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Volume 21 No. 1

Labor and Agents

Liz Mullen
A panel of three arbitrators will hear a case this fall in which Beverly Hills Sports Council is seeking $40 million in damages from former partner and prominent MLB player agent Danny Lozano, who left the firm along with several star players, including Albert Pujols and Joey Votto.

The arbitrators also will hear counterclaims Lozano filed against his former partners at Beverly Hills Sports Council, Jeff Borris, Dan Horwits and Rick Thurman, sources said. Lozano worked at the agency for 22 years before leaving in 2010 to start his own firm, MVP Sports Group. Since he left, Lozano has negotiated MLB player contracts in excess of $500 million.

The dispute is scheduled to be heard for two weeks starting Oct. 28 and will be overseen by the MLB Players Association. Under MLBPA rules, MLB player agents cannot sue each other in state or federal court but must resolve disputes under a confidential arbitration process, which is overseen by the union.
Sources for this story asked for anonymity, citing the confidentiality of the proceedings.

The three arbitrators who are set to hear the case are Jeffrey Mishkin, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and former chief legal officer and executive vice president of the NBA; Roger Kaplan, a longtime sports arbitrator who has decided disputes for several unions, including the NFL Players Association; and arbitrator Richard Hodge, a former Alameda County (Calif.) Superior Court judge.

Beverly Hills Sports Council is being represented by David Cornwell, who has represented players and agents in many legal disputes, and Brian Panish, a trial attorney who may be best known for representing the estate of the late Michael Jackson. Jeffrey Kessler, who has served as outside counsel to the NFLPA and the National Basketball Players Association, and has represented agents in disputes with their former employers, is representing Lozano in the case.

It is not clear exactly what claims the former partners have against each other, but sources said Beverly Hills Sports Council contends that Lozano violated a partnership agreement when he left the firm. In addition to Pujols and Votto, other former Beverly Hills Sports Council clients who joined him at his new firm include Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins and Phillies infielder Michael Young. In the 2011-12 MLB offseason, Lozano negotiated $549 million worth of deals for four clients, alone, including first baseman Pujols’ 10-year, $254 million free agent deal with the Los Angeles Angels and first baseman Votto’s 10-year, $225 million extension with Cincinnati.

It is not clear why Lozano left Beverly Hills Sports Council in 2010, but when he did, he said in a statement, “I will continue to represent all of my clients within an agency that reflects my vision and philosophy.”

Sources expect that Lozano will assert that any agreements he had with Beverly Hills Sports Council are unenforceable under California’s right-to-work laws, which are more favorable than laws in other states to employees or executives who leave firms and take clients. The arbitration is going to be held in California, sources said, but it was not clear where in California. Beverly Hills Sports Council is based in Beverly Hills, and MVP Sports is based in nearby Century City, both of which are in the Los Angeles area.

The arbitrators, attorneys and agents involved in the case either declined to comment when reached or did not return inquiries for comment. An MLBPA official declined comment, but MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner told SportsBusiness Journal in March that it was his goal to resolve all disputes involving MLBPA-certified agents within a year’s time.

> WASSERMAN SIGNS BUCHER: Wasserman Media Group has signed former ESPN NBA analyst and current CSN Bay Area broadcaster Ric Bucher for representation.
At Wasserman, Bucher will be represented by Debbie Spander, vice president of broadcasting. He was formerly represented by Morris, Yorn, Barnes & Levine.

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

Unlike team sports that have unions overseeing agents, tennis has never kept oversight of those individuals who represent its players.

The International Tennis Federation is taking a small step in that direction, though, hiring London law firm Couchmans to advise junior players on agent selection and commercial contracts.

The program is entirely voluntary and will not rate agents.

Agents have long had strong influence in tennis, sitting on the boards of the ATP and WTA, managing TV contracts, and owning events, positions that have led to charges of conflicts of interest.

One agent thought the ITF move was a needed one.

“I think this is great,” said John Tobias, head of tennis at Lagardère Unlimited. “There is no formal certification of agents in tennis. The ATP and WTA have never established any guidelines that restrict unqualified agents from representing players. Maybe this will help to start weeding out some of these agents that represent tennis players as a part-time job.”

The ITF is considered the global governing body of the sport, overseeing team competitions like the Davis Cup and setting rules and requirements for Olympic play.

The ITF’s effort will start on a trial basis, running between July and December. It will be open to the 10 highest-ranked players, boys and girls, in each of the six age groups ascending from ages 13 to 18 as they stand in the ITF Junior World Rankings. Also eligible are junior players who are nominated to represent their countries at the 2013 World Junior Tennis Finals and the Junior Davis Cup and Junior Fed Cup by BNP Paribas finals.

Each player can request a free, independent one-hour review from a Couchmans attorney of a proposed commercial or representation contract. Players will get an overview of the proposed contract that outlines key terms and consequences. Players also can obtain follow-up advice.

Agents often sign promising tennis players in their early to mid-teens, so by the time they reach the WTA or ATP tours, they have already signed their first agent and commercial contracts.