SBJ/July 29 - August 4, 2002/Labor Agents

Union wants independent auditor to take a look at WNBA's books

The Women's National Basketball Players Association would like the right to audit the WNBA's books, as the union is preparing for preliminary talks on a new collective-bargaining agreement, said Pamela Wheeler, director of operations for the WNBPA.

"The league did provide us with some financial information, but it is not enough for us to determine if the league is profitable or not," Wheeler said. "We need an independent auditor ... before I can make any conclusion about the profitability of the league."

WNBA spokeswoman Traci Cook said: "The WNBA is committed to an open and fair process and to that end has already provided the players association with comprehensive financial materials, including independently audited financial statements for the league and all 16 teams. In terms of the financial records, if there needed to be a third-party [auditing] process, we would be open to that."

Wheeler was in Los Angeles last week meeting with members of the Sparks, as part of a cross-country tour to talk with WNBA team members about "the state of the union," she said. The WNBA's first collective-bargaining agreement expires Sept. 15.

"Right now we are a much stronger union than we were three years ago ... when we went into collective bargaining," Wheeler said. Although Wheeler declined to reveal any specific proposal, she said WNBA players want fewer restrictions on their marketing ability and increases in salary.

Wheeler said WNBA players make an average salary of just more than $46,000, with a median salary of $40,000. NBA players make an average salary of $4.5 million.

Wheeler noted that WNBA players' salaries and benefits make up a much lower percentage of league revenue, compared with the men's team sports — just 15 percent.

That compares to 55 percent to 65 percent of revenue for Major League Baseball, the NFL and NBA, she said. NHL general counsel Bill Daly recently said that NHL players' salaries and benefits were about 73 percent of revenue last year.

Additionally, WNBA players are under much more severe marketing restrictions than male players, making it virtually impossible for them to make extra money off the court, Wheeler contended.

"The marketing restrictions are so onerous," she said. "WNBA players are prohibited from endorsing products competitive with a WNBA sponsor during the season."

The problem is that during the season "is the time when their marketing opportunities are greater," she said.

The WNBA had no further comment.

LONGO FOUNDS PARAGON: Baseball agent Joe Longo, who formerly headed the baseball practice at Artists Management Group, has started his own firm in Santa Monica, Calif., and named the company Paragon Sports Management.

Longo is one of several agents who left AMG Sports after most of the assets of the company, which was part-owned by Hollywood mogul Michael Ovitz, were sold to The Firm.

Longo represented baseball players out of his own law firm from 1995 until he joined AMG in 2000.

Longo has a client roster of about 10 major league players, including Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Matt Williams, Detroit Tigers right fielder Robert Fick, Tigers closer Matt Anderson, Chicago White Sox reliever Antonio Osuna and Baltimore Orioles catcher Geronimo Gil. He also has about 15 minor leaguers.

BUTLER TAKES NIKE DEAL: NBA agent Raymond Brothers negotiated a footwear and apparel deal with Nike for client Caron Butler, who was the 10th overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft. Butler was chosen by the Miami Heat.

Brothers did not give the deal's value.

Brothers, who formerly worked at AMG Sports, is in talks with Mandalay Sports Entertainment about a business relationship. Brothers also represents NFL players.

A THREESOME FOR CSMG: CSMG has signed young golfers Kevin Haefner, a two-time All-American from Auburn; Steve Sokol, who recently qualified for the Buy.com Tour; and D.J. Fiese from Georgia State for representation.

Kevin Canning, head of CSMG's golf division, will manage the players' careers.

Contact Liz Mullen with agent and labor news at lmullen@amcity.com.

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