Athletes sign up double agents

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Show him the money ... and show him the money. The new generation of marketing-savvy sports stars are recognizing the need for not just one but two agents-one to handle contract negotiations and the other to line up lucrative endorsements.

Take, for example University of Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart, who won a Heisman Trophy, two national championships (just missing out on a third when USC lost to Texas in the Rose Bowl) and an expected top-five pick when the National Football League draft is held in April. Before he signed an agent to handle his multi-million dollar contract negotiation, Mr. Leinart aligned with Creative Artists Agency.

The move highlights a new trend among athletes whose off-the-field marketing potential is as great as their on-field talent, and further cements the marriage between sports and entertainment.

"Athletes are picking up on the fact that sports marketing, like everything else, is moving toward specialization," said Don Hinchey, VP with The Bonham Group, a Denver-based sports-marketing firm. "Athletes are now saying, `OK, fine, just as I specialize in something on the field, I'm going to find people who specialize in contracts, people who specialize in endorsements, people who specialize in charitable work,' and so on."

CAA will represent Mr. Leinart in all off-field business ventures, with the initial focus on endorsement and licensing relationships. The CAA Foundation, the philanthropic service arm of the agency, will help him develop his charitable initiatives.

A trend

Mr. Leinart's teammate at USC, Reggie Bush, is expected to be the No. 1 pick in the draft and has aligned himself with Santa Monica, Calif.-based The Sports Link, a firm run by Reebok representative Mike Ornstein.

"It is a trend, and it makes a great deal of sense," said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based sports-business firm Sportscorp. "If you're hiring somebody to negotiate your contract with a general manager, that's not necessarily the person to develop your brand and personality."

Experts said the shift occurred as some athletes moved off the sports pages and into the society columns and celebrity magazines. "Marketing changed," said David Carter, president of Los Angeles-based Sports Business Group, "and endorsements became big business."

Indeed, golfer Tiger Woods makes an estimated $65 to $80 million a year off the course in deals with American Express, Nike and Buick.

The major players on the sports-agent front, such as IMG and Octagon, also have entertainment divisions-but quite often the agent handling contracts and the agent doing endorsement deals are two different people. A CAA spokesman said that the agency is not about to open a sports division.

This isn't the first time an athlete has utilized dual agents. Tennis' Anna Kournikova, better known for her looks than her forehand, has signed on with United Talent Agency to develop deals that have included TV commercials and magazine columns. CAA's Hollywood rival, William Morris Agency, represents golf phenom Michelle Wie and boxer Oscar De La Hoya.

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