SBJ/January 24 - 30, 2005/Labor Agents

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  • Long follow-through: Process of Leonard’s switch to Nike takes a year

    Golfer Justin Leonard’s agent devoted months and spent more than a hundred hours working on a deal that resulted in Leonard switching from Ben Hogan clubs to Nike clubs.

    Agent David Winkle, of Dallas-based Hambric Sports Management, wouldn’t reveal the value of the deal, which will include television and print commercials as well as appearances for Nike, but he acknowledged it was a long-term, multimillion-dollar contract.

    “What I can say is it is a very lucrative agreement that Justin is very pleased with,” Winkle said.

    Club deals for professional golfers are probably one of the most sensitive endorsement deals in sports, Winkle said. “If a player ends up taking his chances with his career by making a poor, hasty decision or a decision for the wrong reasons, he can damage his career, and I have seen it happen on numerous occasions,” Winkle said.

    Winkle said Leonard was prepared when his long-term

    New Nike endorser Justin Leonard
    deal with Ben Hogan expired at the end of 2004. “Probably two years ago, I said, ‘Keep in mind the renegotiation of your equipment agreement [is coming up], as well as the possible involvement of other options,’” Winkle said. “‘This will not be a two-month process. This will be a yearlong process.’ And, in fact, to a degree that is what it turned out to be.”

    In late 2003, Winkle started getting inquiries from clubmakers interested in his client. By the summer of 2004, Leonard was trying out clubs made for him by four companies, including Nike.

    In the summer, too, officials of Callaway Golf, which owns the Ben Hogan brand, gave Winkle the sense that they did not want to renew the deal, he said.

    Winkle said that when Callaway announced in August it was signing Phil Mickelson to a club deal, he knew the chances of the company re-signing Leonard were slim. “When a company spends that kind of money on a player, you know that is going to impact … what they have to spend on other players,” he said.

    Mike Galeski, senior vice president of sports marketing for Callaway, which bought the Ben Hogan and Top-Flite brands in September 2003, said the company wanted to “go in a different direction” when it came time to re-sign Leonard.

    When Winkle started talking to other companies, he discussed a range of deal values to make sure companies were comfortable with the type of compensation Leonard wanted. “As Justin is testing the equipment, we are simultaneously having discussions about possible compensation scenarios,” Winkle said.

    Figuring out whether a new set of clubs will work takes longer for some professional golfers than others.

    “I have had a player hit 20 balls with a set of clubs and say, ‘I could play with them, no problem. Get the deal done,’” Winkle said, adding that others take months to make a decision.

    It took just days for Leonard to decide he would be comfortable with Nike clubs.

    Winkle and Kel Devlin, Nike Golf global sports marketing director, said the proximity of Nike’s Fort Worth club research and development facility to Leonard’s Dallas home helped seal the deal.

    Leonard, 32, is the 1997 British Open champion and the 1992 U.S. Amateur champion. He is 10th on the PGA all-time money list.

    ROSENHAUS SIGNS THREE: NFL player agent Drew Rosenhaus has signed three NFL draft prospects, including Oklahoma defensive end Dan Cody, who is rated No. 2 on ESPN’s draft prediction list. Rosenhaus also signed Oklahoma State running back Vernand Morency and Miami wide receiver Roscoe Parrish.

    ALL PRO SIGNS EDWARDS: Denver-based firm All Pro Sports & Entertainment has signed highly rated Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards for representation in this year’s NFL draft. All Pro principal Lamont Smith will be Edwards’ primary agent.

    Liz Mullen can be reached at

    Print | Tags: ESPN, Golf, Labor and Agents, NFL
  • NHL, players hold last-ditch labor talks

    The NHL and NHLPA held talks last week without their respective leaders, Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow, in a last-ditch effort to save a season that appears to be on the brink of cancellation.

    The lockout, which began Sept. 15, has now erased more than half the season, 662 of 1,230 scheduled regular-season games.

    Bettman and Goodenow sat out last week’s informal bargaining session in hopes that more progress could be made in their absence. While both have denied that personal animosity between them has played any role in the league’s labor strife, NHLPA President Trevor Linden, who plays for the Vancouver Canucks, suggested the sides meet one more time and without Goodenow and Bettman. Linden was joined on the player side by NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin and outside counsel John McCambridge. The league was represented by executive vice president Bill Daly, co-owner Harley Hotchkiss of the Calgary Flames and attorney Bob Batterman.

    The sides met on Wednesday in Chicago and the next day in Toronto. A published report said the players floated the idea of an economic system that would not include a salary cap for at least three years, but in which a salary cap would then be instituted if the new system wasn’t effective in curtailing salaries.

    Print | Tags: Calgary Flames, Hockey, Labor and Agents, NHL, Vancouver Canucks
  • No progress for USSF and U.S. men’s team union

    The U.S. Men’s National Team Players Association and the United States Soccer Federation remained deadlocked in a labor dispute at press time, with the union’s top official putting much of the blame on the USSF’s support of Major League Soccer.

    For the current four-year World Cup cycle, the USSF has proposed increasing the players’ pay by 38 percent, while the union is pushing for a 108 percent increase. That equates to the USSF, which paid players $10.4 million during the 1999-2002 quadrennium, offering to increase the players’ compensation to $14.4 million for the current quadrennium, while the union is asking for $21.8 million.

    Jim Moorhouse, director of communications for the USSF, said that if the union’s salary demands were met, the federation would have to cut about $7.4 million of its player and facility development initiatives.

    But Mark Levinstein, acting executive director and outside general counsel for the union, said the problem is that the USSF is earmarking too much of its $30 million operating surplus for the development of MLS. Half of that money, according to Levinstein, is being “pumped back into” MLS — $10 million on stadium development initiatives and $5 million more for the MLS reserve league.

    Moorhouse reiterated that the USSF is a nonprofit company that invests in the future of the sport by emphasizing player and facility development. Some of that development, he added, included providing money for training centers in Carson, Calif., and Frisco, Texas — both of which also house MLS stadiums.

    MLS officials declined comment for this story.

    Print | Tags: Labor and Agents, MLS, Soccer
  • Soccer dispute could be tough on MLS

    The continuing labor dispute between the U.S. Soccer Federation and the U.S. National Soccer Team Players Association could have negative repercussions for Major League Soccer should it keep America from participating in a fifth consecutive World Cup.

    U.S. players such as Clint Mathis could be on the sidelines for World Cup qualifiers.
    As negotiations have slowed and a national team of replacement players has begun practicing for World Cup qualifying matches, the next of which is Feb. 9 at Trinidad and Tobago, many industry insiders are wondering how MLS would be affected by a poor performance or even a failure to qualify for the 32-team World Cup tournament, which is set to take place in Germany in 2006.

    Chris Canetti, vice president of marketing for the MLS MetroStars, said the national team and its performance in the World Cup every four years is instrumental in growing awareness of the sport in America.

    “I think it’s important for our national team to have a strong showing in the World Cup,” Canetti said. “If we can have another strong performance in Germany in 2006, that would be another step in the right direction.”

    Jamey Rootes, former president and general manager of the Columbus Crew and now senior vice president of the Houston Texans, said that even though the national team and MLS are separate entities, a strong showing in Germany would help the league.

    “High tides lift all boats,” Rootes said.

    That has held for MLS’ TV ratings. ESPN2, the network with the most consistent MLS coverage over the last six years, enjoyed an 18 percent jump in ratings following the 1998 World Cup. In 2003, following America’s best finish in a World Cup since 1930, ratings remained steady on ESPN2.

    But right now, even making it to the World Cup is not a given as the USSF has brought in replacement players from the United Soccer Leagues and the Major Indoor Soccer League for a training camp in Carson, Calif., to prepare for next month’s qualifying match.

    “We either have to cancel the event or field a team that is going to show up,” said Jim Moorhouse, USSF director of communications, about next month’s qualifying match.

    Ken Neal, a soccer industry consultant and agent who represents a list of MLS players that includes Brian Kamler, Steve Jolley and Tyrone Marshall, said the timing of the dispute is tough for the MLS, which in recent years has been “heading in the right direction” with the addition of several major league sponsors and the development of soccer-specific stadiums in key markets across the country.

    While Columbus and the Los Angeles Galaxy are the only two clubs with soccer-specific stadiums, FC Dallas will open the 2005 season with its own stadium, and the Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids and MetroStars have all announced plans for stadiums.

    The league recently signed a 10-year, $150 million sponsorship deal with Adidas — MLS’ biggest deal to date.

    In addition to the attention that a solid performance in the World Cup brings to soccer domestically,, Neal said the league could suffer on an international level, noting the importance of foreign players in terms of MLS attendance, ratings and corporate sponsorship.

    Rootes said nothing positive can come out of a dispute that hinders America’s chances in the World Cup.

    “Anything that winds up throwing a wrench in soccer’s plans is not good for the game, not good for MLS, not good for the fans,” he said.

    Print | Tags: Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew, ESPN, FC Dallas, Houston Texans, Labor and Agents, MLS, Soccer
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