SBJ/August 20-26, 2012/Labor and Agents

After delay, ex-IMGer Wagner gets new firm going

Jon Wagner began forming his new golf agency in May when he left IMG, but in some ways, Milestone Sports Management doesn’t formally open for business until this week.

Because he’s been embroiled in a breach-of-contract case with IMG over a noncompete clause, Wagner virtually put his Milestone business on hold. An investment partner withdrew, two golf clients are seeking representation elsewhere and two potential employees were blocked from coming on board, all in the last three months.

Wagner
Once the case was settled last week, Wagner regrouped and embarked on his new business venture.

He has signed his first consulting client, Capital One Bank, which is looking to enter the golf space, and he has begun his pursuit of golfers to represent. Wagner said he would like for Milestone to have competencies in several categories, including corporate consulting, player management and event management. The 28-year veteran of the golf business touched all of those disciplines at IMG and previously was a PGA Tour executive, where he directed the 1991 and ’92 Tour Championships at Pinehurst.

“The agency business in golf is in disarray and that’s why I think there’s such an opportunity right now,” said Wagner, 50. “A lot of agencies are in the midst of trying to decide if they’re too big or if they’re too small, and I think I have a clear vision of what this needs to be.”

The noncompete clause caused him to forfeit former Masters champion Trevor Immelman and Sean O’Hair as clients at Milestone. He also resisted pursuing other golfers as new clients until last week because he didn’t want anyone else getting caught up in his legal matters.

Wagner and IMG settled when Wagner agreed to abide by his noncompete, meaning he can’t hire IMG employees for a year and he can’t sign IMG clients or prospective clients for two years. Immelman and O’Hair, who were Wagner’s clients at IMG, became untouchable for Milestone for two years from his departure date. Wagner also had to pay IMG an undisclosed sum.

Milestone, based in Cleveland, moves forward now, but not exactly in the way that Wagner had hoped back in May. One potential investment partner, Charleston, S.C., attorney Joe Rice, backed out during the legal proceedings with IMG because “I really didn’t know the extent of the restrictions placed by IMG,” Rice said.

Rice, who is a co-owner of another golf agency, Empire Sports Management, didn’t rule out partnering with Wagner in the future, but currently “everything’s on hold,” he said during the PGA Championship as he watched from a suite on the 18th hole.

Rice’s co-owner at Empire, Frank Antonelli, is close friends with Wagner, so the prospects of Empire and Milestone working together in a strategic partnership remain likely.

“We’ll see how things go and how big we want this thing to get,” Wagner said.

The noncompete also means that Wagner will be unable to immediately hire two former IMG agents, Kevin Lynch and Jeff Stacy. Lynch and Stacy left IMG after Wagner’s departure in May and planned to work at Milestone, but IMG blocked their hiring. Wagner is prohibited from hiring IMG employees for a year.

Industry sources say that Lynch and Stacy are seeking work at other golf agencies.

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