots of the business actually started in 1990 when Lepselter accepted an invitation to manage Taylor's just-opened restaurant, "LT's" on Route 17 in East Rutherford. The Paramus High School grad's loyalty and business acumen was not lost on the many athletes and luminaries that came through the doors of "LT"s, and a modest promotional business was born.
Although Taylor and Lepselter lost touch for a period of time, they reconnected in 1998, and it was that opportunity to work with Taylor again that really gave the 41-year-old the impetus to move the business forward. Taylor was at the bottom of an extended period by off-field problems that grew when he retired from his Hall-of-Fame Giants career in 1994.
Lepselter, sitting in his Totowa office, received a call from Oliver Stone's production company. The legendary director was starting to cast the film "Any Given Sunday," and was looking for Taylor to play the role of Luther "Shark" Levay. Lepeselter was able to deliver Taylor for the part; one that re-introduced the superstar to the world and really showed the multifaceted levels of business that MAXX could deliver for clients.
At the same time, Lepselter began working with Tiki Barber on business opportunities, the start of another relationship which eventually saw the Giants' all-time leading rusher expand a portfolio away from the field into publishing, broadcasting and lucrative endorsement deals.
These days, MAXX (named after Lepselter's son) continues to diversify as a representation business, with six full-time employees in Totowa and New York City and an ever-growing list of clients.
The company's Jersey ties include Old Tappan resident and WFAN and SNY host Joe Benigno, and the Short Hills duo of ESPN radio's Seth Everett and MSG Network's Scott Lasky to name a few.
That is in addition to ESPN radio midday host and co-host of SNY's "The Wheelhouse" Brandon Tierney and another longtime New York (now South Florida) media icon in Rosenberg (MAXX also negotiated book deals for Benigno and Rosenberg, which will be out in 2010).
"A big part of our business today is in identifying and growing the new faces in broadcasting, be it former athletes or career journalists," Lepselter added. "Guys like Brandon Tierney and Joe Benigno speak to the ardent sports fan in a language all their own, while clients like Rodney Harrison and Tiki Barber provide a player's insight football fans crave."
So where does the future go for MAXX? Lepselter and his staff are crafting the career of Roble', a New York City chef who Lepselter sees as a brand along the lines of other cooking phenoms who have found success in that area. He is also continuing his work with Taylor as a personality with opportunities like "Dancing with the Stars," a new deal with Nutri-system and a potential movie deal in the works.
All of which makes life busy and interesting, even in a challenged economy, for the people at MAXX and their straight-shooting leader, with the best yet to come.