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Robert Caporale, pioneering broker of major sports deals, dies at 80

Robert Caporale

Bob Caporale was playing football for Tufts University in 1960 — “barely, yeah, I tried,” he later recalled — when his coach took the team to see the first ever Boston Patriots game.

“I was a junior in college at the time,” he told Boston College Law School Magazine in 1999. “Little did I know what a historic event that would be.”

The day that set in motion what would become one of the most successful pro football teams in history would become momentous for Mr. Caporale, too. A decade later, he was working at a law firm that helped put together the deal to build the Patriots’ Schaefer Stadium. “Everybody in the firm had some part of that transaction,” he said.

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And that deal eventually led him to cofound Game Plan, the pioneering investment banking and consulting firm for the sports and entertainment industries.

Mr. Caporale, whose firm helped broker acquisitions for team owners across the spectrum of professional sports, died Jan. 9 of congestive heart failure. He was 80 and lived in Miami Beach.

Valued for his wisdom and his ability to see exactly what needed to happen for a deal to close, he had been working until the end.

“He was so vibrant. I was shocked to find out he was 80,” said Stephen Pagliuca, co-owner of the Boston Celtics and cochairman of Bain Capital.

“His cognitive capability was like someone who was 25 years old,” said Pagliuca, who worked with Mr. Caporale on the 2002 purchase of the Celtics. “I talked to him four weeks ago and he had some incredible insights into a situation.”

A lawyer who loved sports, Mr. Caporale was known as “Cap” and was still riding bicycles at 80.

Since the Schaefer Stadium deal, he has been the attorney or general counselor for professional sports organizations including the Pittsburgh Penguins, Hartford Whalers, World Hockey Association, and the Boston Lobsters tennis team.

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He also formerly was president and part owner of the Boston Breakers, which was part of the United States Football League, and provided legal representations to owners and buyers of teams in virtually every professional sports league, including the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, and the National Hockey League.

But among his most memorable accomplishments was sensing the need for a firm like Game Plan, which he launched with Randy Vataha in 1994.

“He said, ‘I have an idea that nobody is doing — focusing on sports finance full time,” recalled Vataha, a former wide receiver for the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers. “He was spot on. There was nobody who was paying attention to this full time.”

In addition to the Celtics purchase, their firm has provided investment banking and consulting for numerous deals involving the co-ownership or acquisition of teams such as the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors in the NBA, the St. Louis Blues in the NHL, and the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Guardians Major League Baseball clubs.

“We’ve been business partners for well over 30 years,” Vataha said, “and as good as business partners as we were, we were even better friends.”

Robert L. Caporale was born in Boston on April 12, 1941, and grew up in Jamaica Plain, the son of Leo Caporale and Phyllis Franzosa Caporale.

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He graduated from Boston Latin School and went to Tufts University, from which he received a bachelor’s degree in government in 1962.

Three years later, Mr. Caporale graduated from Boston College Law School, and then tried cases in the military for three years as a member of the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps.

Joining the Boston firm of Fine & Ambrogne after returning home, Mr. Caporale got a taste of sports deal-making when Phil David Fine, the firm’s senior partner and director of the Patriots, had his colleagues work on the stadium plans.

Mr. Caporale began a working relationship with the Whalers in 1971, handling ownership changes, the team’s move to Hartford, and representing the Whalers and three other WHA teams when they joined the NHL.

“Obviously he had a strong legal mind, but he also knew sports and he knew business,” said Howard Baldwin, who was the founder and managing general partner of the Whalers, and was president of the WHA.

“These were the days of the wild west, the war between the leagues,” said Baldwin, who also is a movie producer of films such as “Ray” and was a co-owner of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. “He was never flustered, just a very strong calm presence, and he knew his stuff.”

Mr. Caporale, he added, was “one of my closest friends.”

Those experiences with the Whalers and the WHL gave Mr. Caporale the idea to reach out to Vataha and launch their firm Game Plan.

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“I realized that if an owner wanted business advice, he had nowhere to turn,” Mr. Caporale told Boston Law School Magazine.

“It used to be if an owner decided to sell a team, he held a press conference, then waited for the phone to ring,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way anymore.”

The step from the litigation work he did as an attorney to sports deals wasn’t as much of a leap as many might think, he added.

“Being a trial lawyer is the only area of law that puts up wins and losses,” he said for the 1999 profile. “What kind of person subjects themselves to that? The same kind of person that finds sports interesting and challenging.”

When the New Boston Garden Corp. was developing the FleetCenter in the 1990s, Mr. Caporale was tapped to help make that happen, too.

“In many respects he brought Boston into the modern area of sports financing and construction,” said Larry Moulter, who formerly chaired the Boston Garden’s board and formerly was chief executive of the FleetCenter.

“For us, he was the right person in the right place at the right time,” Moulter said. “He brought to the table talent and judgment which, when paired with his character, always made the clients feel better and more certain about outcomes.”

Mr. Caporale’s first marriage, to Nancy Sargent, ended in divorce, and they remained friends afterward.

He then married Jean Powers, who died in 2002.

In 2004, he married Christine Wuerfel. In addition to his wife, he leaves two stepchildren, Ryan and Tyler Wuerfel, both of Miami Beach, and his sister, Barbara Hupprich of Marshfield.

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Mr. Caporale’s family plans to announce a memorial gathering to celebrate his life and work once travel is safe.

“The great thing about Bob was there was no difference between him being a friend and him being in business,” Pagliuca said. “I was a huge fan of Bob’s. Other owners would call and say, ‘Is Bob a good person to make a deal to sell a team or part of a team?’ and I would say, ‘There’s no one better.’ ”

As a friend and an adviser, “Cap was just very stoic all the time, but he had a sense of humor and always had a twinkle in his eye. And he was always keeping us out of trouble — mostly,” Baldwin said with a laugh.

“Absolutely anybody who came in touch with Cap loved him,” he added. “I would tell my kids, if you ever have an issue and I’m not around, call Cap. He’ll be there.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.