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Volume 21 No. 1

Labor and Agents

Liz Mullen
An NFL Players Association-certified agent who is trying to form a national trade association for sports agents owned and managed two professional football teams last year, something he failed to disclose to the union and the other agents he is trying to organize.

Andrew Bondarowicz said he has sent emails to about 2,500 sports agents and other athlete representatives in the last few months about his efforts to found what he calls the National Association of Sports Agents and Athlete Representatives. The association seeks to represent agents’ interests in dealing with players associations, the NCAA and other entities, and Bondarowicz wrote in an email to agents May 24 that it has received “hundreds of calls and emails” pledging support.

In that email, Bondarowicz described himself as an NFL agent, an entertainment attorney and a former senior executive of several state trade associations, but did not disclose his ownership or management of the two football teams last year.

Bondarowicz served as the team president for the Trenton (N.J.) Steel and the Fayetteville (N.C.) Force in 2011, two currently defunct teams that were part of the former Southern Indoor Football League. Bondarowicz said he had a “direct ownership” of the Steel and an “indirect ownership” of the Force, both of which paid players $150 to $250 a week. According to stories in the Fayetteville Observer, Bondarowicz failed to pay the football players on the Force on time last year. Bondarowicz said last week that paychecks to Force players were not missed, but said one paycheck may have been “delayed by two days.”

Bondarowicz has been certified by the NFLPA since 2005 and represents five NFL players, but did not tell the union of his ownership in the two football clubs, he said. “There is nothing in the NFLPA regulations … that prevented us from the role that we had,” he said.

However, an NFLPA source said that in its agent regulations is one stating that “holding or seeking to hold, either directly or indirectly, a financial interest in any professional football club or any other business entity when such an investment could create an actual conflict or the appearance of a conflict of interest in the representation of NFL players” is prohibited conduct. This source said the NFLPA would now be looking into Bondarowicz’s ownership of the teams in regard to that regulation.

Bondarowicz said later last week that he had not heard from the NFLPA about the issue. Bondarowicz added that a legal analysis of the NFLPA regulation showed there was a “very remote” chance his ownership in an SIFL team created an actual conflict and that safeguards were in place to monitor against the appearance of a conflict.

In his May 24 email to agents, Bondarowicz wrote, “NASAAR has already held very positive discussions with most of the major player associations” about the formation of the sports agent group. He said last week that he has had discussions with NFLPA and MLB Players Association officials, but not with NHL Players’ Association or National Basketball Players Association officials.

Asked about Bondarowicz’s efforts, MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner wrote, “To my knowledge, we’ve had no discussions with representatives of NASAAR.”

The NFLPA source said union officials were not aware of discussions the group has had with the NFLPA.

CAA SIGNS SCOTT HAMILTON: CAA Sports has signed U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame figure skater and NBC Olympics broadcaster Scott Hamilton for representation.

Hamilton, who won more than 70 skating titles and a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics, will be represented by a team of agents led by Lis Rudnay. CAA will work to create opportunities for Hamilton in the areas of endorsements, speaking, television and philanthropy, among other things. He was previously without representation.

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

While the first Stanley Cup Final between the Los Angeles Kings and the New Jersey Devils gives the NHL’s biggest series extra importance in the country’s biggest markets, it’s unclear how much the sport’s labor uncertainty might undercut any new momentum.

Industry speculation for months has been that the league may seek the kind of significant fiscal changes that could lead to a work stoppage this fall. The NHL CBA expires Sept. 15, but the two sides have not met and will not until after the Stanley Cup is awarded.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said he expects formal bargaining to begin in a few weeks.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman briefly expressed frustration over the topic of a potential work stoppage during his news conference before the first game of the Stanley Cup Final. “I don’t understand all the speculation and negativity,” Bettman said.

Unlike past labor negotiations involving the biggest team sports in North America, in which the chance of a work stoppage was telegraphed years in advance — most recently in the case of the 2011 NBA and NFL lockouts — the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association have not given a lot of advance notice. Neither side has revealed what it will ask for at the table when talks do begin. Bettman said last week that he expected formal bargaining to begin in the next few weeks.

Although Bettman was brimming with optimism on the eve of Game 1, NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr, who has been through labor strife in his 25 years as former head of the MLB players union, was more cautious when asked about the chance of the 2012-13 NHL season starting on time. “All I can say is that I certainly hope it does,” Fehr said after Bettman’s news conference, which he attended. “That’s the goal. It’s a goal I hope everyone shares.” Fehr noted that he’s learned not to try to predict what might happen in a labor negotiation.

Still, most NHL executives seemed to take a “What, us worry?” attitude during the Cup Final, which moved to Los Angeles for Game 3 today. “There is no reason that the current collective bargaining situation could or should impact the Stanley Cup Final in any way,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in an email last week.

For months before the 2004 Stanley Cup Final, there was a feeling of doom about a lockout. The NHL had hired former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt, who proclaimed in February of that year that the league’s business was broken and team owners had lost $273 million the season before. In the two years leading up to that lockout, NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow had been telling players in team locker rooms to save their paychecks and prepare for a prolonged work stoppage. But that was back then, when league revenue was about $1.5 billion.

In the eight years since, the NHL has enjoyed rapid growth, with NHL revenue topping $3.3 billion under the new system. It’s built on the first-ever salary cap, which the owners had demanded and received, after a lost season.

“I think it is difficult to compare where we are today to the situation we faced in 2004,” Daly said. “The game, the business and the industry are a lot different now than they were then.”

He did not reveal what position the owners will take when they begin formal bargaining with the players for a new CBA this summer.

However, there has been growing speculation in the media and within the industry that NHL owners will seek the same kind of reductions in the players’ share of revenue that the NFL and NBA owners sought and to some extent received, which led to lockouts in both sports in 2011. NHLPA officials have said the players are not in the mood to make givebacks after the 2004-05 lockout. The uncertainty presents a challenge to NHL franchises looking to renew season-ticket, suite and sponsorship accounts during the summer, without the guarantee of a season starting in October.

On May 16, the NHL served notice to the NHLPA that it would terminate the current CBA when it expires Sept. 15. Under the CBA, either side had to file such a notice 120 days before the expiration if it wanted any changes to the current deal.

“Had no notice been given by either party, under CBA Article 3.1(a) the CBA would have remained in place for another year,” Fehr wrote in a letter to players and agents last month.

The NHLPA would not comment on the letter, a copy of which was obtained by SportsBusiness Journal, but at least one agent took Fehr’s statement to mean that players would have been happy to continue under the current system for another year, had the NHL not served notice.

Some hockey sources see the 120-day notice, and the fact that the NHL in March canceled plans to open the 2012-13 season with the “Premier Games” in Europe, as the league has done for the past five years, as signs the NHL is preparing for a lockout.

A few teams were said to be considering the cancellation of their summer training camps for prospects. The Young Stars Tournament, which has been held in Penticton, British Columbia, for the last few years as a rookie showcase for the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and host Vancouver Canucks, was canceled last month because of labor uncertainty.

And there has been speculation that the Traverse City tournament, a rookie camp and round-robin in Michigan for eight of the NHL’s clubs which is held in early September, would be canceled as well.

“For now, we’re proceeding like it’s going to happen,” said one hockey operations executive whose team is a perennial participant at Traverse City. “Ultimately, the Red Wings will make that call.”

Rick Bowness, public relations coordinator for the Detroit Red Wings, who run the annual event, said the tournament is going ahead as planned. He did not say whether the tournament would go forward regardless of labor developments.

Daly told SportsBusiness Journal last month that the clubs, not the league, make the decisions on whether to hold rookie camps and tournaments.

Although league and union executives will not speak on the record about what they want in a new CBA, some expressed optimism about the process. Some agents were not as optimistic.

“There have been a series of events, including the cancellation of one rookie tournament, that leads one to believe the league is preparing for a lockout,” said Ian Pulver, an NHL agent and former associate counsel of the NHLPA. “The league’s actions do not make sense, especially against the backdrop of record-setting revenues and magnificent coverage of the game from New York to Los Angeles. I am certain that Don Fehr will prepare the players accordingly.”