SBJ/December 10 - 16, 2001/Labor Agents

2 tennis stars splitting from Octagon

One-time U.S. Open finalist Mark Philippoussis and eighth-ranked Jelena Dokic are severing ties to their management firm, Octagon, in episodes that increasingly resemble messy divorces.

Both tennis players and their families have hired lawyers and are trying to make sure that Octagon gets no commissions on footwear and apparel endorsements with Fila. Both players also claim the agency hasn't delivered on promised payments for appearances in the last few months, according to several sources with knowledge of the situation.

Octagon, a division of the Interpublic Group of Cos., wouldn't comment on specifics but confirmed the two players are negotiating with the firm.

"They are still under contract and we will attempt to work through whatever issues they might imagine exist, and we are trying to do just that," said Tom Ross, senior vice president at Octagon. "It has obviously been another frustrating year for Mark, health-wise, but he needs to remind himself of who has always been in his corner."

Reached at the Saddlebrook Resort outside Tampa, where she lives and trains, Dokic, 18, said she plans to leave Octagon but said her lawyer advised her not to comment further.

Philippoussis, 25, sent a letter dated Nov. 30 to Octagon, Fila and perhaps some others in tennis announcing that he had left Octagon and telling recipients to forward all correspondence to his lawyer, Greg Band. In a telephone interview, Philippoussis said he did not wish to speak ill of anyone, but added that it "just did not work out" with Octagon.

It would not be the first time Philippoussis left Octagon. In 1999, he left for IMG but stayed with the Cleveland firm for less than a year before returning to Octagon.

It appears both players' contracts expire at the end of the year.

Phil de Picciotto, head of Octagon athlete representation, and Ivan Brixi, Dokic's agent, have been negotiating with Dokic's lawyer. Peter Lawler, Philippoussis' Octagon agent and a company director, has been negotiating with Band.

The two cases reflect the consequences that can erupt when athletes try to leave their agents, with battles over endorsement commissions and past work common.

When Pete Sampras tried to follow his manager, Jeff Schwartz, away from IMG three years ago, the sports marketing giant took Schwartz to court to ensure that it still would get the lion's share of the endorsement income commissions and that IMG would still be referred to as the tennis star's agent.

A similar battle appears to be brewing now. Dokic sent a letter to Fila demanding that all payments be deposited in her account, while Octagon sent a letter to the apparel firm arguing that it should get the money first, sources said. With incentives, Dokic earns about $700,000 annually from her Fila contract.

Philippoussis, who was once ranked as high as eighth in the world but suffered through an injury-plagued 2001, earns even more than that — up to $2 million annually. But he says he reached the Fila deal separately from Octagon, sources said, and he does not want the company to receive any commissions. Band, Philippoussis' lawyer at Levin, Tannebaum, Wolff, Band, Gates & Pugh in Sarasota, Fla., wouldn't comment.

Both Dokic and Philippoussis claim they have not received promised appearance money. Philippoussis and Octagon dispute how much he was to receive for playing a tournament in Hong Kong in September, and Dokic says she has not received her fee for playing an exhibition in Poland several months ago, sources said. However, in Philippoussis' case, because his ranking had fallen so much this year, it triggered a decline in the guarantee, which apparently led to the confusion.

Both players are well known for their colorful and at times troublesome fathers, particularly Dokic. Her father, Damir, was banned for six months from the tour for disruptive behavior, including drunkenness, loudly complaining over the price of a fish lunch at the U.S. Open and destroying a photographer's camera.

At Wimbledon this year, Jelena Dokic voiced frustration about Octagon in a press conference because the agency signed an endorsement deal for Austrian tennis beauty Barbara Schett with the tabloid Daily Mirror. The newspaper's headline previewing the Schett-Dokic match was "Babsi v The Beast," a reference to Dokic's burly father.

"I think also the management company, Octagon, Ivan Brixi, the guy I work with, did a very poor job," Dokic said during her post-match news conference after defeating Schett.

When reached at Saddlebrook in Florida, Dokic said she has not been working with Octagon since June, approximately when the English tabloid incident occurred.

In tennis, Octagon also represents Lleyton Hewitt and Gustavo Kuerten, the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked men's players in the world, and Anna Kournikova and Martina Hingis.

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