“I was a junior in college at the time,” he told Boston College Law School Magazine in 1999. “I had no idea what a historic event that would be.”
The day that set in motion what would become one of the most successful professional football teams in history would also become momentous for Mr. Caporale. A decade later, he was working at a law firm that helped close the deal to build the Patriots’ Schaefer Stadium. “Everyone in the company was part of this transaction,” he said.
And that deal eventually led him to co-found Game Plan, the pioneering investment bank and advisory firm for the sports and entertainment industries.
Mr. Caporale, whose company helped broker acquisitions for team owners across the spectrum of professional sports, died Jan. 9 of congestive heart failure. He was 80 years old and lived in Miami Beach.
Appreciated for his wisdom and his ability to see exactly what needed to happen for a deal to be struck, he had worked through to the end.
“He was so dynamic. I was shocked to learn he was 80 years old,” said Stephen Pagliuca, co-owner of the Boston Celtics and co-chairman of Bain Capital.
“His cognitive ability was like someone who was 25,” said Pagliuca, who worked with Mr. Caporale on the Celtics purchase in 2002. “I spoke to him four weeks ago and he had some incredible insights into a situation.”
A lawyer with a passion for sports, Mr. Caporale was nicknamed “Cap” and was still cycling at the age of 80.
Since the Schaefer Stadium deal, he has served as attorney or general counsel to professional sports organizations, including the Pittsburgh Penguins, Hartford Whalers, World Hockey Association and the Boston Lobsters tennis team.
He was also president and part-owner of the Boston Breakers, which was part of the United States Football League, and provided legal representation to team owners and buyers in virtually every professional sports league, including National Basketball. Association, the National Football League. , and the National Hockey League.
But among his most memorable accomplishments, he felt the need for a company like Game Plan, which he started with Randy Vataha in 1994.
“He said, ‘I have an idea that nobody does – focus on funding the sport full-time,'” recalled Vataha, a former catcher for the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers. He was spot on, there was no one paying attention to this full time.
In addition to the purchase of the Celtics, their firm provided investment banking and advisory services for numerous transactions 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 baseball clubs.
“We’ve been business partners for over 30 years,” Vataha said, “and as good as business partners we were, we were still best friends.”
Robert L. Caporale was born in Boston on April 12, 1941 and raised in Jamaica Plain, the son of Leo Caporale and Phyllis Franzosa Caporale.
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 military cases for three years as a member of the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
Joining Boston firm Fine & Ambrogne after returning home, Mr. Caporale got a taste of sports contract negotiation when Phil David Fine, the firm’s senior partner and Patriots manager, asked his colleagues to work on the plans for the stadium.
Mr. Caporale began a working relationship with the Whalers in 1971, handling ownership changes, moving the team 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 business,” said Howard Baldwin, founder and managing partner of the Whalers and president of the WHA.
“It was the days of the Wild West, the war between the leagues,” said Baldwin, who is also a producer of films such as “Ray” and co-owner of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. “He was never restless, just a very strong calm presence, and he knew his stuff.”
Mr Caporale, he added, was “one of my closest friends”.
These experiences with the Whalers and the WHL gave Mr. Caporale the idea to reach out to Vataha and start their Game Plan business.
“I realized that if an owner wanted business advice, they had nowhere to go,” Mr. Caporale told Boston Law School Magazine.
“It used to be that if an owner decided to sell a team, they would hold a press conference and then wait for the phone to ring,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way anymore.”
The stage of litigation work he did as a sports deals lawyer was not as significant as many might think, he added.
“Being a litigator is the only area of law that has gains and losses,” he said for the 1999 profile. “What kind of person goes through that? The same kind of person who finds sports interesting and challenging.
When the New Boston Garden Corp. was developing the FleetCenter in the 1990s, Mr. Caporale was also asked to make it happen.
“In many ways, he brought Boston into the modern realm of sports finance and construction,” said Larry Moulter, former chairman of Boston Garden’s board of directors and former CEO of FleetCenter.
“For us, he was the right person in the right place at the right time,” Moulter said. “He brought talent and judgment to the table which, coupled with his character, always made clients feel better and more sure of the results.”
Mr. Caporale’s first marriage, to Nancy Sargent, ended in divorce, and they remained friends thereafter.
He then married Jean Powers, who died in 2002.
In 2004, he married Christine Wuerfel. In addition to his wife, he is survived by two stepchildren, Ryan and Tyler Wuerfel, both of Miami Beach, and his sister, Barbara Hupprich of Marshfield.
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 that there was no difference between him being a friend and being in business,” Pagliuca said. “I was a huge Bob fan. Other owners would call and say, ‘Is Bob a good person to do a deal to sell a team or part of a team?’ and I was like, ‘There’s no one better.’ ”
As a friend and advisor, “Cap was very stoic all the time, but he had a sense of humor and always had a twinkle in his eye. And he always kept us out of trouble — mostly,” Baldwin said in laughing.
“Absolutely everyone who came in contact with Cap loved him,” he added. “I would tell my kids, if you ever have a problem and I’m not around, call Cap. He will be here.
Bryan Marquard can be reached at [email protected]