SBJ/July 18-22, 2011/Labor and Agents

Ties deliver Steinberg to Excel

On the first day that Mark Steinberg was legally able to talk to prospective suitors, NBA agent Jeff Schwartz and MLB agent Casey Close got on a plane in New York headed to Cleveland, the city where they had first met Steinberg many years ago.

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Steinberg represents Tiger Woods and plans to build a full-service golf agency within Excel.
“We really did. We flew in,” Schwartz said. “We wanted to be the first. We wanted him to know how much we wanted him.”

Excel Sports Management, a company founded by Schwartz in 2002, announced last week that Steinberg, the agent to Tiger Woods, was joining the New York-based sports agency as a full partner. Steinberg had worked for IMG for nearly two decades, his entire professional career. Close, agent to Derek Jeter, joined Excel as a full partner in April after leaving CAA Sports.

Schwartz will remain president of Excel, but the agents, who met nearly two decades ago at their first sports business jobs at IMG’s Cleveland office, are expected to run the company on a collaborative basis. They declined to share financial details of the deal, but indicated the addition of Close and Steinberg to Schwartz’s company was more like a merger of equals than an acquisition.

There has been talk for months about Schwartz, Close and Steinberg joining forces, as well as speculation that they could build a major sports agency representing multiple superstar athletes and later sell it. But Steinberg said: “I am not looking to cash out in the near future. I am looking to work as hard as I have ever worked to build a multisport agency that is a destination for premier athletes and corporations all over the world.”

The agents said last week that Excel may go beyond representing NBA and MLB players and golfers and may grow eventually into corporate consulting work, as well as expand into representing athletes in other sports.

“Five to 10 years from now, will we be just a golf, basketball and baseball business?” Steinberg asked, rhetorically. “Potentially, but I highly doubt it.”

Schwartz said that although hiring another agent and entering another sport was a possibility, they were not planning on jumping into another sport immediately.

Since the late 1990s, a number of companies have tried to build multisport athlete representation businesses by acquiring independently owned sports agencies. But David Falk, who was head of the now defunct SFX Sports, which rolled up major sports agencies in the late 1990s and early 2000s, said he could not think of another instance in which three major agents in three sports merged their practices, and he thinks the business model could work.

“I am a person who likes to see innovation, new things,” he said.

Although it was widely expected that Steinberg would join a bigger agency, Falk, who represented Michael Jordan, said he was not surprised that Steinberg chose to merge with other agents. “Representing Tiger is like representing Michael Jordan: It’s an industry unto itself, assuming he comes back,” Falk said, referring to Woods’ injury and the public relations fallout surrounding his personal life. “When he comes back, he has the opportunity to create new income.” Falk added that he didn’t need to be part of a mega-agency to do that.

Steinberg said he intends to “build a full-service golf agency within Excel Sports,” and that could include hiring more employees and advising companies on their golf strategy, as well as signing golfers.

Steinberg, who left IMG May 24, said he went to Excel because it felt right: “It’s not just a lifestyle. It’s not just the people. It’s not just about the opportunity to have a vision to help create something. It’s all of that.”

Steinberg, who lives in Cleveland, will move to New York and work in the same office with Close and Schwartz.
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