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Volume 20 No. 42

Labor and Agents

Liz Mullen
The NFL Players Association’s board of player representatives last week passed a resolution for the newly reconstituted union to begin regulating NFL agents again.

The NFLPA’s ability to regulate agents who negotiate NFL playing contracts flows from its status as the exclusive bargaining unit for all NFL players. The NFLPA renounced that right when it decertified as a union on March 11, ahead of the NFL lockout, but it recertified upon completion of the NFL’s new collective-bargaining agreement.

Agents were expected to receive notification last week that the NFLPA is regulating them once again.

Agents in good standing were expected to receive notice that they have been certified under an interim status until they can reapply for certification. Those agents are expected to reapply for that certification by Oct. 1. Agents not in good standing, such as those who had a disciplinary complaint issued against them as of March 11, would not be granted interim status. It was not clear as of last Wednesday how many agents might fall into that category.

The player reps did not change any of the existing regulations as part of voting for the NFLPA to begin regulating agents again. That means the controversial “junior rule” that prohibits agents from speaking to college football players until after their third year in school is back in effect.

NFL agents disagree on a lot of things, but they almost universally oppose this rule. They say it gives unscrupulous contract agents, as well as marketing agents and financial advisers, an upper hand in recruiting college players.

Any changes to the junior rule, as well as any other regulatory changes, would be considered at the NFLPA’s annual meeting in March. Players are expected at that meeting to consider another new regulation that would require agents’ recruiters, or “runners,” as they are commonly known, to be certified.

Because of the time constraints in which clubs were trying to fill rosters in the week or so after the end of the lockout, the agents who negotiated those free agent and rookie deals were not officially certified by the union. The NFLPA will hold an agent seminar in Chicago on Sept. 30, the first official meeting of agents since it reformed as a union.

“We are pleased to be working closely with the contract adviser community,” said George Atallah, NFLPA assistant executive director, last week.

EXCEL SIGNS GOLFER KANG: Excel Sports Management has signed back-to-back U.S. Amateur champion Danielle Kang. She is the first new golf client that Mark Steinberg, agent to Tiger Woods, has signed since he joined Excel as a full partner this summer.

Kang, 18, became the first woman in 15 years to successfully defend her U.S. Amateur title when she won the 2011 event last month.

Steinberg last week said that he is just starting to talk to companies about endorsement deals for Kang, who was set to make her pro debut this past weekend at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, an LPGA Tour event for which she was granted a sponsor’s exemption. Kang and her parents ran her agent search, and she was recruited “by the usual cast of companies you would know very well,” Steinberg said.

PROFORMANCE SIGNS MLB PLAYERS: Proformance Inc., a baseball player representation firm based in Richmond, Va., has signed for representation in recent months Detroit Tigers all-star closer Jose Valverde, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Barry Enright and Los Angeles Angels infielder Alexi Amarista.

Proformance agents Bean Stringfellow and Orlando Ventura will represent Valverde, agent Andrew Lowenthal will represent Enright, and agents Jay Alou and Junior Rojas will represent Amarista.

MAXX SETS BROADCAST DEALS: Maxx Sports & Entertainment has negotiated a number of new broadcast deals for its clients recently, including an agreement for a multiyear extension for former NHL player Jeremy Roenick that would have him remaining with NBC Sports Network (the current Versus) for NHL coverage.

Maxx also negotiated the recent deal for Rodney Harrison to join NFL Network in addition to his work for NBC’s “Football Night in America,” and it negotiated the multiyear deal for newly retired running back Heath Evans to join NFL Network as well.

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

One year out from the expiration of the NHL’s collective-bargaining agreement, there’s both optimism and uncertainty among the two sides that will be looking to reach a deal.

The NHL, for its part, met with club general managers this summer in a number of individual meetings and CBA workshop settings to talk about what improvements they wanted in a new labor deal, according to NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly.

The league’s current labor pact expires one year from Thursday — on Sept. 15, 2012.

“We are prepared to engage in substantive collective bargaining negotiations whenever the Union tells us it is ready,” said Daly via email to SportsBusiness Journal. “For the record, I do not expect this to be either a particularly contentious, or prolonged negotiation.”

Daly said the NHL will not be seeking to overhaul the league’s current economic system — as it did in 2004, ultimately leading to a lockout that shut down an entire season — but he said the league will be seeking some changes, though he declined to specify any targets.

The NHL in 2004 was losing hundreds of millions of dollars. It now is a profitable league that has seen annual revenue increase. Said Daly, it is “a more stable and far more competitive League” than existed before the lockout.

With the growth in revenue, the salary cap for teams has gone up (see chart), something that has benefited the players.

Still, the question remains, What will the players do in this new round of negotiations?

“I have no comment on bargaining positions until they are finalized with the Executive Board and players,” said NHL Players Association Executive Director Don Fehr, in an emailed response to questions last week.

Fehr, the former head of the MLB Players Association, was elected by NHL players in December to lead their union.

Players were widely viewed as the losers in the 2004-05 NHL lockout after they agreed to an entirely new system proposed by the owners, one that includes a salary cap that features an escrow system for player salaries. The league holds a portion of players’ salaries in escrow until the end of the year, allowing the NHL to give players an exact percentage of leaguewide revenue. Last season, players received 57 percent.

Since its inception, players have hated the escrow system. Asked about that, Fehr wrote, “Players have certainly expressed discontent with the existing escrow provisions, which, more often than not, result in players not receiving the face value of their contracts.” Fehr would not, however, say whether the players would seek to eliminate the escrow or even whether the current CBA was working for players. “The NHLPA is in the process of continuing to review the operation of the current CBA with the Players, and I have no specific comment at this time,” he said.

Fehr this summer held a series of meetings with players, including executive board meetings in both Canada and Chicago, and he has conducted numerous individual meetings with groups of players, some as small as five players, in cities all over North America and Europe. “The purpose of these meetings is to both conduct ongoing business, and discuss current issues, but also to continue the process of preparation for bargaining,” Fehr wrote, in his email. “Discussion of bargaining issues did, of course, take place.”

Since the lockout ended in 2005, NHL players have fired three executive directors — Bob Goodenow, Ted Saskin and Paul Kelly — and a fourth interim executive director, Ian Penny, quit. Stories of division among players, agents and NHLPA staff have been common over the last several years.

Said one agent, “Don has done a remarkable job in a very short period of time. He has coalesced support by reaching out to players and meeting with them in small groups and bringing unity and cohesion to a group that was as divided and chaotic as any union has ever been.”

Agents and other players-side sources asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the union’s position.

Both Daly and Fehr said they expect to begin formal negotiations for a new CBA this coming winter.

Fehr (left) is mum on bargaining positions; Daly says he doesn’t expect contentious talks.