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Volume 23 No. 23

Labor and Agents

When attorney Evie Goldstein first walked into the conference room where players were interviewing candidates to be the Women’s National Basketball Players Association’s director of operations, the first thing New York Liberty forward Swin Cash noticed was her size.

“To be honest with you, she is small. She is petite,” said Cash, who is the first vice president of the WNBPA. “But as soon as she opened her mouth, boom! She commanded the room from her first word.”

WNBPA officer Swin Cash says director of operations Evie Goldstein commands a room.
Photo by: NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
Last week, the WNBPA announced that it had hired Goldstein, a Yale Law School-educated attorney who formerly worked for the MLB Players Association, as its second director of operations. She replaced Pamela Wheeler, who left in December. Goldstein will report to National Basketball Players Association/WNBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts, who has already garnered respect in the sports industry since she was elected in July.

“For me, we understand what we have got with Michele, but we needed a wingman in there fighting for the women, and I think we made a great choice,” Cash said.

Cash said she was impressed when Goldstein, during the presentation, started asking the WNBA players about how they shared rooms and cars on the road as was described under the working conditions sections in the WNBA collective-bargaining agreement. “She got equipped with our CBA and she showed her knowledge and how it directly affected the players,” Cash said.

Cash serves on the five-member WNBPA executive committee that selected Goldstein after reviewing hundreds of résumés, as well as conducting in-person interviews of 10 candidates.

San Antonio Stars center Jayne Appel, WNBPA secretary/treasurer and another member of the executive committee, said she was also impressed that Goldstein had read the WNBA CBA, a 300-plus page document. “She read through it and asked why did we do certain things and had ideas on how to improve certain things,” Appel said. “She already had ideas on ways to work with our CBA and get players involved in the union again.”

Both Cash and Appel said that Goldstein’s work for the MLBPA was a big factor in her selection. “Her experiences in the past could directly relate to and improve our union from the very first day,” Appel said.

At the MLBPA, Goldstein was associate general counsel for licensing and sponsorships, where she was involved in collective bargaining specializing in issues related to licensing, publicity and promotion rights for players. Goldstein was also involved in the creation of the inaugural World Baseball Classic.

“Evie is a very good lawyer,” said Don Fehr, NHL Players’ Association executive director, who was the executive director of the MLBPA when Goldstein worked there. “She understands players issues. She likes to work on their behalf. She is quick, straightforward and to the point.”

Most recently, Goldstein was general counsel for the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

In a brief interview last week, Goldstein said one reason she applied for the job is she wanted to return to sports. She also said that the first thing on her agenda is to meet with as many WNBA players as possible.

“My first priority, quite honestly, is to get the respect of the players, because as I learned from some of the best in my union background, if you don’t have the respect of the players you don’t have anything,” Goldstein said.

After graduating from the University of Rochester and Yale Law School, Goldstein began her career working for law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges, and partner James Quinn, who has represented many players unions, including the NBPA.

“She is very, very bright,” Quinn said last week of Goldstein. “She has to deal with the league, and I think she will not be a pushover. She is just a very accomplished lawyer.”

The NFL Players Association will update the agent community on its plans to overhaul the regulations governing contract advisers at the NFL combine this week, NFLPA President Eric Winston said.

Winston and members of the NFLPA’s Committee on Agent Regulation and Discipline have been working since June on a broad review of the NFLPA-certified agent rules, because of concern among players about the quality of representation. Members of the committee have met about a dozen agents in the last year.

“That is one thing I wanted to do,” Winston said. “We called on big-time agents, small-time agents, medium-sized agents.”

WINSTON
Any changes to the regulations would be voted on by the NFLPA board of player representatives, which will meet in mid-March in Hawaii. The agent meeting at the combine in Indianapolis is scheduled for Friday.

The NFLPA also sent out questionnaires to agents on the subject of marketing guarantees that agents make to players. Current regulations prohibit agents from giving players an inducement to sign with them, but some agents have complained that marketing guarantees are, for practical purposes, an inducement. The agent regulations do not prohibit marketing guarantees, which some agents give to players on the basis of future marketing income they may earn.

Agents have argued privately that giving a marketing guarantee to an offensive guard, for example, is really an inducement because players at that position typically do not generate much interest from potential sponsors. Some players, however, like getting guaranteed money from agents, and the NFLPA is run by players, not agents.

“We have done a lot of work and there aren’t any easy answers, unfortunately,” Winston said. “A lot of the time at the combine will be [spent] deciding what CARD wants to do in that area.”

Winston indicated that the committee may toughen the exam that prospective agents take to become
NFLPA-certified. The NFLPA gives all agent applicants a test on the collective-bargaining agreement, and about 70 percent pass. “We are looking at improving the agent tests to ensure the highest quality of individuals are representing the players,” Winston said.

> CARD SUSPENDS AGENT: One of the things CARD does is issue discipline against NFL agents who break the regulations, and last week the committee suspended Vinnie Porter after he was charged by federal authorities with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Porter represented seven players: New York Giants linebacker Devon Kennard, New England wide receiver Brian Tyms, Miami safety Jordan Kovacs, San Francisco tight end/long snapper Kyle Nelson, Washington wide receiver Rashad Ross, Cincinnati running back James Wilder Jr. and Denver offensive tackle Michael Schofield.

When an agent is suspended, any agreement to represent a player is immediately terminated and those players are free to find a new agent. As of last week, none of Porter’s former clients had signed with other agents.

Porter was suspended until his criminal charges are resolved, George Atallah, NFLPA assistant executive director of external affairs, told SportsBusiness Journal. In the meantime, the NFLPA will conduct its own investigation into the matter. Porter’s attorney declined to comment.

> BASEBALL PLAYERS SWITCH AGENTS: Select Sports Group has signed Miami Marlins starting pitcher Jarred Cosart for representation. At Select Sports Group, he will be represented by Erik Burkhardt, Matthew Frazier and Jeff Nalley. He was represented by Excel Sports Management. … Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts has signed with Relativity Sports. He was represented by Wasserman Media Group. … Beverly Hills Sports Council has signed Arizona Diamondbacks prospect and pitcher Touki Toussaint, who was a first-round draft pick in 2014. At BHSC, Toussaint will be represented by Rick Thurman and Nate Heisler. He was represented by Wasserman.

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

When NBC approached Marv Albert about becoming the blow-by-blow announcer for its new Saturday night boxing programming, Albert knew it was going to be a delicate negotiation.

Albert is under long-term contracts with both CBS for college basketball and Turner Sports for college basketball and the NBA, and it was going to require permission from both networks for him to work at NBC, as well.

Albert has long-term deals with CBS, Turner Sports.
Photo by: NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
“It is unusual to be working with a possibility of three networks,” Albert said.

Albert has been represented by Hollywood business manager and agent Evan Bell for at least 30 years, but they both decided to turn to longtime IMG sports broadcasting agent Sandy Montag for help in the negotiation.

“Both Evan and I have respect for Sandy, and I have known Sandy over the years,” Albert said. “He has so many relationships, and it was kind of a complicated situation with the boxing, you know. I had to get permission from both David Levy … of Turner Sports and Sean McManus … of CBS Sports to be able to do it for Mark Lazarus at NBC.”

Montag and Bell got the permission and did the NBC deal. And Montag and Bell, who counts film director Steven Soderbergh and Fox News host Bill O’Reilly among his clients, will work together for Albert on deals going forward, Albert said.

For Montag, having Albert call was as close as it comes to a childhood dream come true. When Montag was a kid growing up in New York, Albert was his idol.

“When I was 8 years old — and I still have the cassette tape — I was trying to do Marv Albert,” Montag said. “He started doing radio in New York, the Knicks and the Rangers, and he did both at the same time.

“And when Marv Albert said, ‘I would like you to retain me to help me in my career, I was like, ‘You had me at hello.’”

Albert said that Montag told him he used to sit outside the booth where Albert was broadcasting, mostly at the Knicks games, when he was a child. “I grew up in Brooklyn,” Albert said. “I used to do the same thing when Vin Scully was announcing in Brooklyn.”

Sean Gilbert, who is running for the position of NFL Players Association executive director, wants a 50-50 split of revenue for the players with the league, a significant leap from the 53-47 percentage advantage the owners currently enjoy.

The comments, made by Gilbert earlier this month, mark the first time Gilbert has revealed the revenue split he would seek. It’s a split that, if implemented, would result in hundreds of millions of dollars annually shifting to the players.

Gilbert is running an unprecedented campaign against a sitting NFLPA leader, having spent two years and thousands of hours arguing to players that the labor deal incumbent DeMaurice Smith cut will shift $10 billion to owners from players over its decade-long term.

The NFLPA has declined to comment on Gilbert’s math. At a press conference before the Super Bowl, Smith said there is more to consider in the collective-bargaining agreement than just the salary cap, which has grown modestly relative to overall league revenue since 2011.

In 2011, the cap was $121 million. It rose to $133 million last year and has been projected at $145 million for this year. By comparison, league revenue has gone from $8.5 billion in 2010, before the new CBA, to an expected $11.5 billion this year.

The cap, however, doesn’t tell the whole story, as the NFLPA notes. The players’ share of revenue includes benefits, which are rising at a greater pace than the cap — nearing $30 million annually a club, up from a low-to-mid $20 million range before the CBA.

Gilbert’s pursuit of a new deal for the players and his proposed 50-50 revenue split draw from his contention that he can undo the current CBA, which has no opt-out provision, by proving a collusion claim. The details of the claim will be distributed to players and agents the day he presents to players at the NFLPA election in Maui, Hawaii, in March, he said.

He declined to divulge those details now because that would trigger a 30-day period in the CBA under which the players would have to file a lawsuit, he said. He is believed to be working with two outside law firms, but he declined to identify his advisers.

Gilbert’s challenge for the NFLPA leadership position is unique when considering the post’s history. Smith was elected in 2009 after the death in 2008 of Gene Upshaw, the union’s executive director for 25 years. Upshaw’s re-election in that time was largely a formality. Smith in turn was unanimously re-elected in 2012.

NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith earned $2.95 million in the union’s fiscal year ended Feb. 28, 2014, according to the NFLPA’s recently filed tax return. That amount is up from $2.8 million in the year-earlier period, according to the tax return.

NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith (left) talks with Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
NFL Players, the union’s for-profit licensing arm, paid Smith 40 percent of the most recent annual amount.
Additionally, Smith, who faces a re-election contest next month, earned no bonus in the most recent pay period, the second consecutive year that’s been the case. For the year ended Feb. 29, 2012, the union paid him a $1.5 million bonus, helping him earn $3.45 million that year, his high-water mark since he became executive director in 2009.

The next highest-paid executive at the NFLPA is managing director Ira Fishman, who earned $790,731 in the most recent fiscal year, according to the tax return.

The return also shows the NFLPA netted a $26 million surplus, which helped replenish reserves that had gone down during the labor strife of 2010-11. Total assets at the end of fiscal 2014 were $241 million, up from $223 million a year earlier, according to the return. Assets had fallen to $167 million as of Feb. 29, 2012, according to the union’s tax returns.

Of the NFLPA’s $65 million in revenue reported for the most recent fiscal year on the return, that sum includes $19 million in player dues, $32 million in royalties, $2.6 million in agent fees, and $10 million in dividends, interest and profit from the sale of securities.