SBJ/Aug. 4-10, 2014/Labor and Agents

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  • Beverly Hills signs catcher Perez; Kauffman to rep Ewing

    Beverly Hills Sports Council has signed Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez for representation on and off the field. 

    Perez, an MLB All-Star both this year and last, will be represented by BHSC partner and MLB agent Rick Thurman and agent Rafa Nieves. He was formerly represented by SPS Sports Group

    “We are excited to add Salvador to our star roster and our expanding Latin division,” Thurman said in an email. “He’s already one of the best catchers in the game, both offensively and defensively, and at only 24 years of age has only scratched at the surface of his potential.” 

    Perez joins a growing roster of young Latino MLB players at BHSC that includes Royals pitcher Kelvin Herrera, Pittsburgh outfielder Gregory Polanco, New York Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli, Texas second baseman Rougned Odor and Cleveland infielder Jose Ramirez, all of whom have all joined BHSC as clients in the last two years. 

    > KAUFFMAN SIGNS EWING: Kauffman Sports Management Group has signed basketball hall of famer and current Charlotte Hornets associate head coach Patrick Ewing for coaching representation. 

    Hall of famer Patrick Ewing is now associate head coach of the Charlotte Hornets.
    Photo by: NBAE / GETTY IMAGES

    At Kauffman, Ewing will be represented by agency founder and president Steve Kauffman and managing partner Spencer Breecker. Ewing was formerly represented by CSE

    During his playing career, from 1985 until 2002, Ewing was represented by agent David Falk, but the National Basketball Players Association prohibits player agents from representing coaches and general managers. Falk last week called on the newly elected NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts to actively enforce that rule. 

    Falk still represents Ewing for marketing work, which is allowed under NBPA rules. 

    “Now that we have a high-profile lawyer [as executive director of the NBPA], it will be interesting to see if the union enforces the conflict-of-interest rule that prohibits agents from representing coaches and management people,” Falk said in a telephone interview last week. 

    Falk said it would have been nice to represent Ewing, whom he has known for 30 years, in his coaching career, but he said he believes and understands that it is a “direct conflict of interest” to do so. Falk said he follows the rule but that other agents don’t.

    While Falk did not name names, there are player agents and/or agencies that do reportedly represent coaches as well as players.

    “It’s rampant,” Falk said of the practice. “It’s not that you have to pass a rule. The rule is on the books and it has to be enforced.” 

    Roberts, who was elected as NBPA executive director last week in Las Vegas, told SportsBusiness Journal she would not speak on issues affecting the membership until she has time to meet with the players and get a consensus opinion (see story, below).

    Falk, who now runs a boutique practice representing a few high-profile NBA players, said he has not met Roberts. “She obviously has a very strong résumé,” he said. 

    > NFL AGENTS FORM NEW FIRM: NFL player agents Michael Perrett and Kevin McGuire have left SportsTrust Advisors and have launched their own firm, Element Sports Group.

    It was not known how many, if any, NFL players may join their firm. 

    SportsTrust, the firm founded by veteran NFL agent Pat Dye Jr., said in a statement: “SportsTrust’s core team, including Pat Dye Jr., Bill Johnson, Chandra Vitali, Randi Chapman and others, remains fully intact and will continue to serve its roster of more than 60 NFL clients with unparalleled competence, integrity and personal attention.”

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

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  • Repealed rule, new CBA fuels earlier NFL recruiting

    The date and location of the 2015 NFL draft is yet to be determined, but college football prospects have been meeting with agents earlier than ever, according to sources in the agent community.

    More agents were meeting with college football players in May, June and July this year than in past years, said Lal Heneghan, a partner with Cornerstone Sports Consulting, which provides agent advisory services to 12 major college football programs, including Florida State and Alabama.

    The trend of players holding agent meetings in the spring and early summer before the college football season begins started a few years ago. In 2012, Cornerstone said they helped student athletes conduct more than 100 interviews at major football programs. Heneghan said that the number has increased, but would not quantify it.

    “The recruiting is more active than ever,” Heneghan said.

    The NFL draft has historically been held at the end of April every year in New York, although last year it was held in May. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said recently that the 2015 NFL draft will be held in Los Angeles or Chicago, but no date has been set.

    “We hope to have a decision on when and where later this summer,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy stated in an email.

    Pat Dye Jr. says schools are more willing to have agents meet with players before a season ends.
    Photo by: COURTESY OF SPORTSTRUST ADVISORS

    That hasn’t stopped agents from recruiting players.

    Veteran NFL player agent Pat Dye Jr. has been in the business for more than 20 years and he can remember the days when first-round picks didn’t meet with an agent until January and February and didn’t sign until March, just before the draft.

    “The cycle is getting earlier and earlier every year,” Dye said.

    The change is important in the NFL agent business because signing new football talent is what makes or breaks the careers of agents in any sport. The fact that schools are allowing agents in earlier is a recognition that choosing an agent is one of the most important decisions a young athlete can make when he turns professional. It also gives schools the ability to keep track of agent contact with student athletes and access to those athletes who are willing to play by the school’s rules.

    There are many reasons for the increased early activity. The NFL Players Association in 2012 revoked the so-called “Junior Rule,” which prohibited certified NFL agents from talking to players before they were more than three years from their high school graduation, so there is a larger pool of players to recruit.

    Additionally, the 2011 NFL collective-bargaining agreement established a new rookie pay system, and so agents and clubs are agreeing to new deals for rookies earlier than ever. The last of the 256 players drafted in the seven rounds of the 2014 NFL draft was signed on July 24.

    “That has accelerated [agents’] focus on recruiting and allowed them to get out there and be more proactive,” Dye said. “I would say the biggest impetus is the rookie signings, which are occurring much earlier than in any year I can remember.”

    Other agents agreed there is more recruiting going on, with it happening earlier. Many of them did not want to speak on the record, as they consider recruiting a proprietary business matter.

    “It’s crazy out there,” one agent texted about the activity.

    Schools are also becoming more proactive about holding agent meetings in the early spring and late summer.

    The University of Southern California was scheduled to hold a pro sports seminar last week for senior football players, as well as some of the juniors. The seminar was to include information about preparing for a career in the NFL, as well as an opportunity for brief meetings with agents, said J.K. McKay, USC senior associate athletic director for football.

    “We are simply trying to educate and prepare our players so that when the time comes to select an agent they can make an informed decision,” McKay said.

    The school had a similar seminar last year.

    Under NCAA rules, college football players can speak to anyone at any time but cannot sign with an agent until their eligibility is over.

    Generally speaking, players want to concentrate on football during the season. But, at the same time, players want to be able to start training for the NFL combine as soon as their last college bowl game is over. There is not a lot of time for players to meet with agents in the window between the last regular-season game and the bowl game, if their school qualifies for a bowl.

    The purpose of the spring and summer meetings is a way to give student athletes a chance to get acquainted with agents.

    “It seems to serve everyone’s purpose,” Heneghan said. “The player and the family can get an idea of this is what an agent is all about and they can get a sense if this person will be on a short list and focus on having a season.”

    Universities and agents have not always had a cooperative relationship, because they have different and competing interests when it comes to athlete talent. Historically, many schools have tried to keep agents away from athletes, entirely.

    Dye said the fact that schools are being proactive about players meeting with agents in the months before a player’s last college season is a sign of how much things have changed.

    “That would have never happened 10 or 15 years ago,” he said.

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  • Oregon players place focus on football, not agents

    The University of Oregon, a school that features a number of highly touted 2015 NFL draft prospects, is bucking the trend of college football players meeting early with agents.

    Although some major football universities are allowing and facilitating agent meetings in the spring and summer months, Jeff “Hawk” Hawkins, Oregon’s director of football operations, says there is no reason for players to meet with an agent now.

    Oregon’s Mariota has declined to meet with agents, but his parents are talking with advisers.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

    “The vast majority of our players want nothing to do with interacting with an agent,” Hawkins said. “They don’t want to deal with an agent now.”

    The football program has the possible No. 1 draft pick for 2015 in quarterback Marcus Mariota, but Hawkins said he polled players and found out they don’t want interaction with an agent. He asked every player how much contact they wanted with agents — none, limited and unlimited — and he gave the most weight to players who are draft eligible and who are truly NFL prospects.

    “What we found was that the players who were most sought after by agents [contract advisers, marketing advisers, financial advisers] didn’t want to talk to the agents right now,” Hawkins said. “They all felt it was OK for their parents to talk to them. The players preferred to focus on playing football.”

    Agents are interested in interviewing Oregon players because they view the program as having a number of possible players being drafted. But any agents who want to interview Ducks players had better be registered with the state and the school. Hawkins was behind a tough new law that went into effect this year under which agents, financial advisers and marketing representatives can be prosecuted if they are not registered with both the state and the school. 

    Hawkins has stated that he will push for prosecution of any prospective athlete representative who breaks that law.

    Hawkins is loosening things up a bit in that he’s allowing parents of the players to meet with agents, but Oregon has advised the parents that those meetings must be with agents registered with the school and the state, and that the parents must not accept anything of value — even a cup of coffee — from an agent. Otherwise, players are allowed to meet with agents after the regular season and before a bowl game, if there is one, Hawkins said.

    Meanwhile, Hawkins said he is close to Mariota’s family and said they are looking at the possibility of hiring four professionals — a contract agent, a marketing rep, a financial adviser and a tax adviser — if Mariota decides to turn pro after this season.

    “They can’t be in bed with each other,” Hawkins said of the four representatives. “And they [the parents] are talking to people, but Marcus doesn’t want anything to do with it at all.”

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  • Roberts eager to settle into role as NBPA executive director

    Michele Roberts was elected executive director of the National Basketball Players Association last week to lead a union that took 18 months to replace Billy Hunter, who was fired in February 2013.

    Roberts faces a number of issues and decisions as she begins her new job, including whether players will opt out of the current collective-bargaining agreement after the 2016-17 season. Other issues include revisiting a potential change to the league’s player age eligibility rule, which was tabled during the last CBA deal, as well as addressing player drug testing policies. Last week, a day after she was elected to the position, Roberts said she could not make any statements on the substantive issues facing the union, but talked about her immediate plans and thoughts on leading a sports union with all male members. The following are excerpts from her interview with staff writer Liz Mullen.

    n On possibly opting out of the CBA and possible changes to the age limit: The reason I can’t talk about these issues is I don’t know what clients’ positions are with respect to these issues. They have not, and I would not have expected them, to share with me what their thinking is on these issues before I became their executive director. So I don’t know. I have certainly been very interested in understanding what the issues are and I have spent a lot of time reading about it, listening to it and thinking about it. And I certainly have my own opinion about some of the consequences of the decisions that might be made. But my opinions are completely irrelevant, and they are not even fully informed. … At the end of the day, they may be ridiculously naïve opinions, given what the concerns are that my clients have. So I look forward to having discussions [with the players].

    On her immediate plans: I do intend to eyeball every single one of the men and women who pay my salary. I see a great deal of travel in my immediate future. I want to meet them; I want them to meet me. … I am going to let them know they have absolute carte blanche to contact me. I plan to do a lot of handshaking and talking and learning.

    On understanding the issues the union is facing: I can tell you that I am as familiar as one can be from the outside without being engaged in discussions with the players on their views on these issues — I shouldn’t have been, unless I was hired by them. It makes sense that I wouldn’t know what the players’ thinking is, in relation to these issues. I am familiar with what the issues are. … I have seen what Mr. [Adam] Silver has had to say about the direction he wants to take the league and the issues he wants to engage in discussions with the players. I tried to get ahead of those issues, so I would know what they were, if I got the offer.

    On working with the players: Sit down and help them formulate [a plan] and give them some idea of what the alternatives are to approaching these issues and the consequences of whatever positions they decide to take. So those are discussions I know we are going to have very soon and I look forward to that.

    On being a woman seeking this position: I stopped a long time ago allowing myself to be paralyzed in my decisions about how I was going to proceed in my life, worried about how people might view me because of the fact I am a woman. I have never thought about not representing a client or not asking a question of a witness or any number of things. I stopped worrying about ‘Can I do that? I’m a girl.’ I do what I can to represent the people who pay me a lot of money — frankly — to solve their problems. And I do that by being the best lawyer I can be, and I don’t spend one second worrying about how some idiot might think I might not be competent because I’m a woman. … When I looked at this position and I found myself interested and attracted to it, I said, ‘This is what I want to do. I think I can do this. In fact, I know I can do this.’

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