SBJ/April 11-17, 2011/Labor and Agents

MLB agent Close joins with Schwartz's NBA firm

MLB agent Casey Close, best known as agent to New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, has joined the practice of NBA agent Jeff Schwartz as a partner in a deal that will make the firm Schwartz founded, Excel Sports Management, a player across two major sports.

Casey Close
In addition to Jeter, Close, who recently left CAA Sports, is expected to bring with him clients Ryan Howard and Derrek Lee, among others. Under an agreement with Close and CAA, Close will continue to serve as Jeter’s and Howard’s baseball contract player agent, but Close and CAA share the marketing responsibilities of Jeter and Howard.

Schwartz and his New York-based firm Excel represent a number of NBA stars, including Paul Pierce, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Jason Kidd and Lamar Odom. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Close and Schwartz confirmed that Close is joining the agency as a partner.

“What I think about this partnership that is particularly exciting is that we are combining our industry experience, knowledge and relationships typically associated with a big agency with the hands-on, personal approach of a boutique agency,” Close said, in a phone interview last week. “Our plan is to make sure we are industry leaders in both baseball and basketball as well as client marketing. We want to be known for that, while looking for strategic opportunities in other representation and marketing businesses.”

Schwartz said Excel is not planning to acquire any new companies or businesses right away. “Right now, we’re going to focus on building baseball and basketball for the short term,” he said. Both Schwartz and Close will work out of New York.

Close and Schwartz have a friendship spanning 19 years, going back to when they were first hired as young agents working in the Cleveland office of IMG in the summer of 1992. Schwartz said that the two worked “30 feet away from each other” in those offices. “I was there in 1993 when Casey signed Derek and have watched him strategically build Derek’s off-court brand over the last 18 years,” Schwartz said. “Casey has done a fantastic job navigating the corporate world and determining the right deals to do for him but also the ones to pass on.”

Jeff Schwartz
Both agents said last week they have similar personalities and philosophies. “With Casey’s talented roster of athletes, combined with his established relationships, I am confident that he will be a great addition to the Excel team as we continue to grow both the basketball and baseball businesses, as well as explore additional strategic opportunities,” Schwartz said. 

Schwartz was originally a tennis agent but later became a basketball player agent and formed Excel in 2002.

Close left IMG and joined CAA in 2006, along with then-IMG NFL player agent Tom Condon, which marked the beginning of CAA Sports.

Schwartz said that at the time Close left IMG, they had discussed him joining Excel, but the timing wasn’t right.

“Once I decided to leave CAA,” Close said, “Jeff and I re-engaged in a serious conversation about teaming up and we decided we were ready to make it happen.”

There have been plenty of big agencies acquiring the businesses of sports agents over the years, but this merger of two very prominent agents in different sports is a bit unusual. Prominent sports agents tend to specialize in one sport and generally do not have close relationship with agents specializing in other sports that lead to such business combinations, industry sources said.

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