SBJ/March 26-April 1, 2012/Labor and Agents

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  • Tellem’s Dodgers bid could shake up agency biz

    If powerful NBA and MLB player agent Arn Tellem becomes an owner and executive of the Los Angeles Dodgers next month, the move is expected to affect the sports agency business as a whole as well as Wasserman Media Group, where Tellem is president of athlete management.

    Tellem is part of a bid group led by SAC Capital Advisors founder Steven Cohen. As of last Thursday, Cohen and Tellem’s group was being labeled by some media outlets and industry sources as a front-runner for the club, particularly after billionaire and Los Angeles resident Patrick Soon-Shiong joined the group early last week.

    The other active groups feature industry veteran Stan Kasten and basketball hall of famer Magic Johnson; St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke; Memphis Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley and Ares Capital co-founder Tony Ressler; and Shamrock Holdings President and CEO Stanley Gold and the Disney family.

    MLB owners are expected to vote this week on groups seeking to buy the Dodgers.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    Gold’s group reportedly was reinstated last week after previously having been turned down by MLB.

    MLB owners are expected to vote on the remaining groups this week. Outgoing Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is then due to select a winning bid by Sunday and close the deal by April 30, when he is due to pay his ex-wife, Jamie, $131 million as part of their divorce settlement.

    Tellem, like all the Dodgers bidders, signed a confidentiality agreement and did not return inquiries for this story. It is expected that he would be president of the Dodgers if his and Cohen’s ownership group emerges as the winning bidder.

    A Wasserman spokeswoman would not comment.

    Tellem joined Wasserman in 2006 as president of management, leaving the former SFX Sports, where he was CEO. He is a part owner of the agency and a close, personal friend of company founder and CEO Casey Wasserman. In part because of his decades-long experience in the industry, one prominent, rival NBA agent called Tellem “irreplaceable” for his impact on an agency.

    Among Wasserman’s basketball and baseball clients are Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Chase Utley, Hanley Ramirez and MLB rookie Yu Darvish.

    Tellem
    However, because of Tellem’s age, 57, and as part of prudent company planning, Tellem has been increasingly delegating hands-on agent activities — such as client recruiting, client maintenance and contract negotiation — to other agents at Wasserman over the past few years. This delegation began based on the desires of both Wasserman and Tellem, and started before the Dodgers opportunity was available, sources said. When the chance to own the Dodgers became available, Tellem pursued the opportunity with Wasserman’s full knowledge and support, sources said.

    It is not unusual for major, multisport athlete representation firms to try to give more responsibility to younger athlete agents over time.

    Other agents have noticed the transition as it relates to Tellem.

    “Arn’s been out of baseball for years,” said one prominent, rival baseball player agent. “He is still involved, but he oversees, really, kind of all the other agents [at Wasserman].”

    This agent, and another rival baseball agent, said that even though they have competed against Tellem for years, they would prefer to negotiate deals with him as a general manager as opposed to sitting across the table from someone who had not been an agent.

    “I’d love it,” said the first agent. “When you are dealing with a general manager, the first thing you have to do is get through their bull … . With another agent, he sees everything on the table the same way I do. The teams should all hire old agents to negotiate their deals.”

    The second agent said he also would welcome a chance to negotiate against Tellem because he understands player and labor issues.

    “I have no problem with it,” the second agent said. “The only thing is, confidential information that is learned by the agent while he is representing professional athletes and being a certified member of the players association should be kept entirely confidential.”

    Players associations, which certify and regulate agents in the major U.S. team sports, have conflict-of-interest rules that generally prohibit agents from having ownership interests in leagues or clubs.

    If his bid group is selected, Tellem would become the second powerful sports agent in a decade to become an owner and executive of an MLB club. Former MLB player agent Jeff Moorad joined the Arizona Diamondbacks as CEO and part-owner in 2004. In 2009, he became an owner and CEO of the San Diego Padres.

    When Moorad joined the Diamondbacks, the MLB Players Association investigated whether his transition then was in violation of union rules against conflicts of interest.

    “We have discussed this situation with Arn and will continue to monitor developments,” MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner said via email when asked about the potential of Tellem becoming an owner and executive of the Dodgers.

    Tellem is also certified by the National Basketball Players Association. The NBPA did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

    At Wasserman, the athlete management division is one of seven divisions of the company. The agency has global sports interests, and it is believed that its revenue in soccer, where it represents players in the United States and worldwide, eclipses its revenue in baseball and basketball.

    Steve Astephen runs Wasserman’s action sports practice. Sam Rush runs the company’s soccer practice.

    NBA player agent Bob Myers left Wasserman last year for a job as assistant general manager of the Golden State Warriors, but Wasserman did not lose any NBA player clients as a result of Myers’ departure.

    Staff writer Eric Fisher contributed to this report.

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