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Volume 21 No. 2

Labor and Agents

Liz Mullen
Broadcast opportunities for former athletes may be opening up beyond the traditional sports role of game analyst and color commentator, says Lonnie Cooper, CEO and founder of CSE, a firm that represents about 100 broadcasters and new media personalities.

CSE recently negotiated a deal for retired MLB second baseman Ron Gant to host “Good Day Atlanta,” a popular, nonsports morning show on the Fox affiliate in Atlanta. Cooper says that ever since former NFL defensive end and Fox Sports NFL analyst Michael Strahan took over for Regis Philbin on the nationally syndicated talk show “Live! With Kelly and Michael” in September, CSE has received more inquiries about nonsports broadcast work. These include inquiries from The Weather Channel and “Entertainment Tonight.”

“What we are trying to do is develop our clients to be pure broadcasters,” Cooper said, in a telephone interview last week. “We feel that there are a lot of opportunities to go from playing to broadcasting within their space and, with that experience, we continue to look in all areas of broadcast work for them.”

CSE signed Gant for broadcast work after he retired from a 13-year MLB career, seven of which were with the Atlanta Braves. The deal was negotiated by Mark Carmony, senior vice president of coaches and broadcasters, and Matt Kramer, director of broadcasters and new media personalities.

Cooper founded CSE in 1986, signing Atlanta Hawks guard Spud Webb for marketing, as the company’s first client.
The Atlanta-based company also represents a number of blue chip companies and brands, including Kellogg’s, AT&T, and Coca-Cola, for an array of services, including PR, consulting, advertising and brand positioning and research.

In the sports talent business, CSE represents about 200 clients total. Its broadcasters and new media personality clients include John Smoltz, who works for the MLB Network and Turner Sports, and Hines Ward of NBC Sports, as well as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The company also represents about 50 baseball player clients, including Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur and free agent slugger Jeff Keppinger.

Cooper also was a first mover in representing NBA coaches, and his company currently represents about 50 coaches, assistant coaches and general managers.

Among the coaching clients are Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale and Rockets assistant coach Kelvin Sampson, as well as Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff. That put Cooper right in the middle of the recent coaching moves, when Sampson took over as Rockets head coach after McHale took an emergency leave of absence earlier this month. In addition, he represented Bickerstaff as he was named interim head coach after the Lakers fired Mike Brown.

> NFLPA EXTENDS DEADLINE FOR ADVISERS: The NFLPA extended the deadline for financial advisers to reapply for the union’s certified financial advisers program to Nov. 30, for a variety of reasons, including the fact that many financial firms were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy.

“We had well over 50 advisers that are from New York and Connecticut that were burdened by the storm and needed more time,” said Dana Hammonds, NFLPA director of player services and development.

As previously reported, the NFLPA reopened the voluntary program for financial advisers to become certified after a three-year hiatus. The new program includes regulations that advisers have more experience as well as a more stringent background check. The previous deadline was Nov. 1.

> MEDDY JOINS IMG: Jordan Meddy has joined IMG’s broadcasting division as an account executive. Meddy was formerly with Wasserman Media Group. He will focus on building IMG’s roster of up-and-coming media talent and will report to IMG vice presidents Sharon Chang and Babette Perry.

IMPACT SIGNS TONY CARTER: Impact Sports has signed Denver Broncos cornerback Tony Carter for representation. Impact NFL player agents Sean Kiernan and Tony Fleming will represent him. He was formerly represented by agent Chris Napoli of NorthStar Sports Representation.

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

Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger has left Priority Sports & Entertainment after more than seven years of representation, and the National Basketball Players Association is reviewing whether a Priority agent violated its regulations in the wake of a bitter legal battle between two agencies that was resolved earlier this month.

A federal court jury awarded CAA Sports NBA agent Aaron Mintz, formerly of Priority, $85,000 in damages, but not before two days of emotionally charged testimony in which rare details including salaries and private financial figures were spilled in a Los Angeles courtroom.

The Pacers’ Granger fired his Priority Sports agent two days before the trial began.
Like most sports agencies in the U.S., Chicago-based Priority is a privately held company, but lawyers, in arguing whether the agency should pay punitive damages, revealed the company’s earnings and net worth in open court.

Priority Sports has a net worth or shareholder value of $10.418 million and its earnings after taxes were $1.6 million in 2010 and $882,000 in 2011, lawyers said. Also revealed in court testimony were the annual salaries of Priority NFL agent and general counsel Rick Smith, Priority NBA agent Brad Ames and Mintz.

Smith testified he earned $850,000 last year. Ames testified he earns $260,000 a year. Mintz testified that he earned a salary of $250,000 at Priority, but is earning a salary of $200,000 a year at CAA Sports. Agents often receive bonuses and/or commissions in addition to their base compensation, and it was not clear from the testimony whether the agents received additional earnings or how their compensation was determined.

Priority and CAA Sports officials declined comment for this story.

Mintz left Priority on March 23 after working there for 11 years and sued them the same day, asking for a court order releasing him from terms in his employment agreement that would have prevented him from working as a basketball agent for two years. Mintz filed a second lawsuit against Priority and its founder and CEO, Mark Bartelstein, on April 7, alleging seven legal claims of action after he learned that Priority employees accessed his personal email account. Priority countersued Mintz and CAA, alleging 12 claims of action, including breach of contract.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson threw out all but two of the claims. Wilson, in a Nov. 1 order, found for Mintz on his claims that Priority invaded his privacy and violated the California Comprehensive Computer Data Access and Fraud Act. During the trial, on Nov. 13 and 14, Ames testified that he accessed Mintz’s personal gmail account after asking the opinion and advice of Smith. Smith testified, “I made a mistake.” Both testified they were concerned about losing the NBA player clients Mintz represented or co-represented at Priority, and Smith testified that Granger and Pacers forward Paul George were two of the agency’s “biggest” NBA clients.

It is not entirely clear just how many NBA clients followed Mintz to CAA Sports, but Granger terminated Bartelstein on Nov. 11, two days before the trial began, according to the NBPA. Granger, a one-time All-Star, had been officially listed by the union as being represented by Mintz and Bartelstein, even after Mintz left.

Mintz also represents George and Wizards guard Jordan Crawford, but 76ers guard Nick Young and Bulls forward Taj Gibson, two players Mintz recruited, remained with Priority, according to statements attorneys made in court last month.

Robert Gadson, the NBPA’s director of security and agent administration, said the union is required to review any court finding against a certified agent. Gadson said that he would request the court testimony and send Ames a letter asking him to explain his actions in the matter.

Mintz’s attorney, Skip Miller, held up a copy of the NFL Players Association agent regulations during his cross-examination of Smith on the witness stand and asked him if he was aware of union rules prohibiting agents from “engaging in unlawful conduct and/or conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, misrepresentation.”

Smith testified, “If you are referring to the NFLPA regulations, the answer is, ‘Yes.’” Wilson cut off that line of questioning.

NFLPA general counsel Tom DePaso did not return inquiries for this story on whether the union was reviewing the matter.