SBJ/October 28 - November 3, 2002/Labor Agents

SFX outplays IMG for junior Baker

SFX Sports won an unusual recruitment battle for America's top junior female tennis player, Allison Baker, guaranteeing her endorsement income and signing her under the nose of rival IMG.

The 16-year-old, 5-foot-11 Baker has trained for 21¼2 years at IMG-owned Evert Academy in Florida, part of IMG's sports training business and a key element in signing top young athletic talent.

"It was competitive, to the point where IMG was flying her father up to Cleveland," said John Tobias, the SFX agent who will manage Baker's career. SFX plans to make an announcement today about the Baker signing.

It is rare, if not unprecedented, for an athlete training at an IMG academy to sign his or her first agent contract with another agency. And in this depressed market, it is also rare for an agency to guarantee income for an untested player, a sign of the spirited battle for the attractive Baker.

"The economy is tough for everyone, including these marketing companies," said Bill Baker, Allison's father, who negotiated the SFX contract with the help of Marshall Happer, the former president of the U.S. Tennis Association.

IMG and Octagon made offers but unlike SFX would not provide guarantees, Baker said last Wednesday, the day he signed the contract. Five years ago, guarantees were common, he said, but not today, so SFX's monetary proposal distinguished its offer from the others. IMG wouldn't comment, and Octagon could not be reached.

Baker would not disclose the amount of the guarantee, saying he was worried that the publication of the number would lead to his daughter encountering jealousy from other players. A source said it was for $100,000 a year, but Tobias said that figure was too high.

A native of Raleigh, Baker made her mark at this year's U.S. Open Tennis Championships, where she made her professional debut and lost in a third-set tie-breaker in the first round. At her junior matches later in the fortnight, agents and manufacturing companies ringed the small side court to watch her play. The second-seeded Baker lost to the eventual winner in the quarterfinals.

Baker wears Adidas and hits with Babolat rackets but has no deals with either company. She and Andy Roddick, an SFX client and Babolat endorser, recently starred in a TV commercial for the French company. It aired in Europe.

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