The public rarely gets a glimpse into the inner workings of agent battles for players. I have always assumed the battles involved seedy promises to young and potentially naïve players. But what about the young players abroad? How are they treated by the agent community? This week, the details of litigation in New York revealed a bit these relationships and that the representation battles are not limited the United States.
In 2014, a Barcelona based-sports manager name Igor Crespo sued NBA player Bismack Biyombo, and his current NBA agent, Wasserman Media Group, LLC. Crespo’s complaint details an interesting story. Crespo alleges that he first saw a 16-year old Congolese Biyombo toiling in an anonymous tournament in Yemen and thought he had potential to be a great player. Crespo offered to invest in Biyombo’s career and get him to pro leagues in Europe and potentially the NBA.
On June 12, 2009, Biyombo (and his father) signed an agreement where the they agreed that Crespo would be Biyombo’s exclusive representative for any European or NBA contract, as well as any sponsorship contracts. Biyombo, who was not quite 18 at the time, agreed to give 10% of any European/NBA pro contracts to Crespo and 20% of any sponsorship contracts. The agreement was to last one year but was automatically renewable until cancelled by Biyombo on 90 days written notice.
Crespo apparently helped Biyombo get a deal with teams in Spain and Crespo was paid 10% of those deals. He also allegedly helped Biyombo get a deal with Nike. Biyombo then began pushing Crespo to get to the NBA. Crespo claims he secured Biyombo an invite to the 2011 Nike Hoop Summit, where Biyombo put up a triple-double and became a big name in the 2011 draft.
Crespo was not a registered NBA agent, so he found agent Leon Rose for Biyombo. Biyombo did not hire Rose but a different agent, Joel Bell, who negotiated Biyombo’s first NBA contract with Charlotte, which ended being worth over $12.7 million. NBA rules limit agent commissions to 4% of the contract value. Crespo claims that he had a deal with Rose to split the commission on the NBA contract, though it was not clear how that deal would affect the 10% deal noted above.
When Crespo saw that Rose was not the agent of choice, he sued Biyombo and his current agent Wasserman Media Group, LLC, claiming that Biyombo breached the 2009 deal, Biyombo was unjustly enriched in taking Crespo’s money, and that Wasserman improperly interfered with Crespo’s contract with Biyombo.
Just last week, a court ruled on a motion to dismiss Crespo’s claims. It dismissed the breach of contract claim to the extent that it sought commissions for NBA salary because the NBA rules barred a non-agent from seeking such commissions. Crespo also tried to get 2% of the salary (or half the commission) that he would have been paid by Rose. Again, the court found that Crespo was barred from getting commission under any theory because of the NBA rules.
The court, however, allowed Crespo to go forward on his claim for 20% of any sponsorships Biyombo might have, as well as to recover money invested under unjust enrichment in helping move Biyombo’s pro career forward (Crespo claims he has paid out at least $164,000 on Biyombo). The unjust enrichment claim was particularly interesting because it is a discretionary remedy. If the court thought it was not fair, it could have dismissed this claim. Instead, the court referenced an e-mail Biyombo wrote to Crespo’s colleague thanking him for the help and promising to pay back the funds. Based upon this admission the court found that Biyombo had “an equitable obligation” to Crespo to pay the money back.
Did Crespo take advantage of Biyombo? Did Biyombo screw over Crespo? Without all the facts, it is hard to really know. If the facts are really are as they are alleged, the following conclusions can be fairly made:
-Crespo’s initial contract seemed a bit onerous. I don’t know the going rate for agent commissions in Europe but 10% is way higher than the NBA ceiling. But the deal isn’t all terrible. Biyombo had an out. The deal could have been cancelled on 90-days notice and Biyombo failed to exercise the easy out. All Biyombo had to do was consult any attorney in the world, and he or she would have given easy advice to avoid this dispute.
-Crespo really did some valuable work. He put in a good deal of cash into Biyombo’s early career and was not only a leach. Still, Crespo’s side deal with Rose does reveal that Crespo had some idea that the contract was not kosher by NBA standards.
-Biyombo was aware of Crespo’s help and blithely setting Crespo aside appeared unfair on paper. Going forward, Biyombo has made a ton of cash and should easily be able to pay back the $164,000 (or so) that Creso paid. Biyombo also owes the sponsorship money, though I am not aware of any major Biyombo ad campaigns out there. The only ad I could find with Biyombo is a 31 second local ad for Keffer Jeep, which advertised an autograph session. Presumably, Crespo’s 20% will be about $200.
In the end, there are no real bad guys or good guys here but you can appreciate why Crespo felt he was screwed.