SBJ/December 10-16, 2012/Labor and Agents

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  • Marketer backs firm of former Orr recruiter

    Canadian sports marketing and corporate consulting firm SDI Marketing has invested in ARC Sports Group, a new hockey representation firm founded by an agent who recruited NHL star clients for the Orr Hockey Group.

    The Hurricanes’ Jeff Skinner is among the players that Darren Ferris recruited for Bobby Orr.
    GETTY IMAGES
    Darren Ferris formed ARC on Nov. 1, a few weeks after leaving Orr Hockey Group, where he worked for 16 years recruiting stars including Carolina Hurricanes center and 2011 Rookie of the Year Jeff Skinner.

    Neither Ferris nor Andy Harkness, senior vice president of SDI, would reveal the ownership percentage in ARC held by SDI, which counts PepsiCo, MBNA and Rogers Corp. among its corporate consulting and sports marketing clients. Both ARC and SDI are based in Toronto.

    Ferris, Harkness and Roy Roedger, SDI’s founder and CEO and a former Olympic hockey player for Germany, will serve as partners of ARC.

    Harkness said that NHL players have approached SDI about representing them in the past. He has known Ferris for years, he said, and when Ferris told him he was leaving Orr Hockey, they started talking about a partnership and the deal came together quickly.

    SDI “wanted a vehicle for their marketing to provide to players,” Ferris said. “It would be a good fit for them because of the opportunities they have with the corporate clients they deal with. If they have NHL player [clients], they may be able to parlay that into a marketing deal.”

    It is not clear how many, if any, NHL players or prospects may follow Ferris from Orr Hockey, a Boston-based firm founded by NHL hall of famer Bobby Orr, to ARC.Ferris, who is an NHLPA-certified agent, served as the Orr agency’s top recruiter and helped the company land numerous NHL players including Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis, Edmonton Oilers left wing Taylor Hall and Ottawa Senators center Jason Spezza, as well as prospects Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid (see related story below).

    NHL agent Rick Curran, a partner in Orr Hockey, said Ferris did “an outstanding job” of recruiting players for the company and was a big part of its success. But Curran said, “This wasn’t the case of a guy walking out the door and taking 10 to 15 NHL player clients with him.” Curran said he expects only a few Ontario Hockey League players, not including Ekblad or McDavid, to join Ferris at ARC.

    Ferris said that was not correct but would not say how many or which players may join him at ARC. “You know how the process goes,” Ferris said. “Players decide who they want to be with. And that will be determined over time.”

    Orr Hockey Group hired former NHL player Jeff Jackson to replace Ferris, Curran said.

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  • NFL adding two sites after success of Regional Combines

    Liz Mullen
    The NFL is expanding its Regional Combines from eight to 10 cities next year because of demand from clubs and football players, after a surprising number of last year’s participants — 32 — made NFL rosters or practice squads.

    “There is a need for it,” said Ron Hill, NFL vice president of football operations. More clubs want to participate, by holding an event at their facilities, and there is a greater demand for it from football players who are not invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Hill said.

    The Regional Combines will begin Jan. 24 at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, to coincide with the Pro Bowl, and end in Dallas in Cowboys Stadium on April 7.

    The event was formerly called the Elite Pro Football Combines, but the NFL bought it from Elite and renamed it. At the first one in 2011, about 1,300 aspiring NFL players worked out for scouts. One made an active roster and three made practice squads.

    This year, 2,000 wannabe NFL players participated in the Regional Combines, and four were drafted, 13 made active rosters and 12 made practice squads at the start of this year’s season, Hill said. The number on active rosters or practice squads has grown since the season began to 32.

    “That was shocking,” said Hill, who formerly worked as a scout or player personnel executive with the Cowboys, Broncos, Jaguars and Falcons. “I didn’t think we would have but eight or 10.”

    Hill said the Regional Combines’ success as a route into the NFL may be a reason for the increased demand from players who are not invited to the Indianapolis combine. “It gives a kid another opportunity to chase that dream and realize that dream or put closure to that dream,” he said.

    Position players pay $225 to participate in the Regional Combines, and kickers pay $275. Players invited to the Indianapolis combine do not pay to participate.

    > NFL SCOUTS EXPECTED AT NFLPA BOWL: The NFL Players Association will hold its second annual bowl game for draft-eligible players at the Home Depot Center in the Los Angeles area next month, and this time scouts from NFL clubs are expected to be present.

    The NFL will now treat the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl “like any other bowl game.”
    Photo by: AP IMAGES
    Those scouts could not attend the first NFLPA Collegiate Bowl game in January of this year because it was open to underclassmen, and the NFL has a rule that prohibits scouts from attending any all-star event where underclassmen are participating.

    “We will be there,” said the NFL’s Hill, when told the game this year would include only players who had used up their college eligibility. “We will treat it like any other bowl game. It will be treated like any other game as long as there are no players with college eligibility.”

    Jason Belser, NFLPA senior director of player development, said the union will use the same eligibility rules as the Senior Bowl, which will be held Jan. 26 in Mobile, Ala.

    The NFLPA Collegiate Bowl will be held Jan. 19. The teams will be coached by former NFL coaches Herm Edwards and Dick Vermeil.

    The reason for the change “is to give players the best opportunity to be evaluated by the scouts and general managers throughout the league in practice, on the field and in interviews,” Belser said.

    NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith sent a letter to all NFLPA-certified agents last week, informing them of the change in the rules and asking them to send information regarding future clients “you deem worthy of participation” to the union for invitations to the game. “As we develop this exclusive invitation list, we want to ensure that our game becomes a priority for your future clients,” Smith wrote.

    The union will also hold educational workshops, interview preparation classes and other events for the invited players.

    “Our collegiate bowl experience is designed to give NFL prospects the best glimpse into what their professional careers will look like,” said George Atallah, NFLPA assistant executive director of external affairs. “Our hope is that they understand what the overall business of football is like after their week is done.”

    > CAA SIGNS DANNY GRANGER: CAA Sports has signed Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger, a one-time all-star, for representation in all areas. Granger will be represented by a team of agents at CAA Sports led by Aaron Mintz and basketball co-head Leon Rose.

    Granger was formerly a client of Priority Sports & Entertainment, where he was a client of Mintz and Priority CEO and founder Mark Bartelstein. Mintz left Priority for CAA in March. Granger terminated his player agreements and all other agreements with Priority Sports and signed new agreements with CAA Sports.

    > UNC PLAYERS SIGN WITH FIVE STAR: Three highly rated players from the University of North Carolina — defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, offensive tackle Brennan Williams and offensive guard Jonathan Cooper — signed with Atlanta-based Five Star Athlete Management, the firm owned by prominent agent Todd France, for representation in the draft.

    The players will be represented by France and Five Star agent Brian Ayrault.

    Brent Williams, the father of Brennan Williams, said that his son interviewed several agents before picking France and Ayrault and that his son’s decision was based on factors including the presentation that Five Star made, the agents’ adherence to North Carolina’s strict rules regarding agent contact with student athletes, and his rapport with France and Ayrault.

    The three players are friends, and the fact they will train together at Athletes Performance in Arizona, where Five Star trains all of its prospects, may have factored into their agent choice, Brent Williams said. But he added, “I don’t think they ever discussed, ‘We are all going to sign with the same agent. They all looked for their representation individually and it happened to be the same group.”

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

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  • 100th anniversary looms in NFL battle

    As the NFL negotiates to end a more than three-year-old lawsuit brought by retirees seeking payment from NFL Films for use of their likenesses, a new concern is playing a part in the settlement talks: securing the players’ image rights in advance of the league’s 100th anniversary in 2019.

    “The NFL Films case … has gained a bunch of steam and is becoming a critical one as the NFL starts to plan for its 100th anniversary coming up in a few years,” said a source involved with the negotiations.

    A letter posted online prompted the NFL to ask a federal court to hold retiree Bob Lurtsema in contempt.
    The NFL confirmed it has already started planning marketing and promotions for that anniversary, as well as the 50th Super Bowl in 2016, but league officials declined to comment further and specifically would not comment on the NFL Films case.

    That case got heated last week, when the NFL asked the Minnesota federal court hearing the case to hold a retiree, Bob Lurtsema, in contempt for publishing details of what the league described as confidential settlement talks that occurred the week after Thanksgiving. Lurtsema attended those talks as a guest of a player lawyer, Bob Stein. The court in September placed a gag order on the parties to the case, though a faction of retirees contend the court rescinded the order a month later.

    Lurtsema’s letter was posted on davepear.com, a popular retiree blog that is almost always critical of the NFL. In it, Lurtsema claimed the league offered $50 million to settle in exchange for the retirees’ image rights for future use. The source familiar with the talks confirmed that amount.

    The prospects of a settlement, however, are unclear, as the retirees appear divided. Some are seemingly behind one lawyer, Michael Hausfeld, who allegedly supports the offer. Another group, including most of the named plaintiffs, who now work with attorney Stein, dismissed the $50 million offer as insufficient.

    “Defendant NFL understandably would prefer perpetual stasis and unlimited debate on a Settlement proposal that was dead-on-arrival months ago,” the retirees wrote in a motion last week opposing the league’s contempt push and signed by Stein.

    A spokesman for Hausfeld has declined all comment, doing so again last week, citing the gag order that his counterpart, Stein, now says in court papers does not exist. Hausfeld and Stein’s representation of the players has become another undercurrent in the lawsuit. In fact, Stein is representing Dan Pastorini in a lawsuit against Hausfeld over his legal services in the case.

    Other plaintiffs besides Pastorini include former players Fred Dryer, James Marshall, Joe Senser and Elvin Bethea. The case, Dryer v. NFL, hinges on whether the collective-bargaining agreement in place when they played ceded their image rights in perpetuity or just during their playing days. The players are seeking certification of a class covering 20,000 retirees.

    There is no debate that past CBAs granted the NFL the right to use the players’ images for promotion and other programs during the terms of those labor deals. But only the most recent CBA, signed in August 2011, specifically said that the granted rights extended beyond the end of the agreement.

    It is not hard to grasp why the league would want to ensure it had unfettered access to retirees’ likenesses for a 100th anniversary celebration.

    “[The league] definitely should do the 100-year team, top 100 NFL players of all time, top 100 plays of all times,” said Lou Imbriano, former New England Patriots chief marketing officer. The anniversary, he added, is great for memorabilia and merchandise opportunities, as well as for events and TV.

    “Every team should have a 100-year patch and a special 100-year jersey,” he added. “Lots of opportunities.”

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