SBJ/November 19 - 25, 2001/Labor Agents

Huyghue took long look at Steinberg suit before joining forces with Dunn

Michael Huyghue and his lawyers analyzed the acrimonious lawsuit filed by NFL agent Leigh Steinberg against his former partner, David Dunn, before signing a deal to form a joint venture with Dunn's new agency, Athletes First.

"I looked at that [lawsuit] very closely and ... made sure that any relationship we had did not infringe on the issues that are in dispute between Dave and Leigh Steinberg," Huyghue said.

Huyghue left his job as senior vice president and chief negotiator for the Jacksonville Jaguars last week to form Axcess Sports & Entertainment LLC, an athlete representation and marketing firm. Jacksonville-based Axcess has formed a joint venture with Newport Beach, Calif.-based Athletes First to work on projects, including training prospects for the 2002 NFL draft.

Dunn formed Athletes First after leaving his mentor, Steinberg, in February, taking a half-dozen employees and dozens of clients with him. Huyghue said Dunn now represents about 50 NFL players, and, according to sources, many of those are former clients of Steinberg's firm.

Steinberg Moorad & Dunn is suing Dunn and Athletes First in federal court in Los Angeles alleging, among other things, breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets. Dunn's lawyers say he and the other former employees did nothing wrong.

While Huyghue noted that "anyone can sue you," he said he hopes not to be dragged into the bitter dispute.

Huyghue said several investors committed "several million dollars" to form Axcess. Dunn and Athletes First investors, including leveraged-buyout firm Platinum Equity Holdings, are not investors in Axcess.

"I have no equity in their company and they have no equity in mine," Huyghue said.

He said he doesn't intend to represent any former players of Steinberg Moorad & Dunn, but he would represent Jaguars players if given the opportunity. He sees no conflict of interest in the fact that he had access to the Jaguars' financial and salary cap information, and pointed out that Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver appeared with him at a press conference announcing his new venture. Weaver did not return phone calls seeking comment.

BORAS HIRED BY BROWNLIE: Baseball agent Scott Boras has been retained as legal adviser to Rutgers pitcher Bobby Brownlie, who is projected to be a top pick in next year's Major League Baseball draft.

Brownlie, who also pitches on Team USA, was named Summer Player of the Year by Baseball America. He was rated the No. 1 college prospect in the country in the June/July edition of Prospects Plus magazine.

YAGUDIN INKS DEAL WITH VESPA: Russian figure skating champion Alexei Yagudin, a favorite to win the gold medal in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, signed a deal to endorse Vespa Sports Supplement in North America.

"This is a unique deal," said Dmitri Goryachkin, Yagudin's longtime agent at IMG. "I really don't know of any other deals in which a foreign athlete is doing an endorsement deal in North America. This shows how popular figure skating is in North America."

Yagudin has been using Vespa for years in an effort to increase endurance. The drink contains the saliva of wasps. "It is all natural," Goryachkin said.

EDGE SIGNS OLYMPIANS: Edge Sports International, a Chicago-based athlete representation and sports marketing firm, signed 2002 Olympic hopefuls Jimmy Shea, Lea Ann Parsley and Rusty Smith for marketing and endorsement deals.

Shea and Parsley are skeleton athletes expected to compete in the sledding event in Salt Lake City. Smith is a speed skater who also is expected to compete in the Winter Games.

Keith Kreiter, president of Edge and agent for all three athletes, said they are marketable for different reasons. Shea is believed to be the U.S.'s first third-generation Olympian — both his father and grandfather competed in the Olympics.

Parsley is a former firefighter who took a leave of absence to train for the Games.

Smith, who some observers believe has a shot at winning multiple gold medals in Salt Lake City, is a member of the current 5,000-meter World Cup champion relay team.

Edge represents about 30 athletes. In addition to full-service representation, the company has worked on marketing deals with athletes who are represented by separate contract agents.

SCHIFRIN JOINS SPORTSNET: SportsNet Inc., a Los Angeles-based agency specializing in representing soccer players, hired Dave Schifrin as manager of marketing and client relations.

Schifrin formerly was player relations consultant for the Women's United Soccer Association and worked at Broadband Sports and AthletesDirect.com managing athlete Web sites, including sites for soccer players. Schifrin is a former player for the A-League's Hampton Roads Mariners in Virginia.

Liz Mullen can be reached at lmullen@amcity.com.

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