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

Wie, William Morris near deal

Hollywood talent firm the William Morris Agency is closing in on a deal to represent 15-year-old golfer Michelle Wie, who also met with sports agencies IMG and Octagon about representation.

15-year-old Wie has been shopping for agents with dad B.J.
William Morris has hired Ross Berlin, who has headed the PGA Tour’s sponsor relations, to help manage Wie’s career, sources said. Berlin, who was still at his office at PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra, Fla., last week, confirmed that he was joining William Morris, but would neither confirm nor deny whether he would be managing Wie.

Rumors have circulated in the golf world for weeks that Wie will turn professional at the Samsung World Championship in Palm Desert, Calif., which begins Oct. 13, two days after Wie’s 16th birthday. Once she hires an agent, she will be a professional.

William Morris officials would not provide a comment on their relationship with Wie. Signing Wie would be a major coup in William Morris’ push into sports representation. The agency already represents tennis star Serena Williams and does marketing work for NBA star Kevin Garnett.

Wie and her father, B.J., have been engaged in a full-blown agent search in recent weeks and received major presentations from top officials at IMG and Octagon. Some sources said the family is seeking a marketing guarantee of $15 million a year, but another top sports executive familiar with the search said, “Oh, it’s much higher than that.” A source close to IMG said a marketing guarantee was discussed, but with no specific number attached.

No one with IMG or Octagon would comment.

Sports industry executives expect Wie to sign a major equipment deal, with Nike Golf named as the front-runner. Late last month, at the Weetabix Women’s British Open, Wie played almost entirely Nike clubs, according to the Darrell Survey, which keeps track of club use by the top golfers.

If Wie does turn pro, her playing appearances around the world would largely be via sponsor exemptions, given her age. The LPGA’s minimum age for membership is 18, and to date she has not petitioned for an exception, according to a tour spokeswoman.

The LPGA allows a player six sponsor exemptions a year, and the PGA Tour seven.

Berlin’s move from the men’s tour to William Morris makes sense if Wie plans to play on the PGA Tour through sponsor exemptions. As the PGA Tour’s liaison between title sponsors and tournaments, Berlin was frequently involved in determining sponsor exemptions. Wie has played in three PGA Tour events to date.

LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw did not know whether Wie was planning to turn pro. “I can’t speak to the rumors,” he said.

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