SBJ/June 9 - 15, 2003/Labor Agents

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  • Babby brings billable hours to baseball

    When basketball agent Lon Babby decided late last year to expand his practice to include baseball, the sport in which he cut his teeth as a contract negotiator, he found that his hoops life had taken an eraser to all that came before it.

    "I spent 15 years in baseball, but now it seems I'm known as a basketball guy," said Babby, a Williams & Connolly partner who served as general counsel of the Baltimore Orioles before hanging out his shingle as a basketball agent in 1994. "When I moved to the players' side of the negotiating table, I felt there had to be a period of time where I was not involved in baseball. There's a new collective-bargaining agreement in place now. The time is right."

    Babby client Rickie Weeks, the No. 2 pick

    So, Babby says, is the player.

    The Milwaukee Brewers selected Babby's first baseball client, Southern University second baseman Rickie Weeks, with the second pick in Major League Baseball's amateur player draft, held last week. Based on history, the No. 2 pick can expect a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $4 million.

    For many agents — or, in the case of baseball, "legal advisers" — a bonus like that could mean a big payday. Major agents typically collect a commission of about 5 percent on a first contract.

    Babby won't collect any.

    Instead, he will bill Weeks for the work he does at an hourly rate, a practice that he used to distinguish himself in basketball, where the philosophy attracted Grant Hill, who became the foundation for a practice that has grown to include Tim Duncan and about a dozen other NBA players.

    Some athletes are turned off by the idea of billable hours, fearing that a ticking meter will yank thousands from their accounts each time they pick up the phone. Sports lawyers estimate the hourly fee of a D.C.-based lawyer at about $500 per hour.

    Babby counters that his fees are capped at a certain level, regardless of the time he spends, so that players end up with a better deal than they'd get if they paid a standard commission.

    "It's been great for the players in basketball and it should be great for the players in baseball," Babby said. "We'll keep track of the time that we're advising the player, and if he signs and gets paid, we'll get paid for the time that we worked. If not, we won't."

    Babby concedes that billing by the hour isn't comfortable for all clients. That's why he said it was important that he chose carefully when deciding which players to recruit this year.

    Babby and the associate who is helping him build his baseball practice, Damon Jones, identified Weeks as one of two players in this year's draft that they'd go after. After contacting Weeks' coaches and parents, Babby arranged a meeting between Weeks' family and Hill's mother.

    Soon after, Weeks committed to Babby.

    "I told Rickie Weeks that he'd be our Grant Hill of baseball," Babby said. "It's like lightning striking twice. I think he's the right guy to build this practice around."

    Print | Tags: Baltimore Orioles, Baseball, Labor and Agents, Milwaukee Brewers
  • Ward sports agency drives to specialize in motocross, 4-wheel racers

    Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

    Indy Racing League driver and motocross champion Jeff Ward has joined forces with a motorsports lawyer and a driver manager to open Ward Sports Management, an agency that will specialize in representing two-wheel and four-wheel racers.

    Ward Sports Management, based in Beverly Hills, Calif., opened offices about two months ago, said longtime motorsports lawyer David Atlas, the agency's president. Atlas formerly represented Roger Penske, Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi.

    Will Prappas, a longtime manager of drivers, has joined Ward Sports Management as executive vice president, although he will split his time between the new firm and his firm, the Prappas Co. Prappas' current clients, including CART drivers Jimmy Vasser, Alex Tagliani and Michel Jourdain Jr. as well as F3000 driver Townsend Bell, will remain clients of Prappas Co., Prappas said.

    Prappas' primary job at Ward will be to provide financial services, he said.

    Atlas said that Ward Sports will look to develop clients among "people who have already arrived" in motocross and motorsports, as well as give "guidance to talent at the teenage level where we feel, based on our observations at the track, these are the up-and-coming champions."

    Atlas said the company plans to advise the families of young motocross and four-wheel drivers, without signing them to official representation agreements. "As there becomes more competition among sports management companies we may have to reconsider that," he said.

    Initially, the company will concentrate on two-wheel racers, Atlas said. "Motocross, particularly, is very akin to the action sports — skateboarding, surfing, BMX bikes — and that is an important part of business philosophy," he said.

    "Our target is not to market in Charlotte, N.C., and inject ourselves into the Winston Cup arena," Atlas said. "That is pretty much spoken for." Instead, Ward Sports Management will focus on "the market in Southern California, young motocross and four-wheel athletes," which may expand into representing other action-sports athletes, he said.

    Atlas said he may have some clients to announce in the next 30 to 60 days.

    Lampe

    EDGE SIGNS NBA PROSPECTS: Edge Sports International Inc. signed top NBA draft prospect Maciej Lampe, a 7-foot forward who has been playing professionally in Europe. Lampe was ranked No. 5 last week in the mock draft at Web site nbadraft.net. Edge also signed basketball players Zoltan Bencze of Albacomp, Henry Domercant of Eastern Illinois, Jerome Coleman of Rutgers University and Michal Ignerski of Mississippi State.

    OCTAGON SIGNS DRAFT PROSPECTS: Octagon has signed several prospects for the NBA draft, including potential first-rounders Kirk Hinrich, a guard from the University of Kansas; forward Boris Diaw of France; and David West, a forward from Xavier. They were ranked Nos. 8, 19 and 20, respectively, on nbadraft.net last week.

    Octagon also signed Wake Forest guard Josh Howard, University of Oklahoma guard Hollis Price, Western Kentucky University center Chris Marcus, Stanford guard Julius Barnes, UNC Wilmington guard Brett Blizzard and Ohio University forward Brandon Hunter.

    Octagon agents Jeff Austin, Doug Neustadt, Lance Young, Chris Emens and Andre Colona represent the players.

    WALTON SIGNS WITH BABBY, TANNER: Luke Walton, son of NBA legend Bill Walton and a senior at the University of Arizona, has signed with Williams & Connolly lawyers and agents Lon Babby and Jim Tanner for representation in the NBA draft.

    EVOLVE SIGNS SURFER: Evolve Sports Management, a San Francisco-based firm that specializes in representing action-sports athletes, has signed big-wave surfer Jeff Clark to manage his business affairs through 2004. Clark is best known as one of the first surfers to tackle the giant waves at Maverick's surf break in Half Moon Bay, Calif.

    Contact Liz Mullen at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

    Print | Tags: Action Sports, Basketball, Championship Auto Racing Teams Inc., Edge Sports International, IndyCar, Labor and Agents, Motorsports, NBA, Octagon Group
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