Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 21 No. 39
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

CAA Sports employing the St-Pierre plan with UFC signees

CAA Sports is busy negotiating endorsements, television appearances and other deals for five UFC personalities it has signed over the past year, building on the foundation of its work with longtime MMA star Georges St-Pierre. CAA Sports has signed five UFC personalities over the past year — fighters Cain Velasquez, Rory MacDonald, T.J. Dillashaw and Tim Kennedy and MMA coach Firas Zahabi — and negotiated endorsement, television and other deals for them.

CAA Sports has long represented St-Pierre, a three-time UFC welterweight champion, but the new client list gives the agency a strong MMA practice.

The clients are being represented by agents throughout the agency, and in partnership with LB3i Sports, a Montreal-based management firm that specializes in representing MMA athletes and is owned by Rodolphe Beaulieu and Philippe Lepage. Beaulieu said the agency entered into an exclusive partnership with CAA Sports to represent MMA fighters and other individuals together.

Former champ Cain Velasquez (above) and TV personality Tim Kennedy are among CAA’s fighters.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES (2)
CAA Sports does not have a dedicated department representing MMA fighters, the way CAA Hockey represents NHL players or CAA Baseball represents MLB players. But there is a team of agents working on it, including baseball agents Nez Balelo and Mike Fonseca.

While most fighters have some kind of manager or agent, the representation of top MMA athletes has not evolved in the major team sports or established individual sports like golf or tennis. “The

opportunity exists, where I think most of these fighters are underrepresented,” Fonseca said.

The relationship between LB3i Sports and CAA Sports began in 2008 when CAA Sports signed St-Pierre. Beaulieu is his longtime manager.

They have worked on multiple commercial projects for St-Pierre, including exercise DVDs; video games; movie roles; endorsement deals, including Under Armour, Gatorade, Bud Light; and a book, “The Art of the Fight.”

Then, in 2013, St-Pierre announced he was taking a break from fighting in the UFC. “I was seated with Mike and Nez and Phil and we were like, ‘What do we do?’” Beaulieu recalled. “‘Should we continue in that business or not?’

“Then we had a discussion and we decided to move forward. We believe in the sport. We believe in the growth of the sport.”

Fonseca and Beaulieu said they decided to set out to find the same kind of commercial deals for their new clients that they found for St-Pierre.

Velasquez is especially attractive to brands trying to reach the Hispanic market. He was born in the U.S. to a Mexican immigrant and is fluent in both English and Spanish.

CAA Sports has negotiated multiple endorsement agreements for Velasquez, the No. 1 contender in UFC’s heavyweight division. Deals include being a spokesman for Bud Light in Mexico and the U.S. and for Pepsi in Mexico. The agents are in talks with a network about a Spanish-language unscripted series in which he would star, as well as getting him parts in feature films.

For Dillashaw, the former UFC bantamweight champion and now the No. 1 contender, talks center on two unscripted shows around his company Dillashaw Construction. He has signed endorsements with nutritional supplements company MusclePharm and equipment maker Everlast, among others.

Zahabi got help developing his digital reality show, “Got Beef,” in which he trains two ordinary people to fight each other in the MMA style. The pilot is in preproduction now. Zahabi also signed endorsement deals with Bud Light, Reebok and NOS energy drink, among others.

MacDonald, the No. 1-ranked contender in the UFC welterweight division, signed deals with Monster energy drink, Reebok and Everlast. MacDonald will be a free agent after his June 18 fight, scheduled against No. 2-ranked Stephen Thompson, and CAA Sports and LB3i Sports will represent him in negotiations for a new fighting contract, Beaulieu said.

For Kennedy, CAA Sports has negotiated endorsement deals with apparel companies Ranger Up, Under Armour and Vertx, as well as Gerber knives and Taurus guns.

Kennedy was part of the History Channel show “Hunting Hitler,” which ran for eight episodes last year. His team is in talks about a second edition of that show, as well as three other unscripted shows.

Kennedy, a former Army Green Beret, was in the news in January after media reports that the FBI had informed him of threats made against him by the Islamic State. Kennedy said he was not afraid and would handle ISIS on his own.

Kennedy is a top-10 middleweight contender but has not fought in a year. Despite that, he is much in demand because of his personality, background and exploits. “Let’s put it this way: About every single week, I will get approached by a different production company, both inside the agency and outside, saying, ‘We want to develop a show around Tim Kennedy,’” Fonseca said.

CAA Sports is in talks with other fighters and may sign more, Fonseca said, but he would not name them. He cautioned that CAA Sports would not be in the business of representing every UFC fighter.

“It’s not like all of a sudden there is an opportunity for 500 athletes to have all kinds of lucrative endorsement opportunities,” Fonseca said. “It is limited. But I think by taking the model of Georges St-Pierre — and Georges St-Pierre has had the access to more areas than arguably any other athlete at the agency with feature films and scripted TV and unscripted TV and licensing and books, so he has really had a chance to access and leverage the power of CAA — we are just trying to replicate the model with these other athletes across their niche.”

> IF SIGNS FORMER GM, COACH FOR BROADCASTING WORK: If Management has signed former Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer and former University of San Francisco basketball coach Rex Walters for broadcast work.

Gideon Cohen, senior vice president at New York-based If Management, will represent Farmer and Walters. Neither was previously represented for broadcast work.

Cohen noted that Walters was a college star at Kansas and a first-round NBA pick, and played in the league for seven years before coaching at San Francisco. “He has a sharp, confident style and is a fresh name who has just been in the college hoops trenches,” Cohen said.

Farmer hosted a radio show in Charlotte before serving as GM of the Browns, Cohen said. “Ray is a total natural on-air,” Cohen said. “He’s glib, articulate and likable — a gifted storyteller.”

> TANDEM SIGNS DIAMOND: Tandem Sports & Entertainment has signed Maryland center Diamond Stone for representation in the NBA draft.

Tandem founder and president Jim Tanner and vice president Derrick Powell will represent Stone, a 7-footer who was ranked No. 23 last week on the list of 100 top prospects by draftexpress.com. Tandem also is representing him for marketing. Cary Grossart, Tandem marketing coordinator, will lead those efforts.

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