Roger Federer and his agent Tony Godsick start their own firm representing athletes

In the latest shift in a sports management business that appears to be trending toward the boutique, Roger Federer has joined with his longtime agent Tony Godsick and two American investors to form an agency called Team8.

The company, based in the Cleveland area and headed by Godsick, will represent the interests of Federer, the 32-year-old Swiss tennis star, who is one of the world’s highest-earning and most popular athletes. But Team8 also has signed one of Federer’s main rivals, the fifth-ranked Juan Martín del Potro of Argentina, with input from Federer, who spent considerable time with del Potro on an exhibition tour of South America last year.

Grigor Dimitrov, a rising 22-year-old Bulgarian whom many tennis experts view as a potential Grand Slam champion, confirmed in an email that he would also join Team8, effective Jan. 1.

That would give the new agency a strong foothold in both the present and the future of tennis and would be a symbolic move for the 23rd-ranked Dimitrov, a player who was once nicknamed Baby Fed and whose flowing, all-court game and one-handed backhand have long elicited stylistic comparisons with Federer.

Godsick declined to confirm Dimitrov’s signing, but he did make clear that the intent was not to create another big agency in the mold of the International Management Group, where Godsick, an American, worked for nearly 20 years before he and Federer left in 2012.

“We’re trying to be a boutique agency that will manage just a small stable of iconic athletes,” Godsick said in a telephone interview from the firm’s new offices in Pepper Pike, Ohio, in Cleveland’s eastern suburbs. “We’re really going to try to be selective here. Some of the other groups, they look to sign as many players as they can and hope a few of them stick and make it, and they really go after the juniors. We’re not going to.”

Godsick said that Team8 was also interested in acquiring or creating events and in representing athletes in sports other than tennis, as well as entertainers. He said that Federer, who is training hard and testing new rackets in Dubai after a difficult season in which he dropped to No. 6 in the rankings, would be a client and not an active partner for now. But Godsick said the agency had been created in part to give Federer a platform when he retires.

“I can sell Roger Federer really well, but nobody sells Roger better than Roger,” Godsick said. “I always joke with him, ‘Look, you’ve been really successful on the tennis court, but I promise you, you’ll be more successful when you’re done playing tennis.”

Max Eisenbud, a leading agent with IMG whose clients include Maria Sharapova and Li Na, said that a big agency had significant advantages in representing global stars because of global resources and manpower.
“I just don’t think I could manage my global clients on my own,” Eisenbud said.

Godsick said that he was particularly interested in signing a leading golfer in the near term.

“I think small is the new big,” he said. “We’re for more of a personalized approach, and you’ve seen it now with so many different athletes.”

The other investors are Ian McKinnon and the billionaire financier Dirk Ziff, the eldest of the three brothers who started Ziff Brothers Investments in 1992 after their father, William, sold his publishing interests.

Godsick, 42, began working with the former No. 1 player Monica Seles when he was at IMG on a summer internship. He later represented Lindsay Davenport, Anna Kournikova and Tommy Haas.

Godsick is married to Mary Joe Fernandez, a former French Open and Australian Open finalist with whom he has two young children. Godsick began working with Federer in 2005 when Federer returned to IMG after managing many of his own business interests for a brief stretch.

Other leading agents expressed surprise that Godsick and Federer had decided to include other athletes in their project.

“Roger is going to have a legacy and a business that is going to live on well past his playing days, similar to a guy like Arnold Palmer in golf,” said John Tobias, president of Lagardère Unlimited Tennis. “I figured that would be enough, and I had to figure those figures post-career would be so solid that Tony would be just fine financially. Why he wants to take on additional responsibility, I’m not sure. I’m guessing it’s because Tony is a pretty competitive guy.”

Godsick said he had felt the desire to build something new, not just to manage Federer’s existing business, however lucrative. Forbes reported that Federer was the second-highest-paid athlete last year, at $71.5 million, behind Tiger Woods. Godsick and Federer’s move comes as IMG is on the verge of being sold. It also comes as Federer’s longtime rival Rafael Nadal has left IMG with his agent, Carlos Costa, and as Costa has reportedly expressed interest in signing a promising 17-year-old Chilean player, Christian Garin, to a management contract.

“Certainly with Carlos Costa and Tony Godsick, those are two big-name agents moving out on their own,” Tobias said. “I get a lot of questions - ‘Is this the trend?’ I really don’t think so. I think this is a case of just two employees not entirely happy in their situation with two incredible athletes to build around. Not everyone has that luxury. I don’t see that as a trend. If they didn’t have Federer and Nadal, I don’t think they’ve have taken the risk. Carlos and Tony are both very good agents, but the margins are very tough in athlete representation.”

Date: 12th December 2013, Source: The New York Times


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