SBJ/August 27-September 2, 2012/Labor and Agents

Djokovic leaves CAA Sports, eyes new agency, more deals

Novak Djokovic, the world’s No. 2-ranked tennis player, has ended his relationship with CAA Sports and is shopping for new representation.

Many tennis insiders believe Djokovic will land at IMG, which is the agency he sought to go to 18 months ago but at the time was held to the terms of his CAA contract, numerous sources said.

Novak Djokovic begins his defense of the U.S. Open crown this week.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
IMG spokesman Jim Gallagher declined to comment.

What is clear is that Djokovic’s days with CAA are over. He said last week that his contract with the Hollywood talent agency had ended.

“I ended that contract; I am without an agency at the moment,” Djokovic said before an appearance at sponsor Uniqlo’s New York flagship store, where he unveiled a new line of performance wear. “But there are many offers and negotiations at this moment.

“A transition period is kind of going on right now,” added the former No. 1-ranked player in the world. “I have had a contract with I think [CAA] for four years. … I tried to work it out, and it was successful, but I think I needed to move on.”

A CAA spokeswoman did not reply to repeated requests through email, text and voice messages for comment.

Djokovic, who begins his defense of the U.S. Open crown this week, admitted he is keen to sign more endorsement deals. His peers with whom he has traded the No. 1 world ranking, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, boast lucrative endorsement portfolios, almost all of which, if not entirely, were negotiated by IMG.

Djokovic, however, has not found the same market for non-endemic endorsements as Nadal and Federer, and it’s uncertain if new representation could change that. Two of his largest endemic deals, racket and apparel, were handled by CAA Sports, and the agency will continue to receive those commissions going forward. His apparel deal with Japanese apparel company Uniqlo, which was announced in May, is for the next five years; his Head racket deal goes for three more years, according to a source with knowledge of the agreements.

He also backs Mercedes-Benz in his home country of Serbia; and watchmaker Audemars Piguet. He continues to wear Adidas sneakers, but sources said he is not currently paid by the brand, which he endorsed prior to 2010.

“I am looking forward to … some new endorsements,” Djokovic said. “I am ending most of my contracts that I had from previous years and now I am actually negotiating with many companies for the future.”

CAA entered the tennis business in 2008 by hiring two Israeli agents, Amit Naor and Allon Khakshouri, who at that time represented Djokovic. It marked the latest phase of the talent agency’s successful push into athlete representation.
But Djokovic’s relationship with Naor and Khakshouri appeared to sour, and in recent months, he has been linked to billionaire Ron Burkle, founder of Yucaipa Cos., who recently helped form Relativity Sports.

Last month, film studio Relativity Media — in which Burkle is an investor — formed the multisport talent representation business through the acquisition of several agent practices. That new firm, Relativity Sports, represents about 140 players in the NBA, NFL and MLB.

Burkle, also a co-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, could not be reached for comment.

It’s unclear what exactly Burkle’s relationship with Djokovic was and if there is any relationship between Burkle and CAA, sources said.

With Djokovic looking for new representation, it marks another change among top tennis players. Federer and his agent, Tony Godsick, parted ways with IMG in May to form their own agency. In addition, Andy Murray’s future is uncertain, as the No. 4-ranked player worldwide will see his contract with CAA Sports to handle all his on-court business expire at the end of the year.
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