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Volume 21 No. 1

Labor and Agents

When veteran agent Vinny Giles decided to get back into the golf business last year, he loudly marked his return by signing hall of famer Ernie Els.

A year later, Giles, 70, has retired again; his company, Pros Inc., is no longer representing golfers; and Els is now IMG’s client.

“I thought the business would be more fun in 2012 than it was in 2006 when I originally retired,” Giles said in an email to SportsBusiness Journal. “I now realize how wrong I was.”

Ernie Els gives IMG an international star.
IMG issued a news release last week saying that it had signed Els, 43, a four-time major champion and winner of this year’s British Open in a surprising comeback tale. Els’ change in representation, however, was at least partly triggered by Giles’ decision not to continue representing players.

Neither company would say whether IMG is paying Pros Inc. for the right to Els’ contract. Industry sources indicated that Pros Inc. and Els talked to several agencies before deciding on IMG, which will take on Els’ full management and marketing.

Whichever way Els wound up on IMG’s client list, the tall South African represents a major catch for the agency’s golf business. IMG’s golf division has been reeling for most of 2012 from the messy departure of four agents, but Els’ signing represents a resounding response.

Els, an international star who has established his own brand by playing all over the world, cited IMG’s “global network of offices” as an attraction to the company. IMG will work with Els to build his already-stout brand through its sponsorship and licensing expertise.

Perhaps as important for IMG, though, is the signal sent by Els’ signing that IMG is still a strong player in golf’s athlete representation space.

“This certainly puts us in a better position than where we were perceived to be earlier this year,” Guy Kinnings, IMG’s co-managing director of global golf, said from his London office.

Kinnings took over his co-managing director post last year after Mark Steinberg — and his star client, Tiger Woods — departed. Together with Singapore-based Robbie Henchman, Kinnings has overseen a tumultuous time for the golf division. Top agent Jon Wagner left in May, followed out the door by three other agents during the summer. A pair of court cases followed as IMG successfully prohibited Wagner from taking players with him, based on non-compete clauses in his contract.

But IMG seems to be emerging from the tough times on the strength of the company’s global position, which was the primary factor in landing Els. IMG also managed to retain four-time PGA Tour winner Sean O’Hair, even though he initially planned to leave last summer, and brought on a handful of young talent coming out of college, including three Golfweek first-team All-Americans: Blayne Barber, Dylan Frittelli and Eugene Wong. The company also announced last week that it has signed HSBC to an extension for its title sponsorship of the Women’s Championship in Singapore. IMG expects to learn this week that its events division has won the right to manage the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the LPGA’s first major of the season.

In Els, IMG will find an already-mature brand that includes his ownership of a winery and a golf course design firm. His sponsors are Callaway Golf, RBC, Boeing, SAP and Breitling watches, though Kinnings said there remains plenty of room for growth, both in the sponsorship and licensing areas.

Because Els has traditionally played all over the world, there is the potential to grow his personal brand into more of a global business, just the way IMG did with Arnold Palmer and Annika Sorenstam.

“Ernie is clearly not complacent with what he has achieved,” Kinnings said. “There is a lot more he wants to do and he will take full advantage of our global assets for his brand and for his legacy. … Ernie’s willingness to play all over the world is an attribute that’s strong for him. He’s had a desire to travel and take the game global. With that comes a certain cachet.”

Kinnings and Henchman will both be hands-on with Els, they said, while London-based Duncan Reid will coordinate global business opportunities with Els’ business manager, Phil Cotton. Clarke Jones, who oversees IMG’s golf division in the U.S., will work on domestic business along with Andy Dawson, who formerly worked for Els but now will be joining IMG in a to-be-determined Florida office.

Liz Mullen
Steve Herz was just starting out as a sports broadcasting agent in 1994 when a guy he met at a wedding told him he should sign a Canadian sports play-by-play announcer named Dan Shulman.

“He was really convincing, he said, ‘You should really call this guy, Dan Shulman. He’s going to be a big, big star,’” recalled Herz, president and founder of New York-based IF Management. “I never knew this guy before. I just met him at a wedding. But you have to follow every lead.”

Last week, ESPN announced that Shulman had agreed to a multiyear deal to be the play-by-play announcer for “Sunday Night Baseball.”

Herz said it is a nine-year deal that will run concurrent with ESPN’s deal extending its agreement with MLB an additional eight years. ESPN’s deal with MLB starts in 2014 and Shulman’s deal, which also includes announcing college basketball, starts next year.

Shulman will not be calling ESPN’s NBA games, as he has over the past several years, under the terms of the new deal. Herz said Shulman wanted to focus on the two sports he announces most — MLB and college basketball. Additionally, he wanted more time with his family, as he has three children, the youngest of whom is 11.

Neither Herz nor Shulman would provide any financial details about the deal, but industry experts say that as a top play-by-play announcer, Shulman’s deal is likely in the low seven figures a year. Herz would not comment on his commission on the deal but sports broadcast agents typically receive a fee of 10 percent.

“I am very happy,” Shulman said of the deal.

> BORAS SIGNS TIGERS: MLB player agent Scott Boras signed rising star Detroit Tigers centerfielder Austin Jackson for representation.

Jackson, who made his major league debut in 2010 and was second that year in the American League Rookie of the Year voting, was formerly represented by Hendricks Sports Management. As previously reported, three agents — J.D. Smart, Jim Murray and Matt Laird — recently left Hendricks Sports for Excel

Scott Boras has a staff of soon-to-be free-agent relievers that includes the Detroit Tigers’ Jose Valverde (top).
Sports Management. It was not clear which current or former Hendricks Sports agents represented Jackson or if his switch to Boras’ firm was related to those departures. Boras signed Jackson during the season.

Meanwhile, Boras recently signed Tigers closer Jose Valverde, which gives him a corner on the free-agency market when it comes to baseball relievers.

Valverde, who will be a free agent after the World Series, was formerly represented by Proformance Inc.

Boras represents relief pitchers Francisco Rodriguez of the Brewers and Ryan Madson of the Reds, who will be free agents this offseason, and Yankees closer Rafael Soriano, who has a player’s option that Boras has indicated he will exercise to become a free agent.

“Boras will control the closer market,” said a rival agent, who didn’t want to be identified talking about a competitor. “Boras has said it will be a strong closer market and I agree with him.”

> HEADLINE SIGNS PORTIS: Headline Media Management, a New York firm specializing in representing sports broadcasters, has signed recently retired NFL running back Clinton Portis for marketing and broadcast work.
“He played in two big markets, Denver and Washington,” said Mark Zimmerman, Headline Media director of talent and marketing. “We have already had some inquiries for radio.”

Portis, who retired in August, has never had a formal broadcast job before.

> SMITH LEAVES KEELS: Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Andre Smith, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2009 draft, has parted ways with agent Alvin Keels. After signing with Keels in early 2009, Smith terminated him in mid-April of that year, and hired Priority Sports & Entertainment, then left and re-signed with Keels. Smith had not officially signed with a new agent at press time.

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