SBJ/October 15-21, 2012/Labor and Agents

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  • Agent may organize tour for locked-out NHL players

    Liz Mullen
    NHL player agent Pat Brisson, who organized a tour of locked-out NHL players in 2004, may do the same this year if the NHL lockout extends another month.

    “We did it last time,” said Brisson, co-head of CAA Sports’ hockey division, which represents 62 NHL players, including a number of star players like Sidney Crosby. Brisson said he would seriously “explore” organizing a world tour that would include CAA clients, as well as possibly clients of other agencies, if there is no deal by early November.

    Brisson
    Brisson was the main organizer of the IMG World Stars Tour in which 25 to 30 players played 10 games in several European cities over two weeks in December 2004 during the previous NHL lockout. He believes there could be fan interest if they choose to revisit the idea.

    “We had a plane [for the tour] for 17 days. [Now] the cost of the plane and the cost of the insurance may be more,” Brisson said. “But the revenues may be higher.”

    Brisson has already negotiated deals for 15 of his clients to play in Europe during the lockout, and he said more will go if the work stoppage continues. “I would say, in the next month or two, we will have another 20,” he said.

    > WITNESS LIST SET FOR TRIAL: Indiana Pacers forwards Danny Granger and Paul George are among 10 current or former professional basketball players who could be called to testify in the case scheduled for trial next month involving NBA player agent Aaron Mintz, who left Priority Sports after 11 years and went to work for CAA Sports.
    The trial is scheduled to begin on Nov. 13 in federal court in Los Angeles, presided over by U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson.

    Danny Granger is among players who could be called to testify in a case involving NBA agent Aaron Mintz and Priority Sports.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    As previously reported, Priority had identified CAA President Richard Lovett and former Indiana Pacers general manager David Morway as people who potentially had information about the case, but neither were on the witness list that was submitted to the court earlier this month. Priority submitted a witness list of 34 individuals, including the 10 players. Mintz and CAA submitted a witness list of 18 individuals, which included two of those 10 players, forward Jeff Adrien, who was recently waived by the Charlotte Bobcats, and Toronto Raptors forward Dominic McGuire.

    Mintz left Priority Sports on March 23 and filed suit against Priority the same day, asking for a federal court declaration that the restrictions in his employment agreement with the firm be declared void. On April 6, Mintz filed another complaint alleging Priority violated various federal and state computer privacy laws by gaining access to his private email account. On April 17, Priority countersued Mintz and Creative Artists Agency, parent of CAA Sports, alleging 12 causes of action, including breach of contract and breach of the duty of loyalty.

    Wilson has set a hearing for Oct. 29 to hear a motion from attorneys for Mintz and CAA asking to declare Mintz’s old employment contract unenforceable; to find that Priority violated computer laws; and to dismiss all of Priority’s claims against Mintz and CAA.

    At that same hearing, Priority is asking Wilson for summary judgment on their claims of breach of contract and breach of duty of loyalty against Mintz, according to court documents filed in the case.

    It is not clear how many clients may have followed Mintz to CAA Sports. As previously reported, McGuire, who was formerly a client of Priority, signed with CAA Sports and Mintz negotiated a new deal with the Toronto Raptors. But McGuire left CAA Sports last week.

    NBA players cannot sign with a new agent until 15 days after terminating their previous agent under National Basketball Players Association rules.

    Contact Liz Mullen at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.

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  • Rule changes keeping NFL agents on the run

    In a normal year, veteran NFL player agent Alan Herman would amass between 60,000 and 70,000 air miles during the fall recruiting college football players for the next year’s NFL draft. But this year, Herman, who has 1.5 million air miles in the bank, says he expects to add another 150,000. The reason? He has a lot more players to talk to now.

    “We have a lot more work to do,” said Herman, founder of NFL player rep firm Sportstars, which represents 102 NFL players and employs eight agents certified by the NFL Players Association.

    NFL player agents say the business of recruiting college football players has changed because of two measures that were passed by the NFLPA earlier this year. First, the union revoked the so-called “Junior Rule,” which prohibited agents from any contact with college players who were less than three years removed from high school. Secondly, it passed a new rule that mandates that only NFLPA-certified agents can recruit players.

    What it all means is that the pool of players agents can recruit is much larger now. Theoretically, that pool is four times larger as agents can talk to all college players, although it is believed most of the increased recruiting is focused on juniors.

    Agents agreed that the end of the Junior Rule was changing the recruiting dynamic. The Junior Rule, which was first enacted in 2007, was scrapped after prominent agents complained that it gave an unfair advantage to those willing to break it. One new element to the landscape is that the families of underclassmen can now engage with agents, and they have been requesting meetings in the past few months, even if their sons are not planning to declare for the 2013 NFL draft.

    Players still sign with agents at the same time — typically when their college eligibility is up after their last bowl game. But players and families of both seniors and now underclassmen have been engaging with agents far earlier, and agents are taking more meetings.

    “If you are not talking to a quality junior and you wait a year, then you are too late the following year,” Herman said.

    Lagardère’s Joel Segal said there are very few days when agents aren’t traveling.
    Photo by: AP IMAGES
    Herman is not the only agent traveling more these days.

    “Between Sunday, Monday and Thursday games and recruiting, there seems to be very few days where you don’t have somewhere to go,” said Joel Segal, president of football for Lagardère Unlimited, which represents about 65 NFL players.

    “More traveling can be required as the process starts earlier and earlier,” said agent Todd France, who represents more than 50 NFL players and represented a top-five NFL draft pick in the last two years.

    Agents interviewed for this story could not detail what impact the new rule prohibiting anyone other than an NFLPA-certified agent from recruiting players may have on the business. NFLPA-certified agents must pass a background check, among other things, and this rule was designed to raise the standard of player representation and is part of the union’s ongoing effort to keep potentially unscrupulous people away from players. Agents suggested that rivals were trying to find a way around this new rule, with some expressing suspicion that “marketing agents,” not contract agents, and other athlete representatives who are not NFLPA-certified are meeting with players in an effort to steer them to certain NFL contract agents.

    “You have so-called ‘marketing guys’ helping with a 320-pound offensive lineman, when there is very little marketing you can do with an offensive lineman,” Herman noted, wryly.

    Veteran agent Pat Dye Jr. said he was in favor of the new rule changes, but like a lot of agents interviewed for this story, he wonders how the NFLPA will be able to enforce the new regulation allowing only certified agents to recruit players, especially with so many agents meeting with so many players all over the country.

    “It’s going to be hard to prove,” Dye said. “With all the [potential] violations, it will be like trying to clear the Sahara Desert with a tablespoon.”

    Agents were also unsure what impact the NFLPA rules would have on the marketplace and which agents would end up signing top talent under the new rules.

    “It’s still too early to tell,” said prominent agent Eugene Parker, head of the football division at Relativity Sports. “Revoking the Junior Rule is definitely better. These guys [college football players] need time to hear from the legitimate people. They were hearing from the other people anyway. I think after you have a round of recruiting, you will have a better idea of how it worked out.”

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  • NFLPA says Redskins, Cowboys arbitration confirms league’s collusion around salary cap

    Did the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys point blank tell an NFL arbitrator that the league engaged in collusion two years ago?

    That is the contention of the union in legal filings last week, contradicting the NFL’s previous assertion that there was no collusion in 2010. The union has filed a collusion claim for billions of dollars in Minnesota federal court and asked the judge to reopen the legal settlement that previously governed labor relations between the two parties.

    “The NFL’s [attempt] to convince the Court that there was no collusive agreement in 2010 to hold down player salaries is not only contradicted by a series of unequivocal public statements by multiple NFL Owners,” the NFLPA wrote in the legal papers, “but also by admissions from NFL teams contained in materials previously unavailable to the Court — including CBA arbitration submissions by counsel for the Redskins and Cowboys.

    “In CBA arbitration proceedings, counsel for the Redskins and Cowboys made numerous statements regarding the NFL’s intention to punish those teams for failing to comply with an illegal conspiracy to restrain player spending in 2010,” the NFLPA maintained.

    The Cowboys declined comment and the Redskins referred comment to the league.

    “We are not commenting on the merits or on who said what to whom,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

    The case stems from the NFL’s disclosure in March that it would dock the Redskins and Cowboys salary cap space because they front-loaded player contracts in 2010, a season without a salary cap. The teams objected to the penalties and their case went to an arbitrator, who sided with the league.

    The NFLPA alleges it was unaware of the reason behind the cap penalties, even though the union signed off on them in order to get a higher cap number for 2012.

    The NFL has pointed out that 23 teams spent more than the $123 million alleged secret cap in 2010. The league also contends that the union cannot bring the claim because it waived all rights to file it through language in the new CBA and the dismissal of the old legal settlement.

    The union contends that the judge overseeing the case never signed off on that language, and the league never moved for him to do so. The sides are awaiting a decision from Judge David Doty on whether the case can go forward.

    The union also threw one other tidbit into the mix in its filing last week, saying a high-profile owner directly emailed NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith in March confirming collusion.

    The union in the legal papers described the correspondence this way: “A March 13, 2012 email from a prominent Owner to the Executive Director of the NFLPA shortly after the imposition of the penalties on the Redskins and Cowboys, in which the Owner — in an effort to justify those severe penalties — expressly refers to those teams’ significant expenditures ‘over a 123m salary cap’ during uncapped 2010 in comparison to teams that ‘abided by a 123m salary cap’ during uncapped 2010.”

    Doty sealed many of the records tied to the Redskins and Cowboys arbitration, so all that is publicly available is what is in the NFLPA filing.

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