SBJ/February 24 - March 2, 2003/Labor Agents

Did Kournikova breakup lead to Octagon breakup for Fedorov? Sides disagree

An attorney for Sergei Fedorov and Phil de Picciotto, president of athlete representation at Octagon, waged a war of words last week over why the NHL star fired the sports agency.

De Picciotto said that Octagon expects to be paid a fee for negotiating the NHL star's still-unfinished contract, because its agents represented him when the Detroit Red Wings offered him a $50 million, five-year deal.

Brian O'Keefe, Fedorov's attorney, said Octagon's contention that it is owed a fee for the contract "will be the subject of some further discussion or dispute."

O'Keefe, in an interview last week with SportsBusiness Journal, disputed widespread reports that Fedorov dismissed Octagon because his relationship with tennis player and fellow Octagon client Anna Kournikova ended. Instead, he blamed a lack of marketing by Octagon.

"We would like to put to rest that he left Octagon as a result of his relationship with Anna," O'Keefe said. "Sergei is at a point where he wants to expand his persona off the ice. [Octagon officials] did a good job maintaining his business, but they did not expand it. They were not willing, capable or interested and in fact did not move him toward that next level."

But de Picciotto said nothing could be further from the truth. "We have made him the best-marketed hockey player in the NHL despite the fact that he is not from North America," de Picciotto said.

Octagon negotiated two national commercials for Fedorov, with FedEx and ESPN, and got him national deals with a Bristol-Myers Squibb shampoo product and Siberian Hardwood floors. Additionally, the company got him his own cereal, Fedorov Crunch, appearances for Cartier, and deals with Upper Deck and Topps.

"Those deals were delivered despite the fact that he routinely missed appearances and we had to overcome his DWI [driving while impaired] charge 18 months ago," de Picciotto said. (Fedorov pleaded guilty to a charge of impaired driving in a Michigan court in January 2002. He was arrested in September 2001 after police said he ran a red light and registered a 0.09 percent blood alcohol level.)

De Picciotto declined to comment on whether Fedorov's firing of Octagon was related to his breakup with Octagon client Kournikova. But he said, "In our judgment Sergei would be better served concentrating on hockey rather than on Hollywood."

O'Keefe said, "Our view of what they did or didn't accomplish off the ice varies from theirs." Fedorov also was dissatisfied with a lack of communication over his player contract negotiations, O'Keefe charged.

De Picciotto denied Octagon hockey agents Brian Lawton and Mike Liut were not communicating with Fedorov. "Since last summer, which was one year prior to the expiration of Sergei's contract, we have been in discussions and negotiation with the Red Wings for a long-term extension," he said. "While we don't comment on ongoing negotiations, I can confirm there is a $50 million offer on the table, because that has been made public."

Fedorov recently signed with rival agency IMG, after O'Keefe, who has been the player's adviser for the last year and a half, conducted an agent search. IMG hockey agent Pat Brisson had no comment on why Fedorov left Octagon.

Brisson was in Detroit last week and was scheduled to meet with the Red Wings about Fedorov's contract. "We want a long-term deal," Brisson said. "Sergei Fedorov is a superstar. He puts people in the seats."

  MILICIC STARTS BUYOUT TALKS: Darko Milicic, a 7-foot power forward, has started talks to buy out his contract with KK Hemofarm, a professional Yugoslavian team, so he can enter the NBA draft, said Marc Cornstein, his agent.

The NBA, during the All-Star Weekend earlier this month, announced that it had changed the rules regarding age limits for foreign players to enter the draft, after Cornstein protested the rule. Milicic, who some draft prognosticators say could go as high as No. 2, will turn 18 before the June 25 draft. He will still be 17 years old 45 days before the draft, however, when foreign players declare their eligibility.

The old rule was ambiguous as to whether a foreign player had to be 18 on draft day or 45 days before, Cornstein said. U.S. players are eligible if they graduate with their high school class.

Milicic has a long-term contract with his professional team in Yugoslavia, said Cornstein, president of Pinnacle Management Corp. Milicic signed an eight-year deal with Hemofarm in 2001, when he was 16.

"But we had a great meeting with his team," Cornstein said. "They realize he could go top two [in the NBA draft], and they have no desire to hold him back.

"We have started to talk buyout numbers. We haven't finalized a deal, but that will get done right before the draft."

  CHAMPION SIGNS TROXEL: Champion Management has signed National Hot Rod Association drag racer Melanie Troxel for representation in team sponsorship, commercial endorsements and appearances.

"Melanie is one of the most popular and successful racers in the NHRA today, and the fact that she is a woman kicking butt in a man's sport makes her all the more compelling for national sponsors," said Ladd Biro, her agent. Biro owns Dallas-based Champion, a sports and entertainment marketing agency.

The firm also represents pro wrestler Hulk Hogan, Dallas Cowboys hall of famer Tony Dorsett, former America's Cup champion Dennis Conner and the National Women's Football Association.

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

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