SBJ/August 29 - September 4, 2005/Labor Agents

Mandatory malpractice insurance may thin NFL agent ranks

Kurt Varricchio, an attorney who became certified to represent NFL players two years ago, recently saw his first client, defensive end Carlos Williams, get a job with the Houston Texans. But instead of celebrating, Varricchio is considering turning in his certification to the NFL Players Association.

That’s because Varricchio and the other thousand or so NFLPA-certified agents are being forced to buy malpractice insurance for the first time under a new union regulation. The insurance premium, which ranges from $3,500 to about $10,000 a year, depending on the agent’s fee revenue, has to be paid along with the regular NFLPA agent dues Sept. 30.

The NFLPA has hired AIG to set up the liability insurance program. Agents who already have their own insurance covering them for work with NFL players are not required to buy the NFLPA insurance.

In addition to the insurance payment, Varricchio is worried about the fact that the NFLPA may cut the maximum agent fee from 3 percent to 2 percent. The union’s board of player representatives is expected to make a decision on that at its next annual meeting in March.

Varricchio also represents minor league baseball players, but the MLB Players Association has neither a limit on fees nor an insurance requirement.

Varricchio isn’t the only NFL agent who is considering leaving the business.

“There are a lot of agents who will have a career decision to make,” said Richard Berthelsen, NFLPA general counsel. “One could predict that there will be several agents with zero or one or two clients who will consider getting out of the business. But of the total number who do, I would suspect that they would average less than one client each.”

The NFLPA is requiring the insurance because of a rash of cases in which agents missed deadlines for contract-related clauses, such as free agency, which ended up costing the players money.

Although some agents have complained about the insurance payment, others appreciate it, Berthelsen said.

“We have had agents who have called or written to compliment the program because it was much less expensive than what they were able to generate on their own,” he said.

Veteran agent Ralph Cindrich agreed.

“By going through the players association program, I save money,” he said.

New Gaylord client Brittany Lang tied for second at the U.S. Women’s Open this year.
GAYLORD SIGNS TOP WOMEN’S GOLFERS: Gaylord Sports Management signed Louise Stahle, college women’s player of the year, and Brittany Lang, who tied for second at the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open.

The two women, both of whom are 20 and have recently turned professional, are a coup for Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Gaylord, which represents 34 professional golfers, including Phil Mickelson and Grace Park. Both players will be managed by Tim McNulty, who was recently promoted from player manager to vice president of player management.

In addition to winning the college player of the year award, Stahle, a Swede who attended Arizona State University, also was named freshman player of the year. McNulty noted that two other players who achieved both honors in the same year were Annika Sorenstam, already in the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame, and Lorena Ochoa, a multiple winner on the tour. “She is in some very select company,” McNulty said.

In addition to tying for second at the U.S. Open, Lang, who played for Duke University, won other honors, including the ACC individual title and amateur tournaments such as the Western Women’s Amateur. She also led the Blue Devils to a national championship.

Both Lang and Stahle will attend LPGA Qualifying School next month. Stahle may be making an announcement about a club deal in the next few weeks, and Lang is in talks about a club deal.

ALL PRO SIGNS WALLS: In a bit of a turn of fortune in the NFL player representation wars, a player fired agent Drew Rosenhaus to sign with a rival.

Denver-based All Pro Sports & Entertainment signed Denver Broncos cornerback Lenny Walls, who will become an unrestricted free agent after this year.

Walls was formerly represented by Rosenhaus, who in the last two years has signed about 40 NFL players who fired their agents. Rosenhaus, who is believed to have the most NFL clients of any agent, with 90, was not immediately available for comment.

“I still think the world of Drew, but I felt this change was necessary for me,” Walls told the Denver Post earlier this month. “Drew had too much going on for me. I feel better about this.”

Walls will be represented by All Pro principals and agents Peter Schaffer and Lamont Smith.

“We are excited to represent a player who could conceivably be the top free agent in this year’s market in a critical position such as cornerback,” Schaffer said.

CINDRICH HIRES ‘SUPERAGENT’ CONTENDER: Veteran football agent Ralph Cindrich has hired John Bermudez, a contestant on the Spike TV reality show “Superagent,” after the two met during a taping of the show.

Cindrich, who will appear in later episodes of the show, which airs on Friday night on Spike TV, said of Bermudez, “I had a chance to meet him and talk with him. He is young, hip, aggressive and professional.”

Cindrich also hired another young agent, Brian Aywault, who has been working as an intern at Pittsburgh-based Cindrich & Co. “We needed some fresh blood,” Cindrich said.

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

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