SBJ/April 21-27, 2014/Labor and Agents

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  • ‘A lot of agent missteps’ prompt wholesale NFLPA review

    The NFL Players Association’s Committee on Agent Regulation and Discipline will undergo a major review of the regulations governing NFL player agents in the next few months, said Eric Winston, the NFLPA’s newly elected president.

    Winston, who was elected president at the NFLPA’s annual meeting in March, said there is not one single issue driving the review. Rather, he said, players are concerned about the general level of representation being provided, including agents giving bad advice as well as not understanding the collective-bargaining agreement, the salary cap and other key issues.

    “There are a lot of contract advisers who are not doing what they are supposed to be doing,” Winston said. “They are not advising properly for the players, and there are a lot of agent missteps.”

    Winston did not name any agent specifically or give a timeline for the review. A number of players have volunteered to be on the committee, but appointments have not been finalized.

    Some of the things the committee will review include the current agent test and standard for applicants to become an NFLPA-certified agent, as well as the number of years an agent can remain certified without representing any clients. Currently, that number is three years. Winston said the committee will review whether that is the right number.
    Winston said the committee also may look at why so many players have switched agents in recent years.
      
    “I want to just look at everything and say, ‘Can we make this better?’” he said.

    At the NFL combine in February, the NFLPA held its annual meeting with a number of top agents who represent a large portion of the players in the league. At that meeting, some agents advocated the elimination of “marketing guarantees,” which are allowed under the current system. The way a guarantee works is that an agent gives a player money in advance for marketing revenue the player will generate later. The agent then keeps the marketing revenue until the guarantee is paid back.

    Some agents say that, in some cases, that money is paid to players who really don’t have the ability to generate marketing dollars; they contend it is really just an inducement for a player to sign with the agent.

    NFLPA agent regulations prohibit agents from giving players a financial inducement to sign a representation agreement.

    Winston said marketing guarantees would be examined but he noted that agents have long paid certain expenses for players — such as training for the NFL combine. If marketing guarantees are eliminated, it could bring up the question of whether agents could spend any money at all on players.

    “If we start painting that broad brush and say, ‘Well, we have to get rid of everything,’ then what are kids going to do? They are going to start getting money underground,” Winston said. “And that is a much worse scenario to me than a kid getting 50 grand or 20 grand from an agent and then having to pay that back and that being part of the contract stipulation.”
      
    The NFLPA agent regulations have been in place for about 20 years and have been revamped many times to try to prevent unqualified people from representing NFL players as well as to prevent unscrupulous behavior by agents. The discipline for violating the regulations ranges from fines to decertification.

    “I think when you become an NFLPA-certified agent, that should mean something,” Winston said. “And that should mean that a guy who is coming out of college can say, ‘OK, you are an NFLPA-certified agent; you are held to a certain standard.’”

    Winston said a group of players will review the findings. He added that one outcome may be that there is no change to the regulations. “This may be much to do about nothing,” he said. “It may be, ‘This is as good as it should be or can be,’ but we will go down that road and see what happens.’”

    Ervin Santana is among Jay Alou’s clients at new firm Epitome Sports.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

    > MLB AGENT LAUNCHES NEW FIRM: Jay Alou, an MLB agent who worked for Proformance Baseball for about 15 years, has launched his own agency, Epitome Sports, and signed Atlanta Braves pitcher Ervin Santana and Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista.

    Both Santana and Bautista were represented by Proformance Baseball, where Alou worked with both players.
      
    Alou said he left Proformance about a month ago, after Santana left Proformance when he did not sign a deal as an MLB free agent.
      
    After signing Santana, Alou negotiated a one-year, $14.1 million deal for the pitcher with the Braves. He later signed Bautista, who is his neighbor in Tampa, he said.
      
    Veteran MLB player agent Bean Stringfellow, co-founder of Proformance Baseball, confirmed the players’ departures, adding in regard to the issue of an agent and the players leaving, “There is definitely an ongoing dispute with that, for sure.” He declined further comment.

    Under MLB Players Association rules, agent disputes are handled under a confidential union grievance process. The MLBPA declined comment.

    Alou had no comment on the dispute.

    > WASSERMAN SIGNS WORTHY: Wasserman Media Group has signed former Los Angeles Lakers forward and current broadcaster James Worthy for broadcasting, marketing and appearance work.
      
    Debbie Spander, Wasserman vice president of broadcasting, will represent Worthy, a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Worthy was without representation for the past few years.
      
    Worthy is a studio host on Time Warner Cable SportsNet LA for Lakers game coverage. He has endorsement deals with New Balance and a Southern California car dealership.
      
    Wasserman is looking to expand Worthy’s brand nationally with broadcasting and marketing deals.

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


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