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“You have to make the assumption that they went to him the minute they got Condon. But how do you make the tampering case against CAA here?” one source told me. “They do it in Hollywood. They’re not supposed to do it in football. It’s totally against the guidelines. It’s totally illegal to talk to someone who’s represented about switching. The point is, rarely is a case like this brought. How do you prove it?”
Interestingly enough, I’m told that Leinart had earlier met with Condon at IMG and rejected him in favor of Steinberg. Steinberg is best known for having repped the first pick in the NFL draft eight times and for specializing in quarterbacks (Steve Young, Warren Moon, Troy Aikman, Ben Roethlisberger and Mark Brunell are or have been clients). Condon, who handles QBs Peyton Manning and Eli Manning, has snagged the first draft pick the past two years running (Eli Manning in 2004 and Alex Smith in 2005).
“But this year, he got nobody. He lost the competition for Matt Leinart first time around,” an insider told me. No doubt that’s why CAA’s first move with Condon aboard was to take Leinart away from Steinberg, even though there was no discord in that relationship.
“It was a happy marriage,” one source explained, “until CAA came along.”
According to SportsBusiness Journal, IMG claims it will continue to repressent the Mannings for endorsements, but those deals are set to expire within a year.
WHAT MOST OF THE NATTERING NABOBS on sports talk radio — who love Steinberg for his accessibility and forthrightness — won’t know is that there’s a bit of a back story to all this. At one time, Lovett negotiated with McCormack, and closed the deal after his death, for a CAA-IMG partnership in some arenas, though not in sports contracts. But that was before Wall Street big shot Teddy Forstmann bought IMG after McCormack’s passing and started pissing off existing management, which primed a string of agents — many of them in IMG’s sprawling sports division — to start looking elsewhere. What all this means is that CAA is now at war with other sports agents around the country, since the Hollywood agency is hell-bent on going after athletes’ contract business, and no longer content to just peddle their jock meat for endorsements.
Before he got the news that Leinart was firing him, I happened to phone Steinberg because I wanted his take on why CAA was suddenly entering the sports contract business in such a big way. He explained to me that “for a group like CAA, athletes can be a valuable source of content supply for motion pictures, television, video games, Internet and marketing. Sports and entertainment have merged sometime in the ’90s and continue to be one and the same.”
And then there’s the very real possibility that CAA could claim an equity position in projects generated for the athletes — who aren’t barred by those pesky Hollywood guild rules that prevent agents from representing talent and at the same time producing stuff with clients, which is what made IMG so wealthy.
No doubt that’s why I’m told CAA paid way upward of $20 million for Condon and Kremer’s business, a figure vehemently denied by CAA. (But sources tell me Condon was looking to move and starting negotiations in at least the $15 million range for his business, with 50 percent of receivables going back to IMG for three years. Prior to signing with CAA, he met with the William Morris Agency, which, in contrast, has a sports-business philosophy of only going after the best like Michelle Wie in golf, Serena Williams in tennis, Kevin Garnett in basketball, as well as Phil Jackson in coaching and the Chelsea football club in soccer. Not to mention they also represent the NFL and NHL.)
Steinberg also warned me, “Unless a practice is emphasizing high-round draft picks and valuable free agents with the potential to trigger multiple revenue streams like marketing and financial planning, the representation of football players is an inherently unprofitable business for the vast majority of practitioners in the field.”
I’m told the phrase “sons of bitches” to describe CAA was floating around Steinberg’s office after he received Leinart’s letter of termination. Ironically, USC offensive tackle Winston Justice fired Steinberg late last week because he felt Steinberg was focusing all his time on his more famous Trojan client. With his heartthrob good looks and impressive athleticism, Leinart is a twofer cash cow in both his football contract and his endorsement potential. That’s incentive enough for CAA to steamroll over anything and anyone to get Leinart. Steinberg’s just the first roadkill.
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