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Volume 20 No. 42

Labor and Agents

Independent Sports & Entertainment’s move to get a court order restraining NBA agent Dan Fegan from competing against the firm has made public messy details of agency infighting that are normally private.

Fegan, according court papers filed by ISE, was trying to orchestrate “a mass exodus” of agents when his contract was up at the end of this year. ISE filed court papers March 10 after announcing that it had fired Fegan, its president of basketball, in a press release.

Fegan, meanwhile, through his attorney Howard Weitzman — a well-known Los Angeles lawyer who briefly represented O.J. Simpson in Simpson’s infamous 1994 criminal case — called ISE’s lawsuit “outrageous and filled with erroneous allegations.”

Independent Sports & Entertainment accuses former President of Basketball Dan Fegan of pressuring other basketball agents at the firm to pledge their loyalty to him rather than the agency.
ISE hired Los Angeles law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher to persuade a judge to grant a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction against Fegan. Like the contracts of most major agents and high-level sports executives, disputes arising from Fegan’s employment contract are subject to arbitration, but ISE said in court papers that it needs to go to court to seek emergency relief from Fegan’s actions.

ISE sought a temporary restraining order that would allow Fegan to represent existing clients but prevent him from recruiting new ones or joining a competing agency. A decision on the temporary restraining order had not been made by last Thursday, but if the judge does not issue the emergency relief, ISE intends to seek a permanent injunction, lawyers said.

“They are seeking an injunction pushing him out of the business entirely,” said Jeremiah Reynolds, an attorney at Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert, who represented Fegan at a hearing last week.

In its filing for the injunction, ISE alleged Fegan, instead of working to sign the agents who worked under him to long term contracts, instead worked to do the opposite. “Fegan bullied, harassed, and pressured the agents to take ‘loyalty pledges’ to him, to disavow any loyalty to ISE, and unreasonably pressured them not to sign long-term contracts with ISE Basketball but to instead stay as at-will employees so they could leave with Fegan when his employment term expired,” the complaint alleges.

It is not clear which agents told ISE about this alleged behavior, but at a hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court last week, it was revealed that agent James Dunleavy filed a declaration with the court saying that Fegan called Dunleavy after Fegan was fired, asking Dunleavy to join him.

“He can’t call people up, saying, ‘I am now Dan Fegan Inc.,’” ISE attorney and Gibson Dunn partner James Fogelman said at the hearing, noting that ISE paid Fegan $20 million to buy his business and his loyalty.

Fogelman noted that despite that, Fegan, in his declaration to the court, said he intended to work on recruiting clients at the NCAA tournament starting last week.

In the complaint, ISE alleges that Fegan had a side business, “Fegan Sports, LLC,” and that he signed a “high profile NBA player” to a contract with this entity during the tenure at the company. Fegan’s attorneys said the allegation that Fegan ran a side business was “a total fabrication.”

Among the issues that make the case complex is that Fegan worked for ISE under two names.

He began working for the entity in 2013 when it was Relativity Sports. That agency was launched by movie studio Relativity Media, which later filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Relativity Sports, a separate entity, did not file for bankruptcy protection, and was relaunched as ISE after Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle upped his stake in the sports agency to become the majority owner and rebranded it.

In a statement Fegan issued after he was fired, he said he turned down a lucrative long-term contract for several reasons, including “my opposition to the current senior management structure.”

Reynolds, Fegan’s attorney, said that Fegan helped Relativity Sports with his own money during the Chapter 11 period for Relativity Media. “Mr. Fegan spent approximately $1 million to keep this business afloat,” he said at the hearing.

Reynolds also noted that Fegan was offered a long-term contract by ISE the day before it publicly fired him. “Why are you offering this guy a long-term contract if he is doing all of these things?” Reynolds asked the judge rhetorically.

Although the two sides are telling different stories, one thing is clear: Fegan did not get along with the senior management of the company that Burkle brought in, including Hank Ratner, former Madison Square Garden chief, who was hired in June 2016. The complaint alleges Fegan’s “campaign” to undermine ISE in favor of his own interests started in at least June of last year, the same time Ratner was hired.

In a statement Fegan issued after he was fired, he said he turned down a lucrative long-term contract for several reasons, including “my opposition to the current senior management structure.”

In another statement, Fegan’s attorney Howard Weitzman said Ratner “from day one has refused to allow [Fegan] to operate the basketball division pursuant to the terms of his contract.”

The complaint filed against Fegan stated that Fegan missed meetings with Ratner and refused to acknowledge Ratner’s authority over him.

The complaint also states that at the time Fegan executed an amendment to his employment contract from 2013, Fegan “gave every indication” that he would assist Ratner and ISE to get the agents to agree to long-term contracts. Before being fired, Fegan refused to engage the other basketball agents in discussions about long-term contracts at ISE, the lawsuit said.

“Fegan simply refused to sign agents to long-term deals,” the lawsuit said, “and when told that it was not in the company’s interest to have its agents unsigned, Fegan said ‘I don’t give a shit about the company.’”

Editor's Note: ISE supplied the following statement, which arrived too late for the print edition:
"ISE decided that due to Dan's misconduct he had to be terminated. The largest shareholder did sit briefly with Mr. Fegan to see if he would behave going forward, including suggesting a possible structure that would completely restrict his ability to conduct business in a conflicted, damaging manner. Mr. Fegan made it clear that he would not agree to align his interests with the company and that nothing was going to change so he was terminated for cause."

Editor's Note: This story has been revised from the print edition.

Independent Sports & Entertainment is working on expanding its basketball representation business, through hirings or an agency acquisition, while it fights a bitter legal battle against its former basketball president, NBA agent Dan Fegan.

ISE executives were already in talks with agents and companies about replacing Fegan last week, days after the company publicly announced it had fired the agent.

Fegan and two other agents who worked at ISE Basketball, Jarinn Akana and Aylton Tesch, have left ISE. The agency still employs NBA agents David Bauman, Travis King and James Dunleavy.

ISE was talking with agents and companies last week and planned to replace the agents who are now gone, but the timeline and the shape — whether through hiring individuals or acquiring a company — of the basketball replenishment effort has not yet been determined, sources said.

“ISE remains firmly committed to basketball,” the company said in a release March 10 announcing Fegan’s termination and the hiring of former NBA all-star and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson as ISE vice chairman. Chris Grancio, the former Adidas global head of basketball whom ISE hired last year as its chief marketing officer, is replacing Fegan as president of basketball on an interim basis.

It is not clear how many players left with Fegan, but two of ISE’s biggest NBA star clients, DeMarcus Cousins and Ricky Rubio, were signed to Fegan for on-the-court representation. However, those players and others may still be represented by ISE for marketing work, sources said.

— Liz Mullen

Creative Artists Agency has hired Josh Santry, a young broadcasting talent agent, away from rival firm IF Management.

Santry represents several up-and-coming broadcasters, including Joe Davis, who replaced Vin Scully as the announcer for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was formerly vice president of broadcasting and consulting at IF Management.

Santry, 34, joined CAA last Monday and is working out of the Hollywood agency’s New York offices.

“Josh Santry was a great colleague for the past 12 years,” Steve Herz, founder and president of IF Management, wrote in an email. “He wanted to pursue the large agency business and we wish him well in his new opportunity. He remains a close friend.”

At IF, in addition to Davis, Santry represented Jessica Mendoza, ESPN’s first female MLB analyst; Liam McHugh, host of NBCSN’s “NHL Live” as well as Notre Dame football on NBC; Maria Taylor, SEC Network college analyst; and Nick Wright, a contributor to Fox Sports 1.

It’s not clear which clients, if any, will follow Santry to CAA. As a practical matter, athlete and sports personality clients generally stay or go with the agent with whom they have the closest relationship.

> JUDGE KICKS BRANION DISPUTE TO NFLPA: A federal judge has ordered NFL Players Association arbitration to resolve a lawsuit that agent Joby Branion brought against his former protégé, Athletes First agent Carmen Wallace, and against Roc Nation Sports.

Judge Stephen Wilson granted Wallace’s and Roc Nation’s requests to compel arbitration of the dispute, which Branion, founder of Vanguard Sports, filed last year.

Branion’s attorney, Andrew Kim, declined to comment. Roc Nation and its attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

Bryan Freedman, attorney for Wallace, said, “Mr. Wallace has always maintained that this dispute, while wholly without merit, belongs before the NFLPA and we look forward to prevailing in the proper forum.”

Branion, who worked with Wallace from 2001 until 2014 at Athletes First, sued him in November, alleging defamation and interference with prospective economic advantage. He also sued Roc Nation Sports, alleging intentional interference with prospective economic advantage.

The lawsuit alleged that Wallace, with whom Branion co-represents Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller, disparaged Branion to the player’s father, Von Miller Sr.

The lawsuit also alleges that Wallace steered Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram to Roc Nation after Branion reached an agreement to represent Ingram. The lawsuit said that Branion got Ingram to sign a standard representation agreement, but agreed not to send it to the union until the linebacker met with another agency.

Ingram ended up signing with Roc Nation Sports agents Kim Miale, Ari Nissim and John Thornton. Branion alleges that Wallace, who was Ingram’s former agent, made a “side deal” that he would receive 0.5 percent of the deal Roc Nation negotiated as his commission.

For the sake of his ruling, Wilson assumed the facts in the complaint that Branion alleged to be true. Wilson noted in his decision, that in order to have a violation of an agent regulation dealing with contacting another agent’s client, Branion would have had to have sent the signed SRA to the union.

“Therefore, by the Plaintiff’s own allegations, the Defendants did not violate Section 3(B) (21),” Wilson wrote. “The Plaintiff conceded that he did not file the SRA he signed with Ingram with the NFLPA.”

Wilson also ruled, however, that other allegations in the lawsuit, if true, could potentially violate NFLPA rules and therefore must be arbitrated.

At the time the lawsuit was filed last fall, Ingram was viewed as one of the top free agents on the market, but the Chargers have placed a nonexclusive franchise tag on the linebacker. Other teams can negotiate with Ingram, but if he signs elsewhere, that club would have to give up two first-round draft picks.

> GLUSHON SIGNS TWO: Glushon Sports Management has signed free-agent NBA guard Greivis Vásquez and Los Angeles Lakers guard David Nwaba.

Jason Glushon is representing the players. Vásquez was formerly represented by Octagon, and Nwaba was previously without representation.

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