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Volume 21 No. 1

Labor and Agents

Liz Mullen
British Open champion Ernie Els will soon add luxury Swiss watch manufacturer Breitling SA to his portfolio of corporate sponsors. The company would join current partners Callaway Golf, SAP, Royal Bank of Canada, Boeing and Upper Deck, according to his agent, Vinny Giles.

Giles, who has represented Els since late last year, declined to disclose terms of the deal, which he said had been agreed to but not yet signed as of last week.

Last month’s victory at the British Open gave Ernie Els his fourth major.
Els won the British Open on July 22, his fourth major, but his first in 10 years. Breitling had been deep in talks with Giles prior to Els’ surprising win at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and because the company wanted him before he won that major, Giles said he is not looking to change the terms of the deal. “That’s just how you do business,” he said.

Giles, 69, who has represented other top golfers throughout the years, including Tom Kite, Lanny Wadkins, Ben Crenshaw, Justin Leonard and Davis Love III, opened Pros Inc. in Richmond, Va., last year and signed Els as the agency’s first client.

: In the last several months, prominent NFL agents have been receiving unsolicited emails from at least two sources advising them where to get reports on top college football players’ rankings. Those reports are produced by National Football Scouting and Blesto, scouting organizations owned by NFL clubs.

But the information in the reports produced by National Football Scouting, which is owned by 18 NFL clubs and Blesto (which stands for Bears, Lions, Eagles, Steelers Talent Organization) is copyrighted and not intended for outside distribution.

“The clubs pay for these services,” said Greg Aiello, NFL senior vice president of communications, in an email. “The information is proprietary to the clubs.”

NFL Players Association general counsel Tom DePaso said he was not aware of specific incidents of agents receiving either the NFS or Blesto reports, but said agents are best advised not to try to obtain the report.

One of the emails, obtained by SportsBusiness Journal, states, “Do you have the 2012-2013 Blesto or National scouting report. If not, how are you recruiting? Be the first to know where athletes are ranked by pro scouts!” The email, which was sent out by Riverdale, Ga.-based First Round Sports Group, provided a link for the recipient to get more information.

Brian Haynes, president of First Round, said he did not send the emails, but found out they were sent out of his account when he received replies from agents or personal assistants of agents. “Somehow my email was hacked,” Haynes said. “I have no earthly idea how it happened and I don’t know how to get a Blesto report or a National report.”

Meanwhile, the parent of a college football player who was ranked higher than expected in both the Blesto and National Football Scouting reports that came out earlier this spring (both reports are released in late May and early June) said that agents actively began calling his son after the reports were released.

Some agents, who requested anonymity, said that the reports were not difficult to obtain and that they were useful. “You want them for the phone numbers, not the rankings,” one agent said.

Gil Brandt, former head of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys, columnist and adviser to the NFL on which NFL draft prospects get invited to the NFL combine, said the two organizations were formed in the 1960s so that all 32 clubs would not have to send scouts to every university to scout football talent.

Agents and others have been trying to get the reports ever since the teams started producing them, Brandt said, but the information was never intended to be distributed to agents.

Brandt said he didn’t think it was right for agents to try to get the reports. “I don’t think the top-rung agents do it,” he said.

BORAS SIGNS BOESCH: MLB agent Scott Boras has signed Detroit Tigers outfielder Brennan Boesch for representation. He was formerly represented by CAA Baseball.

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

The NFL Players Association has resumed accepting applications for financial advisers to be certified in its program, under new rules that require more experience and a more stringent background check.

“The program had been on pretty much a hiatus for about three years,” said Dana Hammonds, NFLPA director of player services and development. “We are relaunching the program, and we are opening up the program to new advisers.”

The NFLPA has about 350 financial advisers who were already part of the program, Hammonds said, and a waiting list of about 750 seeking to become certified.

The fees to become NFLPA-certified have increased, from $1,500 to $2,500 for the first-time fee and from $500 to $1,500 for the annual renewal fee. “The fees are going up to reflect the fact that we have gone with a new background and security investigation firm that is doing a much more comprehensive background investigation,” said NFLPA general counsel Tom DePaso.

The changes follow lawsuits by a number of NFL players against financial advisers as well as media reports about NFL players retiring broke in recent years. Earlier this year at its annual meeting, the NFLPA Board of Player Representatives voted to restart the program with stricter rules.

“We at the NFLPA are committed to protecting our members in as many ways as possible; these requirements are our latest effort to do so,” NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth wrote in an email.

The NFLPA sent a notice to NFL agents late last month, reminding them that any agent offering financial services must be certified in the program. Additionally, it is a violation of the NFLPA rules for agents to refer player clients to financial advisers who are not certified in the program.  

Registration for new financial advisers began Aug. 1, and the deadline for all applications is Nov. 1. The process will repeat next year.

Licensed financial planners, estate planners, investment advisers, broker-dealers, accountants and insurance agents are eligible to be part of the program.

The new requirements include:
n Eight years of licensed experience (increased from five years).
n A minimum of $4 million in professional liability insurance (there was no minimum previously).
n Must indemnify the NFLPA against any lawsuits a player might bring against them.

The NFLPA was sued by six former NFL players when a financial advisory firm they had invested money with was shut down by the Securities and Exchange Commission several years ago. But that lawsuit, Atwater v. NFLPA, was thrown out by an appeals court in 2010.

Hammonds acknowledged that some of the existing financial advisers may not want to be part of the program because of the stringent new requirements. Although she believes all of them meet the requirement for years of experience, some may not have enough liability insurance. Additionally, one of the new requirements is that any adviser who has direct access to a player’s funds be a qualified custodian under SEC guidelines.

Whether some financial advisers remain in the program may be “a business call” for them, Hammonds said.

One financial adviser now in the program, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he is trying to decide whether to reapply under the new guidelines. “It’s expensive,” he said, “and it means more paperwork.”

What will Don Fehr’s first move be in the NHL’s collective-bargaining negotiations?

That’s the predominant question among observers of the talks, which actively started six weeks ago and continued last week. There’s a growing belief that Fehr, NHL Players’ Association’s executive director, will not necessarily respond to the league’s initial proposal but will counter with one that would include a new economic model.

What hockey insiders, as well as people who know Fehr, do not expect is for him to use the NHL’s proposal — which would roll back player salaries by 22 percent and place new restrictions on player contracts — as a basis on which to negotiate.

Gene Orza, who worked with Fehr for 26 years before retiring as MLB Players Association chief operating officer in 2010, said that, while he hadn’t talked to his former colleague and knows little more than what he’s read, “I am not sure that Don could take that proposal seriously. My history with Don suggests he will not respond in kind.”

Fehr has not said when he will respond to the NHL’s proposal, but last month he hinted that the players may seek a different economic system.

“When and if we come to the conclusion we want to suggest a new way of doing things, whether it’s on [the salary cap] area, changing the system, scrapping it or [introducing] increased revenue sharing, we won’t have any problem in making that suggestion just as they did the last time,” Fehr said, according to a report in Canada’s Globe & Mail. The report also said Fehr was skeptical about NHL owners’ assurance that the salary cap system was here to stay.
Neither the NHL nor the NHLPA would respond to questions about Fehr’s comments.

Orza, when asked what Fehr might have meant by the statement, said, “I think he is saying that he is keeping his powder dry. But that he is going to have a proposal of his own, not one reflective of the objectives of the owners.”

Although many sources on the players’ side have said they don’t believe the players will try to eliminate the salary cap, which the NHL implemented after the lockout in 2004-05, some have said in recent weeks that they believe the players may propose that larger-market clubs share more revenue.

Former player Marty McSorley, who was active in the NHLPA, said players hired Fehr to “think outside the box.” Asked what he thinks Fehr will do, McSorley said flatly, “He is going to propose a revenue-sharing tax.”

The U.S. Tennis Association told a federal court last week that referees and umpires who have worked the U.S. Open since 2005 should not be allowed to collectively sue the group, a move that would allow more than 300 officials to demand back pay.

With the U.S. Open starting in three weeks, the USTA worries that if notified soon of their chance to join a class suing the tournament, referees and umpires would be distracted if not refuse to work.

The plaintiffs would then be able to “utilize the organizational infrastructure of the U.S. Open for their own purposes — to solicit umpires to refuse to work under their agreements, sign consents, and meet with them while they are in New York,” the USTA told the court last month.

During last year’s Open, four officials sued the USTA, claiming they were akin to employees and deserved overtime pay. The USTA contends they are contract workers.

The four officials, who have been joined by two others, are seeking class certification.

Whichever way the court rules, one issue has emerged: Tennis officials do not get rich off their duties. The USTA pays no more than $200 a day for the officials, the group told the court. And according to its motion to oppose class certifications, the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit make little if any profit from officiating, and some lose money from doing it. Most hold other jobs.