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Volume 20 No. 41

Labor and Agents

Klutch Sports Group, the new NBA player representation firm founded by LeBron James’ longtime friend and new NBA contract agent Rich Paul, will start making strategic hires, possibly including a marketing agent, early next year, Paul said last week.

Paul shocked many in the basketball world in September when he left CAA Sports, where he had worked under James’ longtime contract agent, Leon Rose, taking James and three NBA players with him.

LeBron James left CAA Sports with agent Rich Paul.
James and the three — Los Angeles Clippers point guard Eric Bledsoe, San Antonio Spurs guard Cory Joseph and Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson — are now clients of Paul, who was certified to represent NBA players in contract talks by the National Basketball Players Association a little more than a week after he left CAA.

Since then he has talked with lawyers, marketing experts and other NBPA-certified agents about how to build his new Cleveland-based firm, he said.

“I received a lot of calls from people once I made my move,” he said. “It was really overwhelming, the calls I did receive from some very, very brilliant people.”

Klutch does not represent James for marketing. LRMR, the firm founded by James and childhood friends Maverick Carter, Randy Mimms and Paul, represents James exclusively for marketing, in partnership with Fenway Sports Group.

LRMR is an acronym for the four childhood friends, LeBron, Rich, Maverick and Randy. Although he is the second R in LRMR, Paul gave up ownership in that company when he left to work for CAA under Rose’s wing in 2008.

But Klutch will represent Thompson, Bledsoe, Joseph and any future clients, Paul said.

“If a player signed with Klutch, the in-house marketing would do the marketing for that player,” Paul said.

Like LRMR, Klutch is an acronym, for Knowledge, Longevity, Understanding, Trust, Communication and Honesty, Paul said. Its website,, will go live early next year and Paul releasded a logo to SportsBusiness Journal last week. Klutch will move into a 3,200-square-foot office now under construction in downtown Cleveland in early 2013.

Paul declined to say what investors, if any, were funding Klutch.

Paul said he is being advised by prominent Cleveland attorney Fred Nance, regional managing partner of the law firm Squire Sanders, general counsel of the Cleveland Browns and James’ personal attorney since James was in high school. Paul said he intends to make some decisions on staffing in early 2013.

Liz Mullen
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has received endorsement offers from three companies in the categories of electronics, real estate and beverage in the last few weeks, but his marketing agent, Shawn Smith of XAM Sports, is not taking him away from football to sign any deals. Not just yet.

“I know my guy Colin,” Smith said. “He doesn’t want to hear about anything right now. He just wants to get this job done.”

Would-be sponsors, meanwhile, have been drawn in by the Kaepernick-Alex Smith quarterback controversy, which erupted after Kaepernick, filling in for the injured Smith, led the 49ers to their recent wins over New Orleans and Chicago. The activity has kept Shawn Smith, who handles media as well as sponsor requests, pretty busy.

Colin Kaepernick, with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, is keeping his mind on his quarterbacking.
Smith’s husband, Scott Smith, and Jason Bernstein are NFL Players Association-certified agents who had recruited Kaepernick for representation when the 49ers took him in the second round of the 2011 draft. The Smiths and Bernstein founded Madison, Wis.-based XAM in 2004. The firm represents about 25 NFL players, including Houston linebacker Connor Barwin, Arizona wide receiver Andre Roberts, Pittsburgh linebacker Jason Worilds and Green Bay cornerback Casey Hayward.
Shawn Smith would not name the companies that made the endorsement offers to Kaepernick but said two were national deals and one was local. She added that she will bother Kaepernick with endorsements to sign if the right one comes along, and she is targeting apparel, accessory and headphone companies for the quarterback, who’s a fashion-conscious, music fanatic. He now has one deal, with Nike.

Not many NFL agents represent starting quarterbacks. Scott Smith said Kaepernick’s father told him that he heard from 100 agents who were looking to recruit the quarterback out of Nevada, where he played in college.

The 49ers can offer Kaepernick an extension after the 2013 season and he can become a free agent after the 2014 season.

> IF MANAGEMENT SIGNS TWO: IF Management, the New York-based firm that specializes in representing sports broadcasters, has signed former NBA All-Star and former National Basketball Players Association President Antonio Davis and has negotiated a deal for him to join ESPN as an NBA analyst. He’ll provide analysis on “SportsCenter,” “NBA Coast to Coast,” and “NBA Tonight,” among other duties.

IF also has signed PGA Tour player Arron Oberholser for representation in television work. Oberholser, who majored in broadcast journalism at San Jose State, has made numerous appearances on Golf Channel, including hosting “Morning Drive.”

Gideon Cohen, IF Management director of sports broadcasting, will represent both Davis and Oberholser. Davis was not represented previously for broadcast work. Oberholser is an active player and is represented by Lagardère Unlimited senior vice president David Yates.

> EARLY NFL DRAFT SIGNINGS: In some of the very early signings for representation in the NFL draft, Dow Lohnes sports and entertainment practice President Adisa Bakari has signed Howard University outside linebacker Keith Pough and Eastern Kentucky wide receiver Tyrone Goard.

Additionally, SportstarsDave Butz has signed Samford University defensive end Nick Williams.

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

Lagardère Unlimited has signed top-ranked junior tennis player Taylor Townsend, touted in some circles as a potential next great American star.

The move means Townsend, 16, will turn pro next season.

Stuart Duguid will coordinate Townsend’s management, teaming with Donald Dell, who will oversee her off-court marketing.

Townsend has no racket or sneaker deal, and Lagardère is already in negotiations on her behalf. The firm fended off overtures from other agencies to sign Townsend.

Townsend received a high degree of press attention in September, when The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Tennis Association did not want her to play in the U.S. Open junior tournament because of concerns over her fitness. She came anyway, advancing to the quarterfinals.

For the second time this year, the NFL Players Association has dropped an appeal of a lower court decision that prevented a group of players from filing workers’ compensation claims in California.

Eight former New Orleans Saints players, along with the NFLPA, filed an intent to drop the appeal with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week. The NFLPA and players had notified the appeals court in September that it would contest the lower court’s ruling, but no opening brief was subsequently filed.

In February, the NFLPA and three former Chicago Bears players dropped a similar appeal of a lower court’s ruling, pulling their 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals claim.

The NFLPA did not respond for comment.

“Appellants Cam Cleeland, Roderick Coleman, Donta Jones, Michael Lewis, Victor Riley, Terrelle Smith, Damon Nivens, Phil McGeoghan, and the National Football League Players Association (“NFLPA”) respectfully move the Court to dismiss this appeal, with each side to bear its own costs,” the motion said. No reason was given.

Where players can file workers’ compensation claims was one of the unresolved issues of the NFL-NFLPA labor negotiations last year. Players want to file in California, which has generous workers’ compensation rules. Teams generally put into player contracts forum provisions that require such claims be filed only in the home state of the club.

The NFLPA argument has been that these contract clauses cannot supersede the right to file in California, but at least two federal district courts have ruled against that position. In addition, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year that players on teams outside of California could not file in the state if their contracts prohibited it, unless they could prove that the injury they suffered occurred in a game played in California.

In the case involving the former Saints players, the NFL sued the players and the NFLPA in August 2011 seeking to enforce an arbitrator’s decision disallowing the California claims.

The lower court ruled for the NFL earlier this year.