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Volume 21 No. 1

Labor and Agents

Keith Gordon is leaving his position as president of NFL Players Inc., and the NFL Players Association is actively searching for a replacement to head the union’s licensing and marketing arm.

Gordon, who has been president of NFLPI since August 2009, will remain in the position through the 2015 Super Bowl, which is historically a major week for the business side of the union. The NFLPA has hired Turnkey Executive Search to assist as it looks to fill his position.


Gordon said he doesn’t have a new job lined up yet, but is talking to companies about potential opportunities.

“It really boils down to two things,” Gordon said of his decision. “I have to have a better work-life balance. I have a very young family and I feel for the last six years I have given most of that time to the organization.”

Gordon and his wife, Mary, have a son, Matthew, 7, and a daughter, Mia, who is 3.

“Another part is after six years I am ready for another leadership challenge,” Gordon said.

Under his leadership, overall revenue for NFLPI, which is the revenue-generating engine of the union in addition to member dues, increased by 15 percent. Player royalties and marketing payments are up 22 percent since 2012.

NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith was traveling last week and unavailable for an interview, but thanked Gordon in a statement to SportsBusiness Journal.

“NFL Players Inc. is a dynamic, forward-thinking organization as a result of Keith’s vision and strategic leadership,” Smith said. “His service to players is marked by revenue growth, ground-breaking partnerships, and a healthy company culture. We thank him for his leadership, and for putting NFL Players Inc. on a path to success.”

Gordon was hired by former NFLPI Chief Operating Officer Andy Feffer as vice president of licensing in January 2009, at a time when the NFLPA was searching for a new executive director after the death of Gene Upshaw in August 2008. Smith was elected as the executive director of the NFLPA in March 2009, and promoted Gordon to president of NFLPI in August 2009.

Prior to working at NFLPI, Gordon was director of sports marketing of Phoenix-based advertising firm The Lavidge Co.

Looking back at his tenure, Gordon said he is especially proud of improving and expanding the NFL Rookie Premiere, where the top NFL rookies meet with NFL and NFLPA sponsors every year.

“One of my big pushes was to completely reinvent Rookie Premiere and turn it into an annual benchmark event,” Gordon said. “We took what was a sleepy little photo shoot for trading card companies and turned it into one of the more successful and in-demand properties of the year.”

Rob Ponger, the new president of sports and entertainment agency Stealth SME, said the firm is in advanced discussions on three acquisitions and that deals may be announced within the next two months.

“I feel really good about closing some of these things in the next 30 days,” Ponger said last week. “Maybe that is too aggressive, but certainly in the next 60 days.”

Ponger declined to name the companies Stealth SME is in talks to acquire but said they are in the talent representation, entertainment, and media and marketing space.


A longtime IMG executive, Ponger was hired this month to run Stealth SME, which was launched in March through the rollup of five sports talent representation firms as well as brand activation agency Cenergy. NHL agent Allain Roy, NBA agent Tony Dutt, NBA agent Todd Ramasar, NBA agent Dwon Clifton, and NFL and MLB player agent Alfred “Chip” Sloan all joined Stealth SME when their agencies were acquired. Bill Strickland, who has 30 years of experience as a sports agent, oversees the talent representation division.

Ponger knows Strickland well, as their paths crossed at IMG, where Strickland worked in the late 1990s and where Ponger worked for about 20 years. At IMG, Ponger held a number of executive positions and most recently was senior vice president, strategic planning and financial operations, reporting to former IMG Chief Executive Mike Dolan. Ponger left IMG after it was sold to WME in May.

At Stealth SME, Ponger will report to the agency’s founding partners, Christopher Aden and Dorsey James, and will work out of New York. 

“We are focused on growing by acquisition right now, because that’s the place we’re in, but we certainly plan to grow by organic growth, as well,” Ponger said. “My goal, when we buy all these companies, is to integrate them and get them on the same page, where we all have the same, shared vision.”

> WME ADDS MARSHALL: WME has signed Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall for broadcasting, television and film work, and negotiated Marshall’s recent deal with Showtime’s “Inside the NFL” to work as a studio analyst.

At WME, Marshall will be represented by a team of agents, including Boomer Malkin, Brandt Joel, Brad Slater and Josh Pyatt. He is represented for contract work by MS World founder and NFL agent Kennard McGuire.

> NFL AGENT SWITCHES: Five Star Athlete Management has signed Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Bennie Logan and Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Bobby Rainey. At Five Star, Rainey will be represented by agency president and NFL agent Todd France and by agent Ben Renzin, who was certified by the NFL Players Association last year. Logan will be represented solely by France. Rainey was formerly represented by NFL Advisor. Logan was formerly represented by Pro Source Sports & Entertainment.

> AROUND THE HORN: A number of baseball players have changed representation: MVP Sports has signed Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Paco Rodriguez and Cincinnati Reds pitcher Alfredo Simón for representation. Agency president and MLB agent Danny Lozano will represent the players. Simón was formerly represented by Wasserman Media Group; Rodriguez was formerly represented by BKK Sports. …  MLB player representation firm Praver Shapiro has signed Minnesota Twins outfielder Oswaldo Arcia. Agency founders and MLB agents Barry Praver and Scott Shapiro will represent him. Arcia was formerly represented by The Legacy Agency. … The Legacy Agency has signed Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Antonio Bastardo. At TLA, Bastardo will be represented by a team of agents led by Greg Genske, TLA Baseball president and MLB agent. Bastardo was formerly represented by Aces Inc.

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

Roc Nation has launched a boxing promotion division and is eyeing expansion into the hockey business as it looks to enter other sports, said Michael Yormark, the company’s president and chief of branding strategy.

“Myself and others here at Roc Nation have an extensive hockey background,” said Yormark, who spent 11 years at the Florida Panthers before being hired by Jay Z’s Roc Nation in March. “That would seem to be a natural fit.”

Michael Yormark
Yormark would not disclose what area of the hockey business the company was examining, but it would most likely be talent representation.

Yormark was optimistic in reflecting on his first six months on the job, stressing that he is ahead of where he thought he would be at this time. “When I look at the six-month intervals — I have been in the business 22 years — I don’t think there has been a better and more productive six months in my career,” he said during a wide-ranging interview last week.

All of this comes as the company is on the cusp of a record shoe deal for client Kevin Durant with Under Armour, with reports that the reigning NBA MVP had been offered a 10-year deal valued at between $265 million and $325 million.

“He is under contract with Nike until the end of September,” Yormark said of the speculation, but adding that when a deal is completed, “It will be the biggest shoe partnership for any active player in the history of the industry. … I think you will have an announcement in the coming weeks.”

The largest current deal is the reported $250 million, 14-year deal Adidas struck with Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose in 2012. That deal also includes royalties and another guarantee after Rose retires, according to a source familiar with the deal.

Durant’s other deals include Sparkling Ice and a deal with 2K Sports that will feature him on the cover of the 2015 version of its NBA video game. That deal was so important to him personally that Durant called into a meeting between 2K Sports and Roc Nation executives when they were negotiating the agreement, Yormark said.

Kevin Durant’s 2K Sports deal is done and a big shoe contract is said to be near.
The Durant business comes as Roc Nation has completed deals for other clients.
New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith has partnerships with Under Armour and Microsoft and is near a beverage deal with a New York-based water brand, Yormark said.

As for Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano, some critics said when Cano signed a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Mariners last year that he would not get the kind of marketing support he would have had if he had stayed in New York with the Yankees. Yormark said that is not the case.

“I believe when all is said and done that actually he will have more opportunities in Seattle than he would have had in the New York market,” Yormark said.

Cano has signed a deal with Alaska Airlines, and Roc Nation is close to announcing two more deals for him, with a beverage company and with a communications company. Roc Nation also has scheduled meetings between Cano and CEOs of Seattle-based companies, as Cano met with Jason Mackenzie, president of HTC America, this month and is scheduled to meet with Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz next month, Yormark said. Cano also has met with Sparkling Ice CEO Kevin Klock.

Roc Nation’s investment in the boxing business was announced last week, as it won the bid to promote the WBO Peter Quillin-Matt Korobov middleweight title fight and hired former Golden Boy Promotions COO David Itskowitch to run its boxing division.

“Boxing is a passion of both Jay Z’s and Juan Perez, the president of our sports division,” Yormark said. “It’s something they have been talking about the last six to 12 months.”

In serving as a fight promoter, Roc Nation cannot manage boxers under the federal Muhammad Ali Act. But because of Roc Nation’s experience in promoting tours for musical artists, it felt that was the best way to promote the sport and the fighters.

“By being the promoter, we have the ability to impact the business in two ways,” Yormark said. “No. 1, we have the ability to impact the business through live events, because as the promoter we will be able to bring in our expertise in terms of hosting events.

“The other ability we have is to create brands out of these boxers. It’s the same approach we are taking with our athletes and our artists. We are going to build the celebrity status of boxers on a 365-day basis, and we are going to align them with all the brands we do business with and create brands outside of the ring.”