Rich Paul leaving CAA Sports to start his own agency representing LeBron James is part of a growing trend that has seen junior agents leave the company that trained and mentored them for a rival firm.
In the last six months, at least 13 agents representing players across all major sports have left talent firms (see chart) and either joined a rival agency, launched their own firm or are weighing their options.
Truckin’, Got My Chips Cashed InA list of recent moves by agents from their previous employer to their next
|Agent||Sport||Former firm||New Firm|
|Aaron Mintz||NBA||Priority Sports||CAA Sports|
|Jon Wagner||Golf||IMG||Milestone Sports Management|
|Jeff Stacy||Golf||IMG||Empire Sports Management|
|Kevin Lynch||Golf||IMG||To be determined|
|Joe Panos||NFL||LMM||Athletes First|
|Jon Heaton||Golf||IMG||To be determined|
|Paul McDonough||MLS||Santio Sport & Entertainment||Wasserman Media Group|
|Spencer Wadsworth||MLS||Santio Sport & Entertainment||Wasserman Media Group|
|Rich Paul||NBA||CAA Sports||Klutch Sports Group|
|J.D. Smart||MLB||Hendricks Sports Management||Excel Sports Management|
|Jim Murray||MLB||Hendricks Sports Management||Excel Sports Management|
|Matt Laird||MLB||Hendricks Sports Management||Excel Sports Management|
|David O’Hagan||MLB||CAA Sports||Excel Sports Management|
Source: SportsBusiness Journal research
The defections started in March when NBA player agent Aaron Mintz left Priority Sports & Entertainment for CAA Sports in a move that sparked dueling lawsuits that are scheduled to be tried before a jury in Los Angeles federal court next month (see related story). Agent moves continued through last month with Paul’s exit, while three MLB agents left Hendricks Sports Management and one MLB agent left CAA Sports for Excel Sports Management.
Although industry insiders say each agent move is different, many point to the changing face of the business.
New companies, including Lagardère Unlimited, Relativity Sports and Excel Sports Management have entered the representation business, and with the increased competition both new and old firms in the business are trying to consolidate — and retain — power by securing talent. The fastest way for the companies to do that, sports executives say, is by hiring younger agents away from rival firms. These agents may bring athlete clients with them, but they also have proven they can recruit new clients, which is the key to success in the agent business.
At the same time, notes Octagon President Phil de Picciotto, “Younger agents are looking for an opportunity in an industry that doesn’t have as many opportunities as in the past.”
His point is that unless an agent has a marquee player, like James, it is very difficult for a young upstart to start a new firm that can compete with multisport athlete representation firms run by veteran agents. For some young agents, leaving the firm in which they are in a lower-level role to a so-called “name” agent can mean more recognition, more autonomy and more money, among other things.
There are also specific situations at specific companies at play. Much of the movement in the golf space has been centered around an organizational shake-up at IMG. The agency’s most high-profile golf agent, Mark Steinberg, left in 2011 and four more departed this year.
Another IMG defection came with Jon Heaton’s departure in July. He left to go to work with Steinberg at Excel Sports Management, but IMG is pursuing the same legal course of action to block that move, based on the noncompete clause. That case is pending.
Excel Sports Management is another firm in the center of the activity. Originally formed as a basketball player representation firm by NBA player agent Jeff Schwartz in 2002, it expanded into a multisport agency by hiring Steinberg and MLB agent Casey Close last year. The firm is clearly on a hiring spree, but its partners have been mum about their plans. Close confirmed that Excel had hired J.D. Smart, Jim Murray and Matt Laird from Hendricks Sports Management and David O’Hagan from CAA Sports last month, but declined further comment.
Many are also watching how Paul fills out Klutch Sports Group. While James was expected to officially sign on as the first new client for the firm, it is unclear just how many players will follow the other agents to their new employers’ agencies.