A look at the various individuals and groups that represent WNBA players in their domestic and overseas negotiations with leagues: Who's getting that five percent?
Alongside her family, her WNBA or college coach, her teammates, and her friends the most influential person in a WNBA player's life is probably her agent.
It is her agent that is the contact between the player and the various European ball clubs (or Asian ball clubs) looking to sign players for the WNBA off-season. As an overseas contract can be significantly greater than a domestic contract, WNBA players are motivated to seek teams that pay well and play well.
So what do sports agents do for their clients? The primary duty is representation. This keeps the player from having to negotiate complex contracts all by herself. Many agents have significant expertise in either contract law, foreign languages, and/or European basketball.
In addition to representation the agent has a compliance duty - they see that the terms of the contract are being met, and advocate for the player when foreign clubs don't comply with contract terms. Obviously, an agent must be an excellent negotiator.
The agent is also the player's marketing representative. Endorsement deals can mean a lot for both a players and an agent's bottom line, whether it be for a sports drink or a shoe contract.
In exchange for all of this, the player cedes a certain percentage of her contract to the agent. The best information I have is from 2004, but at that time agents were allowed to charge five percent of their client's contracts for services rendered (as opposed to four in the NBA). For overseas contracts, there is no limit to what an agent can charge.
If you're looking for agents wearing bling and driving Maybachs you should look elsewhere. Bruce Levy, a WNBA agent, stated that WNBA contracts just don't attract the predator agents looking for an easy payout. He compared it to the difference between robbing a bank and robbing a lemonade stand. An agent might be lucky to make $3,000 a year from a non-marquee player.
I decided to go to www.eurobasket.com to see which agents represented which WNBA players on the final 2012 WNBA roster. Of those 130 players, I was able to find out their agents in all but 17 cases.
|Agency||Players||% of Players|
|Williams and Connolly||3||2.3%|
|Bruce Levy Associates||2||1.5%|
|Elite Sports Properties||2||1.5%|
|TTM Management (SMWW Sports)||2||1.5%|
|610 Sports Management||1||0.8%|
|Basket Plus International||1||0.8%|
|Macklin and Lovett||1||0.8%|
Sports International Group (SIG) : founded 1996
Sports International Group is based in Gaithersburg, Maryland but is run by a native Russian, Boris Lelchitski. SIG was listed as representing 19.2 percent of the active WNBA players listed at the end of the 2012 season, having the most representation of any agency in the WNBA.
Boris Lelchitski's story is worth an article all by itself. He has a master's degree in basketball coaching from Russia and an associate degree in Sports Administration from South Carolina. Most of his career was spent as a head coach. He coached Spartak-St. Petersburg for 11 years, then coached at Heathwood Hall Academy in Columbia, South Carolina and coached AAU in South Carolina. When he came to the United States in 1990, he didn't even speak English.
Among the staff members are Lelchitski himself, Carolina Blanco (former director of women's basketball at Pittsburgh and a former media intern with the Mystics), Jessie Kenlaw (former WNBA head coach) and Varda Gribkov, an ex-Russian pro player who directs their operations in Russia and Eastern Europe. Lelchitski's son, Michael, is opening a men's basketball division at SIG. The quotes at the website speak of the staff on a first-name basis - "Boris and Carolina".
It was Boris Lelchitski who sent a tape of 15-year old Svetlana Abrosimova to Connecticut. (He had scouted her when he was an AAU coach in South Carolina and was not an agent at the time.) He is the agent for Angel McCoughtry and confirmed that she was still on the roster during the Meadors/McCoughtry drama in the summer. He's also the agent for Cappie Pondexter, who helped deal with the fallout of some of Pondexter's tweets about Japan and delivered the news to the Liberty that Pondexter wanted out of Phoenix. And Lelchtiski represents all three players, with McCoughtry and Pondexter now playing together on the same Turkish team, Fenerbahce.
Clearly, Boris Lelchitski is a man who knows his stuff.
LBM Management : founded 1997
LBM is owned by Yves Lejeune, proof that it helps to be able to speak more than one language if you want to be a Euroball agent. Lejeune, a native Belgian, speaks English, French and Russian. His wife, Olga Garanina is an ex-Russian pro player.
It also helps to have some sort of legal background. The legal acumen is provided by Eric Wiesel, who represents the Belgian-based agency in the United States under the flag of Wiesel Sports. Wiesel's office is located in Oregon and Wiesel and Lejeune are partners in LBM Managment and contracts with players are entered jointly by both Lejeune and Wiesel.
Wiesel states that if the client is on a rookie contract in the WNBA that it isn't fair for him to take five percent, because there's not much work involved. In those cases, he charges an hourly fee for services rendered and sometimes takes nothing at all. However, if a player is not drafted and work is needed to place the player overseas then the five percent fee is justified.
Sportalents/Prodep : founded 1996
It appears that Prodep was founded first, in 1996 by Nicolás San José Garcia. Then, in 2000 San José helps Josep Martin form Sportalents. It's difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins because both list the same players. On the Sportalents website, San José is listed as a partner of Prodep.
Take Swin Cash. She is listed on the Prodep site, the Sportalents site and another site run by The Cound Group, whose president is Mike Cound. Cound is another bilingual agent, having a BA in Spanish and a Master's in Hispanic Studies. He lists himself as fluent in Spanish and Arabic and proficient in three other languages. Along with the active WNBA players, he represents Deanna Nolan, Janel McCarville and Cheryl Ford and I suspect that he is the person any of them would contact if they had questions.
Sue Favor has interviewed both Boris Lelchitski and Mike Cound. How long has Cound been around? He has had Taj McWilliams-Franklin as a client since her first job in Europe paid $1250 a month. He was an agent to ABL players.
Furthermore, Cound appears to be in the middle of the most interesting WNBA stories. He represents the three players above who haven't come back to the WNBA and he said about Nolan, "Nolan has made more over five years than she ever did in the WNBA." He represented Becky Hammon during the entire playing-for-Russia controversy. Cound's cell phone must have a lot of numbers on it.
Wasserman Media : founded 2002
Wasserman Media only represents about a dozen WNBA players, but they are mostly big names - Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi, and Sue Bird are among the names. Their Team Sports Division represents about 400 players in both basketball and baseball, and according to their website they closed over $1 billion in contracts and partnership deals. Wasserman are real giants in sports representation.
Even though she isn't listed on the leadership section, Lindsay Kagawa Colas is the Vice President of Action Sports and Olympics at Wasserman Media, and one of the more likely names you'll see in a news article where an WNBA player announces that she has signed with Wasserman. She has her own sports background as an ex-volleyball player at Stanford.
It was Kagawa Coles who helped Maya Moore land a job in China, where she had a 60 point game and routinely puts up scores of 30-40 points per game. How much is Moore making in China? Moore's rookie contract for the WNBA was around $47 K, and Kagawa Coles stated that Moore's Chinese contract is not only double that, but significantly more than double.
Kagawa Colas was Epiphanny Prince's agent when Prince left Rutgers after her junior year. Diana Taurasi has alwso benefited, with a signature shoe, appearances in "Got Milk" ads and an appearance in the ESPN Body Issue.
If the WNBA gets bigger, expect giants like Wasserman Media to throw their weight around in the WNBA agency game. Their money and influence make Wasserman a real force A look at the various individuals and groups that represent WNBA players in their domestic and overseas negotiations with leagues - who's getting that five percent?despite the fact that they don't represent a majority of WNBA players.