SBJ/20080623/This Week's News

CAA Sports teams with tennis

CAA Sports is hoping to ace a new sport by expanding into tennis.

The sports division of Hollywood talent firm Creative Artists Agency, will announce today a partnership with two Israeli tennis agents who represent, among others, No. 3-ranked Novak Djokovic and French Open finalist Dinara Safina.

Tennis’ appeal is clear: While weak domestically, it offers a more global audience than U.S. stick-and-ball sports, an appealing proposition to companies looking to market overseas. The sport is booming in Asia and the Middle East, and remains strong in parts of Europe and South America.

CAA already represents David Beckham and recently signed a marketing pact with Chelsea Football Club of the English Premier League, which includes the ability to negotiate endorsement deals for the team’s players. Tennis will add to its emerging international sports reach.

“We see limitless opportunities for tennis players in being represented by CAA,” said agent Amit Naor in a statement. Naor and fellow agent Allon Khakshouri will now work with CAA to represent and market the players. While they’re not employees of CAA, they will function as CAA Tennis, a source said.

In addition to Djokovic, a charismatic Serb who does impressions of other players and traded quips with Jay Leno during a March 12 “Tonight Show” appearance, CAA Sports will represent through Khakshouri and Naor four other athletes ranked among the top 30 men’s players: Radek Stepanek, Mikhail Youzhny, Ivo Karlovic and Ivan Ljubicic.

The tennis agent business has long been dominated by the big three: IMG, Octagon and what is now Blue Entertainment Sports Television, the former SFX Sports. Sources at these companies did not profess concern, noting that CAA did not buy Naor and Khakshouri ’s business.

But the development may herald further moves into tennis by CAA, which has entered several sports through acquisitions and then moved quickly to increase market share.

Some in tennis welcome news of CAA’s interest.

“It’s fantastic, actually,” said Patricio Apey, managing partner of Ace Group, which represents top U.K. player and 11th-ranked Andy Murray. CAA should bring a fresh perspective to the sport that the traditional agencies may lack, he said.

With tennis producing stars from every corner of the globe, there are more opportunities for new agencies to align with top players who in the past would have been automatically swooped up by the one of the big three. The No. 1-ranked women’s player, Ana Ivanovic, is represented by a Swiss businessman who funded her tennis development. Similarly, Naor and Khakshouri, who has run several tour events, funded Djokovic’s emergence from Serbia.

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