SBJ/June 12 - 18, 2006/This Weeks News

Union flags Checketts’ ties to IMG

The NHL Players’ Association has notified IMG that it may have run afoul of the union’s conflict of interest policy, a move that could force IMG to choose between keeping its hockey agent practice and keeping Dave Checketts on its board of directors.

Dave Checketts’ group agreed to
buy the St. Louis Blues in March.
The union has raised the issue in the last few weeks, as former Madison Square Garden CEO Checketts has neared a $150 million acquisition of the St. Louis Blues, who have the No. 1 pick in this month’s NHL draft. IMG Hockey co-director and agent Pat Brisson is advising a player, Erik Johnson, who is considered the likely No. 1 pick in the June 24 draft.

All of the four major team sport players associations have policies prohibiting conflicts of interest, but the NHLPA’s policy is especially strict. The NHLPA forbids agents to represent or provide services, either directly or indirectly, to any official of an NHL team or other professional hockey team. Agents also are barred from “engaging in any other activity which creates an actual or potential conflict of interest with the effective representation of players,” other than representing more than one player on an NHL team.

NHLPA and IMG spokespersons would not comment. Checketts, Brisson and IMG Hockey co-director and agent J.P. Barry did not return phone calls seeking comment.

A source said that IMG is “working through the issues” and expects to soon come to “an appropriate resolution.”

IMG Hockey, run by Brisson and Barry, represents more than 60 NHL players, including stars Sidney Crosby and Sergei Fedorov, and advises Johnson and Jonathan Toews, another top NHL draft prospect.

In addition to being a member of IMG’s board of directors, Checketts has been acting as interim chairman of IMG Media, formerly known as TWI, since former TWI CEO Bill Sinrich resigned in February. There has been growing speculation in industry circles that Checketts, who also owns the MLS Real Salt Lake team, will be named as the permanent replacement for Sinrich, but the source said that was not true.

Checketts’ group agreed to buy the Blues in March, and the NHL board of governors is scheduled to vote June 21 on whether to approve the deal. “If we are approved, we will close thereafter,” said Ken Munoz, a partner in Checketts’ company, Sports Capital Partners. Munoz wouldn’t answer questions about the NHLPA inquiry into the matter.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly would not say whether the league has a conflict of interest policy that could affect whether Checketts is approved as an owner. But in an e-mail statement, he wrote, “The totality of circumstances (including potential, actual and perceived conflicts of interest) are taken into account, considered and dealt with as appropriate by the Board in the ownership approval process.”

The situation with IMG is not unique. In 2002, SFX Sports divested its hockey player agent practice in order to quell NHLPA concerns that it was violating the conflict of interest policy.

The NHLPA objected after SFX was sold to Clear Channel Communications. At that time, Tom Hicks, owner of the Dallas Stars, was the vice chairman of Clear Channel and a major shareholder at the company. The situation was resolved when SFX hockey agent Jay Grossman bought his practice back from SFX.

IMG has gone through a lot of changes since January, when Peter Johnson, former IMG CEO of sports and entertainment, resigned. That resignation triggered clauses in the employment contracts of former IMG Football agent Tom Condon and former IMG Baseball agent Casey Close, allowing them to leave the company under favorable terms. Those two agents sold their practices to Creative Artists Agency.

Those defections left IMG with hockey and coaches as the only practices left in its once dominant team sport athlete representation business. George Pyne, IMG’s new president of sports and entertainment, told SportsBusiness Journal in April that the company would hire an agent to replace Condon, and that the company is “committed to the hockey athlete representation business.”

Staff writer Daniel Kaplan contributed to this story.

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