SBJ/July 16-22, 2012/Labor and Agents

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  • A long relationship leads up to big deal for Suter, Sheehy

    Liz Mullen
    When Ryan Suter was 15 years old, agent Neil Sheehy told Suter’s uncle, Gary Suter, that the young player would be a top selection in an NHL draft years away.

    “I called and said, ‘Gary, your nephew is going to be a top-10 pick,’” Sheehy recalled of that decade-old conversation last week. “I was a young guy in the business, but I said, ‘This kid is special.’”

    Gary Suter and Sheehy were best friends, playing together as defensemen on the Calgary Flames team that went to the Stanley Cup Final in 1986. When it came time for Ryan Suter to pick an agent, he picked Sheehy.

    Earlier this month, Suter, who became a free agent July 1 after seven seasons in Nashville, signed a 13-year, $98 million deal with the Minnesota Wild that Sheehy negotiated. This year’s other top NHL free agent, Zach Parise, who was a forward for the New Jersey Devils, signed an identical, 13-year, $98 million deal. Sheehy represented Parise for the first seven years of his career before Parise fired him and signed with agent Don Meehan, who did the deal.

    “Ryan had offers well over 100 million [dollars], and there were teams that really wanted him and said, ‘We don’t want to go higher but we want the player,’” Sheehy said. He said multiple teams wanted to sign both players.

    “It all came down to Ryan talking to Zach,” Sheehy said, noting that Suter called Parise on July 3. “They decided they wanted to play together after a three-day process that had been grueling for both.”

    Suter loved Nashville and asked Parise whether he wanted to play there. Parise said no and asked Suter whether he wanted to play in New Jersey. In the end, they both decided they wanted to play in Minnesota for lifestyle reasons, Sheehy said. Parise is from Minnesota, and Suter, who is from Wisconsin, married a woman from Minnesota.
    The Wild announced the signing of both players on July 4.

    One reason Sheehy originally represented Parise is that he knew Parise’s father, former NHL player and coach J.P. Parise. When Zach Parise fired him about a year ago, there were no hard feelings, Sheehy said, and in fact, Sheehy took his former client out to dinner that same week.

    “I am grateful for the seven years I represented him in the National Hockey League,” Sheehy said. “You never like losing players, but I am a guy that believes that everything happens for a reason. If I represented both of them, I don’t know if it would have come together the same way.”

    DEADLINE FOR NFL FRANCHISE PLAYERS: Today is the deadline for NFL players who were assigned the franchise tag by their teams to sign multiyear contracts. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was one high-profile player being watched last week as the deadline approached.

    The NFL Players Association earlier this month won a grievance against the NFL regarding Brees’ situation and the effect of Brees’ having been tagged when he was with San Diego. At issue was whether that previous tag should count if the Saints were to look to tag Brees again in 2013. That is important because the tag price goes up, to 144 percent of the player’s prior-year contract, the third time a player is tagged.

    “It just clarifies an area that was unclear before and it just means that if a player gets franchised on one club and moves to another club, he doesn’t start over,” said Tom Condon, co-head of CAA Football and Brees’ agent. “It means the franchise number for 2013 has changed, and it’s higher.”

    Liz Mullen can be reached at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.

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  • Film studio assembles cast, enters talent rep biz

    The film studio behind such hits as “Act of Valor” and “The Fighter” is acquiring SFX Baseball and NFL player agency Maximum Sports Management, creating a new multisport talent representation business and continuing the nexus between sports and Hollywood.

    The launch of the new Relativity Sports was expected to be announced today by the film studio, Relativity Media, and billionaire Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa Cos. Burkle, also co-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, became an investor in Relativity Media in 2011.

    As a combined firm, Relativity Sports will represent about 140 MLB, NFL and NBA players. The company will be based in Beverly Hills, Calif.


    MAXIMUM SPORTS MANAGEMENT

    Clientele: 50 NFL players
    Including:
    Devin Hester
    Larry Fitzgerald
    Steven Jackson
    Greg Jennings
    Ndamukong Suh

    SFX BASEBALL

    Clientele: 75 major league and 75 minor league baseball players
    Including:
    Miguel Cabrera
    Justin Morneau
    David Ortiz
    Mariano Rivera
    Alfonso Soriano
    Justin Verlander

    ROGUE SPORTS

    Clientele: 20 NBA and European basketball players
    Including:
    DeJuan Blair
    Corey Brewer
    Iman Shumpert
    Amar’e Stoudemire

    Sources: Agencies

    Terms of the acquisitions of SFX Baseball and Maximum Sports Management were not disclosed.

    While other Hollywood talent firms have entered the sports representation business in the past, the deal here is notable in part for its scale. Mega-agencies such as CAA Sports, Wasserman Media Group and Octagon have more clients than what Relativity Sports will have at launch, but starting with 140 players aggressively positions Relativity in the sports talent representation business.

    SFX Baseball, which was part of the former SFX Sports, represents about 75 major league and 75 minor league baseball players. It is owned and run by MLB player agents Mark Pieper, Pat Rooney, Mike Milchin, Fernando Cuza, John Courtright, Diego Bentz, Fitzgerald Astacio and Joe Sambito.

    Maximum Sports Management, founded more than 20 years ago, is owned by agents Eugene Parker and Roosevelt Barnes. It represents about 50 NFL players.

    Relativity Media got into the sports representation business in 2009, when Happy Walters, co-COO of the entertainment company and a certified NBA and NFL agent, launched Rogue Sports, which represents about 20 NBA and European basketball players.

    All three firms will be combined into the new sports representation practice.

    Walters will serve as the head of the new Relativity Sports. Parker will head the firm’s football division; Pieper will head its baseball division. Parker and Pieper will report to Walters, who will report to Relativity Media CEO and founder Ryan Kavanaugh.

    The MLB agents will continue to be based in Chicago; Parker and Barnes will continue to represent NFL players out of their offices in Fort Wayne, Ind.

    Kavanaugh founded Hollywood-based Relativity Media in 2004 as a film financing group. It evolved into a studio engaged in multiple aspects of the entertainment business, including film and television development, music publishing, and digital media.

    To date, Relativity has produced, distributed and/or structured financing for more than 200 films. In addition to “Act of Valor” and “The Fighter,” those films include “The Raven,” “Mirror Mirror,” “Bridesmaids,” “The Social Network” and “Tower Heist.”

    Walters said what Relativity is doing with this pursuit is different from how other Hollywood talent agencies — Creative Artists Agency, among others — have gone about launching sports divisions in recent years.

    “We have something no other sports business can offer,” Walters said. “Other Hollywood agencies who have gotten into sports don’t make films. We make films. We create television shows. We create our own social media platforms.”

    Relativity plans to expand into other areas of representation in the future and is eying properties and events for business, as well, Walters said, but he would not be more specific on those intentions. He did say Relativity would not seek to expand into representing NHL players because of Burkle’s ownership of an NHL club.

    Of Burkle, Walters said, “He has a huge passion for sports.” He added that Burkle would not take a hands-on, day-to-day role in Relativity Sports.

    In addition to owning the Penguins, Burkle has long been involved in efforts to bring an NFL team to Los Angeles.

    The acquisitions of the baseball and football practices came after months of talking and, in the case of Maximum, after years of discussions. Walters has known Parker since he was a kid, as Parker and Walters’ father once worked at the same law firm. Parker and Walters also have represented a few NFL players together, including running back LenDale White.

    Parker said the entertainment aspect of Relativity appealed to him and to Barnes. “People have been talking about combining sports and entertainment forever,” Parker said. “With the platform that Relativity Media has, they can make it happen right away. They are not the middle men.”

    Pieper said he and his partners at SFX Baseball were also attracted to Relativity’s entertainment businesses, including its digital business and what it could offer their clients in the future.

    “When I first started in this business, we had no email, no cell phones,” Pieper said. “One of our jobs is to try to figure out where this business is going in the next five to 10 years. This merger allows our clients to have a broader social footprint.”

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