SBJ/November 19 - 25, 2007/This Weeks News

Representatives of MLS Players Union kicking around ideas on agent regulations

Player representatives of the MLS Players Union are meeting to discuss agent regulations for the first time this week in Washington, D.C. The get-together is part of an effort that players and union executives believe will further legitimize the union before the league’s collective-bargaining agreement expires in 2009.

The union’s outside attorney, Jon Newman, e-mailed a list of 20 proposed regulations to MLS player agents and asked for their feedback earlier this month.

The proposed regulations do not require agents to obtain a minimum level of education to be certified; would prohibit agents from offering players monetary inducements; and prohibit agents from holding a financial interest in MLS, among other things. Newman would not discuss details of the proposed regulations but stressed that the e-mail, obtained by SportsBusiness Journal, was not a final version of the proposed regulations.

But some MLS player agents criticized the union’s move to regulate them.

“This is regulation just for the sake of regulation,” said Ron Waxman, a New York-based MLS player agent. “It is not like we have 100 agents working in soccer. As far as I know there are probably four or five agencies that do this. What the heck do you need to regulate that for?”

Agents said the union’s proposals, including its conflict-of-interest clause, were insufficient. They noted, too, that FIFA already regulates agents internationally.

“This is overkill,” said Patrick McCabe, an agent with First Wave Sports. “You are either recognized by FIFA or you are not. And if you are not, you should not be working as an agent.”

FIFA has 28 articles of regulation and an examination procedure for agents.

Other agents, who declined to speak on the record because the proposals prohibit disclosing union information publicly, took exception with the limited scope of the union’s conflict-of-interest clause. The clause prohibits agents from holding or seeking to hold, either directly or indirectly, a financial interest in MLS, any MLS team or any other business venture that could create an actual conflict of interest in the representation of players.

It is not clear if that regulation would prohibit agents from working for MLS teams, directly or indirectly. Other sports unions have stricter conflict-of-interest rules and prohibit not only actual conflicts, but also perceived or potential ones.

Shep Messing, color commentator for the New York Red Bulls, is managing director of Global Sport Group, which represents soccer players internationally and has represented MLS players in the past. In an e-mail, Messing wrote, “I do believe that it is a conflict to act as an agent and work as a television analyst in the same marketplace. For that reason, my company does not represent players in Major League Soccer.”

Not all agents complained about the regulations. Wasserman Media Group’s Richard Motzkin, who represents Landon Donovan, among others, said, “It makes sense for the union and players to have a role in terms of overseeing conduct and actions of agents.”

Newman described the regulations as a work in progress and said they are designed to bring “uniformity and consistency” to MLS representation.

D.C. United player and union executive board member Ben Olsen said, “It’ll erase a lot of the gray area that has been going on with agents and get everyone on the same page. Agents and players will know the boundaries of what they can and cannot do, and that alone is a benefit.”

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