If you’re anything like me, you watch the Food Network and HGTV (okay, you’re probably not anything like me.) But seriously: the Food Network is awesome. Chopped is awesome, and Iron Chef is awesome, and I learned how to cook from watching Alton Brown and Ina Garten. (And while we’re on the subject, this holiday season, try this chicken recipe, this turkey recipe, and this stuffing recipe, and impress all of your guests. You won’t regret it.)
Anyway, at this point you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with baseball. Here’s the answer, courtesy of MLBTradeRumors:
Astros star Carlos Correa is making an unusual switch in representation, Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reports (Twitter links). Correa has parted ways with agent Greg Genske and is now being represented by talent agency William Morris Endeavor. WME is not a baseball agency and does not even have a MLBPA-certified agent at present, although WME agent Jon Rosen is in the process of being certified by the union, Feinsand adds.
WME’s client list includes names like Bobby Flay, Rachel Ray and Al Roker, and Feinsand adds that Rosen represented both Alex Rodriguez and Matt Vasgersian in negotiating their broadcast contracts with ESPN.
That’s right: Correa’s new representatives are most famous for representing Food Network personalities. But it’s more than that. The William Morris Agency has hosted Food Network awards shows, represented the author of the “unofficial” Food Network tell-all book; represents Food Network chefs in their book deals, and quickly snatches up most new Food Network talent as well. As for Rosen, he, too, is deeply intertwined with the Food Network; the New York Times’ Allen Salkin ran a glowing profile of the agent a decade ago.
[Jon] Rosen, 39, knows what he is talking about. He heads the “branded lifestyle” group at the William Morris Agency in New York and is agent to a pantheon of stars in food show business, Rachael Ray, Bobby Flay, Al Roker, Katie Lee Joel and Giada De Laurentiis among them, many of whom credit him for the scope of their success.
With “Top Chef,” “Iron Chef” and dozens of cooking shows commanding top ratings, and the shelves of mass market retailers crowded with Rachael Ray knives and Bobby Flay blenders, it is easy to forget that celebrity chefs did not always hold tenderizing mallets over American culture. Jon Rosen’s name may not be familiar, but he is the force behind a lot of the food entertainment on television and celebrity-endorsed kitchen products on shelves — and perhaps even what you eat for dinner. If agents were chefs, he’d be Thomas Keller.
Rosen weathered the famous William Morris-Endeavor merger the year Salkin’s profile came out, surviving some controversy before eventually being named to the board of the combined agency William Morris Endeavor despite not being an attorney.
How much clout does Rosen have? After he was retained by Alex Rodriguez to negotiate the erstwhile slugger’s contract with ESPN, Rosen ensured that another of his clients, Matt Vasgersian, also ended up on Sunday night baseball with him. Rodriguez was evidently so impressed that he recommended him to Correa, whom he considers a protege, that the shortstop switch agents and hire Rosen as well.
Despite Rosen’s considerable experience advising television talent, he’s somewhat of a neophyte when it comes to negotiating contracts for professional athletes. He’s never negotiated a contract for a player in any of the four major North American sports, and he’s not even certified as an agent by the MLB Players’ Association yet. That last part is a bit problematic, for a few reasons.
A few weeks back, we talked about some of the rules governing player agents in the context of J.D. Martinez’s contract with Bob Garber, now the subject of ongoing litigation. Section 3 of the MLBPA Regulations governing agents begins thusly:
No person is authorized to engage in, or attempt to engage in, any of the conduct described in either Section 3(A) or 3(B) without first obtaining the appropriate certification from the MLBPA as a Player Agent or Expert Agent Advisor . . . .
That would suggest that Correa can’t hire Rosen yet because he isn’t certified, but Section 4 covers applications and applicants, so let’s see what that says. Maybe he can represent Correa whilst his application is pending?
The mere filing of an Application does not constitute certification of the Applicant as a Player Agent or Expert Agent Advisor or authorize the Applicant to engage in any of the conduct described in Section 3(A) or 3(B) of these Regulations. An Applicant for certification must also take a written test, submit to a background check and receive an appropriate designation in order to be certified. If the MLBPA certifies the Applicant as a Player Agent or Expert Agent Advisor, the Applicant will be notified of his or her certification, and only then will he or she be authorized to engage in the conduct for which he or she is granted certification.
Welp. So it’s pretty clear that, at least under the MLBPA regulations as they’re drafted, Rosen and WME can’t represent Correa...yet. They’re simply not authorized to represent any Major League Baseball player at all, and the fact that Rosen is in the process of becoming certified doesn’t change anything about those rules. In fact, if Correa has already fired his prior representation in favor of Rosen (if that termination is even effective under the rules), as a legal matter, right now he probably has no agent. That means that if Correa had to file a grievance tomorrow, he’d likely be required to represent himself.
However, that’s not the end of the story. WME has a long history of taking on union regulatory authority when it comes to agency relationships with talent. For example, the agency sued the Writers’ Guild of America earlier this year, asserting that the WGA’s regulations giving the union authority to regulate and fire agents on behalf of its members violated antitrust laws. Notably, the agency’s complaint against WGA alleged that the union’s registration requirements and regulations requiring the packaging of talent were unlawful. As the Hollywood Reporter noted:
Should the case not settle, the litigation is likely to focus on the extent to which unions can regulate agents as well as antitrust exemptions for union activity. In its action Monday, WME isn’t suing any individual writers, merely going after the unit that collectively bargains on behalf of its members. That figures to gather courtroom attention as well. The case may also explore the last 40 years in the relationship between the two sides because, as noted above, some of the objectionable practices have been around for quite some time. On the other hand, those rules of the road were part of franchise agreements. In fact, in some degree of irony, talent agencies were themselves once sued for (and successfully beat back) antitrust allegations over the practice of packaging.
So the MLBPA will likely be watching this litigation with a wary eye, as WME is far more aggressive than most of the agencies representing players currently. Indeed, most agencies are nominally on the same side as the union, as they need the union and vice versa. For example, it’s difficult indeed to imagine Scott Boras or Dan Lozano suing the MLBPA.
But with the entry into baseball of new agencies, that alliance seems to be in the early stages of fraying. CAA Sports, a subsidiary of Creative Artists Agency, allied with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports, and Brodie Van Wagenen left CAA for the Mets front office in an almost unprecedented move. But whilst CAA has been litigious in the past against unions (and notably joined WME’s suit against WGA), it’s not in the same league as WME, which has a history outside baseball of over a century. In other words, WME is perhaps the first agency in modern memory which enters the baseball scene with the willingness and resources to take on the union and very little need for the union besides the certification process.
So as much as Correa hiring WME raised eyebrows, I’m not at all worried about Correa’s long-term earning potential. WME is an elite agency staffed by top-flight lawyers and agents; cracking the MLB free agent code isn’t a problem beyond their expertise irrespective of their lack of experience (plus, they can’t do worse than the agencies already extant).
What makes this hire interesting is that WME is very much an independent actor with an independent agenda, making in-roads into the MLB player market at a time when the union is already embattled as a result of its fraught relationship with the league. WME’s goals may simply be to make money for its clients, but then it also may be wanting to expand its reach beyond what the MLBPA regulations allow, and the fact the WME went far enough as to retain a marquee client before they were even certified amounts to thumbing their collective noses at the union. In short, MLBPA now has the one thing it didn’t need heading into the new CBA negotiations: a new, powerful potential adversary unafraid of protracted battles.
Sheryl Ring, Esq. is Legal Director at Open Communities, a not-for-profit legal aid and fair housing agency in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author’s. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.