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Sports Agents Interfering With Contractual Relations

Ever since I first thought about entering this industry, one thing I have been told time and time again by those within and outside of the athlete representation business is that sports agents never sleep.  It’s not that they are working 24/7, it is that they are so worried that their best clients will be poached by a rival agent, that it keeps them up all night.  Fortunately, I have not had many clients leave me in my limited time as an athlete advocate, but even in the span that I have been representing athletes, I am aware of at least one specific instance where a rival agent knew that a client had signed a representation agreement with me, knew that the client was not actively looking for new representation, and the agent still decided to recruit that client to become one of his own.  Only I know that this particular client ended up leaving me just so that he could “milk” the other agent to pay for all of his equipment needs and that the player always had (and still has) intentions of coming back to me once it makes sense for the both of us.  But it is true – this is a very dirty business full of client stealing.  Why is it the “Wild Wild West”, though?  For some reason we take it for granted.  It boggles my mind.

Understandably, it is not worth it to sue another agent if he steals your Minor League client who is not showing up on any Top Prospect Lists.  It is probably not worth it to even go after someone who steals a good D-League client of yours.  But what about someone who comes in and takes a big baseball client right before he becomes eligible for arbitration?  Then is it worth it?  Do you even have a leg to stand on?

Fortunately, yes, you do have a claim against another person who steals your client.  The action is based on an economic tort called “interference with contractual relations.”  If you have a legal contract with your client and the rival agent is the cause of your client breaking your contract, you may have a claim.  Your client need not even sign with the rival agent who caused the split.  You need to prove that the agent caused the interference, and it helps to show that the agent had a bad motive and interests adverse to yours (easy to show if he is a rival).  But it is not enough if you aim to show that the rival agent signed the player after your client broke your contract.

When I told my friend William Glover that I was planning on writing this post, he offered some of his own writing on the subject.  Included in that writing is the following,

Of course, the right to make a living or to conduct one’s business is subject to the rights of others, and legitimate competition between businesses in seeking to gain customers would not give rise to this tort.  This tort can be difficult to prove because of the right of competition.  Generally, it is necessary to prove that the defendant intentionally persuaded another to breach a contract with the plaintiff.

This is a very competitive business, but I believe that there is a clear line between competition and intentionally persuading another to breach a contract.  I can go up to a player, pitch him on my services, and then find out that he is already represented.  I did not intentionally persuade the player to breach his contract in that situation, and if the player leaves his agent and signs with me thereafter, no harm and no foul.  However, if I go up to that same player, knowing he has an agent, and I run down a list of 10 reasons why that player should fire his agent and hire me, am I guilty of intentionally persuading that player to breach his contract?  I would think so! (and I may have a defamation claim as well)

So this one agent that I see quite often who likes to interrupt my conversations with families to mention that he likes to steal other peoples clients is not guilty of anything when he says things like that.  However, those statements add to his culpability when you hear that he actually is successful in grabbing players from other agencies.  Those kind of tactics are bound to get you in trouble.  Do not mistakenly believe that just because you don’t hear about many interference with contractual relations lawsuits that there are no rules in this business.  Most of the time, they are just not worth litigating.  But again, sometimes they are.  Such was the case with Aroldis Chapman, and while we will never know if Hendricks Sports Management was guilty of interference (the case was settled), Edwin Mejia thought that he had a strong enough case and that it was monetarily worth it to file an action in court.

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.

16 replies on “Sports Agents Interfering With Contractual Relations”

In this case, if an agent takes another to court, what would the damages be? Would they be for the agent’s commission, punitive damages, or both? Also, if an agent steals a client, or even if the athlete cleanly trades agents before a contract is up, doed the original agent still see the commission from the deal as the athlete gets paid while under new representation, or does the new agent collect on the athlete’s salary ?

Most likely expectancy damages based on what the agent would have anticipated making in commissions. Not sure that punitive damages would be appropriate.

The original agent would be suing based on what he expected to earn, so yes, I would think that the contract signed by the player after the player dropped the agent would be something the agent would try to get factored in regarding damages.

As far as a clean split – an agent could seek to be paid for the amount of hours put in or a percentage of the commission that he normally charges based on the work he has done to help the player get to the point of where he signs a contract.

There are a variety of possible scenarios: The new agent may strike a deal with the old agent, the player may decide to pay the new agent his full commission and the old agent part commission…but the new agent will undoubtedly want to get paid based on representing the player when the player eventually signs his deal. It may come down to a matter of performance, though.

How is the old agent going to prove his client was stolen?
The player certainly won’t testify on behalf of his old agent?
For the most part the PA’s don’t care when a player switches agent.
Plus, does an agent want to go to court and have exposed all the things he did not do for his ex-client whether true or not….

  • Communications between the new agent and the player – not as hard as you may think in this world of E-Discovery
  • The player may not have an option on whether or not he will testify. And I don’t think an athlete wants to lie under oath.
  • This isn’t about the Players Associations. They are not a party in the lawsuit and have nothing to do with the interference
  • That’s why I said this doesn’t work in all cases. It has to be a high profile client where the old agent stood to make a lot of money on commissions
  • Mejia was most likely under a contingency fee agreement with his attorney. Therefore there was $0 monetary of risk in filing vs. not filing.

    I highly doubt Edwin Mejia sued the Hendricks Brothers on contingency, both because he had a major firm representing him and because the case was hardly a slam dunk. I liked the lawsuit, but most of the (limited) precedent favored the Hendricks bros. The quick settlement was likely due to the subsequent allegation of theft against the Hendricks brothers’ employee, Rodney Fernandez.

    are there ethical considerations that come into play knowing that a client is leaving you to milk another agent then willing to return to you? while it sounds legal, it makes me really question the character of that person. seems like if hes willing to do that to another person he wouldnt mind doing it to you if scott boras came knocking on the door. idk just my 2 cents

    I can sleep at night. And I am not at all concerned with this particular player’s character. He saw right through the agent who was recruiting him and I don’t blame him for taking advantage of the situation.

    i understand, just guess i feel like its still wrong what he does, i mean the agent does deserve what hes getting, but just bc the agent maliciously tried to steal him from someone else doesnt mean the client should use that agent, idk makes them both look bad i think. anyways. whats the update with robert lara? he seems to be doing good in class a advanced and chances of bringing him back maybe?

    hey darren just wondering what happened to the football division on your website its not appearing? is matt watkins not a part of dynasty anymore? will you go back to football if you in fact stopped this division? lastly, is rulon still with the jaguars do you know? thanks in advance good luck

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