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Volume 21 No. 1

Labor and Agents

Liz Mullen
United Talent Agency has signed Turner Sports analyst and former NBA player Chris Webber for representation in all areas, including broadcasting, marketing, licensing and entertainment work.

UTA will also represent Webber Productions, a production company that Webber founded with Peter Gilbert, a co-producer of the Academy Award-nominated documentary “Hoop Dreams.”

UTA agent Ryan Hayden will lead a team representing Webber, who was formerly represented by The Legacy Agency. It was not clear as to why Webber switched representation.

A number of former athletes have launched second careers in the entertainment business by launching record, film or television production companies in recent years — and Webber has gone as far as to partner with Gilbert, who has already achieved success in the documentary arena. Webber told Sports Illustrated last year that he is working on a documentary about his life.

Hayden would not comment on what entertainment projects Webber was working on, but said UTA agents would work with Webber Productions on developing both scripted and non-scripted projects and bringing them to market.

> DEAL SHOPPING FOR PUIG: Alex Radetsky, the new marketing agent for Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, wants to capitalize on the rookie’s meteoric success, but he isn’t looking at the short term. His focus is on long-term deals, nationally and locally.

Although Radetsky wants to strike while the iron’s hot, he noted, “You won’t see Yasiel in a local car [dealership] deal. It has to be the right brand.”

Radetsky, president of Radegen Sports Management, said he was besieged with congratulatory and sponsorship inquiry calls last week after it was announced that he had signed Puig for marketing work. Puig has been the surprise story of Major League Baseball this season, and Radetsky signed an exclusive, multiyear deal to represent him for off-the-field work.

Prior to Radegen Sports signing Puig, some media outlets had reported that Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports was trying to land Puig as a client. Those reports surfaced after the Cuba native outfielder attended the 10th anniversary of Jay-Z’s 40/40 Club in New York in June.

As of last week, Puig had one endorsement deal, with Nike, which was negotiated by Jaime Torres, Puig’s contract agent. Torres said that he spoke with Radetsky before Puig signed with him for marketing. Torres also checked out Radetsky’s company with his contacts in baseball. “I told Yasiel he would do a good job with him,” said Torres, an attorney, who has represented a number of Cuban MLB players.

Torres acknowledged that Puig told him people from Roc Nation Sports had contacted him about representing him.

A Roc Nation Sports spokesman did not return an inquiry for comment.

> BROADCAST NEWS: IF Management has signed a number of current and former players for broadcast work, including NBA free agent Jerry Stackhouse and NFL free agent Eric Winston, who are both player union leaders.

Winston is a player representative at the NFL Players Association and Stackhouse is a member of the National Basketball Players Association’s executive committee.

IF Management also signed former NBA player and Big Ten Network analyst Jim Jackson and former MLB player and current MLB Network analyst Cliff Floyd.

IF Management President Steve Herz, Senior Director of Broadcasting Josh Santry and Gideon Cohen, vice president, broadcasting, will represent each of them.

IF Management will co-represent Stackhouse with his on- and off-the-court agency, Excel Sports Management.

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

Michael Weiner was not officially named executive director of the MLB Players Association until 2009, but it was known for years that he would succeed Don Fehr as the leader of the baseball players union.

“It was clear from around 2002,” said Gene Orza, a lawyer who worked for both men and for the MLBPA for more than 25 years. The MLBPA historically groomed its leaders from within, and back in 2002 there was talk of an eventual successor to Fehr, Orza recalled.

He said some players approached him about the job, but he told them that Weiner, a lawyer who had worked for the union for 14 years and had just turned 40, was the one.

“People like Michael don’t come along very often,” said Orza, who retired as COO in 2011. “In my experience, they never come along, with the exception of him.”

Now the union faces the challenge of finding another potential leader. Last week, Weiner, who has been battling an inoperable brain tumor, announced that the board of player representatives would act to name a deputy executive director in the next two weeks.

Appearing at the All-Star Game in a wheelchair, Weiner personally delivered the news that his condition from brain cancer had rapidly deteriorated, as he had lost movement on his right side, as well as the ability to walk. Weiner, who has been courageous in his battle, received a standing ovation from baseball writers after his news conference at Citi Field.

“Since November, we’ve been dealing with contingency plans in case I was no longer able to continue,” he said.

To that end, MLBPA officials were trying to carve time out of the regular-season schedule either this week or next where they could convene a conference call of the 38 players who make up the MLPBA Executive Board.

“You can’t do it on a Saturday afternoon and you cannot do it on a Friday night,” MLBPA general counsel David Prouty said. “Hopefully, you can find a time when you can maximize participation.”

The MLBPA Executive Board is made up of one player rep from each of the 30 clubs as well as eight other reps. The “association reps” are the highest player positions at the MLBPA and are held by Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson and Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie.

“We are going to have a conference call amongst the board to discuss the whole thing, and that is all I can really say,” Prouty said.

A deputy executive director would not run the MLBPA unless Weiner were unable to do so. “[Michael] is going to keep running it as long as he can. Hopefully that will be for another 10 years,” Prouty said.

Meanwhile, speculation that Orza or Fehr, who has been the executive director of the NHL Players’ Association since 2010, would return to run the MLBPA is apparently unfounded.

Multiple sources, including Weiner, said Fehr had no intention of returning.

“I am not commenting at all on MLBPA matters,” Fehr told SportsBusiness Journal last week. “I have not done that since I left, and I think that is the only way it can really work. Nobody needs the former guy to mouth off from time to time, and I am going to hold to that view.”

Orza said talk that he might return to the MLBPA was false. “This talk about succession at the Players Association would be unseemly even it were informed,” he said.

While no one interviewed for this story would discuss possible successors to Weiner, Orza said it was unlikely the MLBPA would use a search firm to fill the executive director position if it were to become open.

“We’re not big on that,” Orza said. “This union has always thought for a long, long time if you run the union properly, there will always be somebody around, given enough time, who would make a logical successor.”

Orza said that he believed back in 2002 and still believes today that players were extremely fortunate to have Weiner to succeed Fehr. In addition to being one of the finest lawyers in the country, Weiner has the ability to get along with everyone, Orza said.

How do you replace Weiner, even on a temporary basis?

“You don’t,” Orza said. “It doesn’t happen. So you do the best you can. You are not going to replace Michael. You will have someone who will succeed him, eventually. But you won’t replace him. You can’t replace him.”

Staff writer Eric Fisher contributed to this report.

Spending in the first few days of the NHL’s free agency period was similar to what it has been in recent years, despite a lower salary cap, but there was a question as to whether that will continue into the summer.

Clubs spent $350 million on the first day of free agency, July 5, according to published reports, and that spending was aided by the use of “compliance buyouts,” a new feature in the collective-bargaining agreement that owners and players agreed to in January.

Under the CBA, clubs are allowed to buy out a player’s contract by paying him a portion of its value over twice the length of the contract. The clubs get instant salary cap relief and the player receives two-thirds of the value of the contract and becomes a free agent. Clubs exercised the option on 18 players by the deadline of July 4.

“The compliance buyouts were certainly intended to ‘lubricate’ the marketplace and facilitate payroll adjustments that certain Clubs needed to make in order to build their teams and be cap compliant,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an email. “Some people on our side didn’t like the idea of having compliance buyouts, but for the League, it was primarily a matter of making sure that the money owed and that will be paid to Players doesn’t ‘fall outside’ the system. And we were able to accomplish that.”

Daly added that he was not surprised by the level of spending so far in free agency and did not think a lull of signings last week was unusual. “We are only 11 days in,” he wrote. “Market always slows considerably after the first few days. I haven’t noticed any difference with this year’s activity.”

But others saw it differently.

Brian Lawton, a former NHL agent and former general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning and now an analyst for Rogers Sportsnet, said free agency “started off with a bang and it completely stopped.” Lawton said the market seemed much the same as it has been for years in the first few days, but the slowdown is different, which he attributes to teams’ lack of cap space.

Octagon Hockey director Allan Walsh agreed. “We had an initial frenzy of signings on the first day, like we have seen in years past, but the market calmed down much faster than in previous years,” Walsh said. “Several GMs told me on the second or third day of free agency that they would not be filling out their rosters until August.”

Still others said it was too early to make any meaningful judgment about the marketplace. “You may be able to make some assessment down the road, but not this early,” said NHL Players’ Association Executive Director Don Fehr.
Meanwhile, some agencies and players emerged as early winners, even with a lower salary cap.

Octagon’s hockey division had negotiated $150 million worth of contracts for 20 free agents as of press time. That was similar to what the agency handled last year, despite the fact that the salary cap is 8 percent lower this year. “This year has been a fairly strong year for Octagon,” Walsh said. “The elite players are winners because they, once again, continued to get elite money and long-term deals.”

The biggest change in the CBA agreed to this year is that the players’ percentage of overall revenue decreased from 57 percent to 50 percent. In the first year of the deal, the salary cap was set at $64.3 million, down from $70 million last year.

Newport Sports, which represents about 130 NHL players, more than any other agency, had 17 clients sign free agent deals as of last week, agency founder Don Meehan said.

“It’s been a very good year,” he said, while declining to reveal the total dollar amount of his clients’ deals.

Meehan said that spending on top players early in free agency has been similar to that of years past.

“I don’t think it’s been any different,” Meehan said. “There is an initial rush of acquisition. But as we move into a secondary market, that takes more time.”

The new “compliance buyout” made a winner out of Vincent Lecavalier.
Meehan agreed with Daly that the compensation buyouts had an effect on the market by allowing clubs more cap room to spend on free agent players.

The new buyout feature turned out to be a pretty good thing for 33-year-old center Vincent Lecavalier.

He will earn $55 million now as part of two deals — about $10 million more than he would have received had the Tampa Bay Lightning not bought out his contract and made him a free agent. Before the buyout, Lacavalier had seven years and $45.5 million remaining on his contract. Under the buyout, the Lightning will pay him $33.5 million over 14 years. After being bought out, Lacavalier signed a five-year, $22.5 million deal with the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Lecavalier is the guy who is the primary beneficiary of the buyout,” said agent Anton Thun, co-managing director in MFIVE Sports, who represents Lacavalier with partner Kent Hughes. “It’s better than a 401(k).”

Other bought-out players may not be as lucky. The Flyers bought out goalie Ilya Bryzgalov’s contract for $23 million, but he was unsigned as of late last week.

Although the buyout gives clubs cap room, which is helpful to players, it also increases the number of free agents on the market. Some hockey sources expressed concern about the number of high-profile players without deals and lack of cap room for some clubs.

“Some clubs are in better cap shape than others,” Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford wrote in an email. “There are still a few good NHL players out there, which always happens.”