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Tiger’s agent faces uncertain market as IMG deal ends

Tiger’s agent faces uncertain market as IMG deal ends

By Liz Mullen, Staff Writer

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The employment deal of IMG Golf division head Mark Steinberg, agent to Tiger Woods, expires next month, at which time he could decide to stay with the firm, leave for a rival company or start a new agency with Woods as a client, according to multiple sources.

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It’s believed Woods would leave with Steinberg if the agent were to exit IMG for another firm or to start his own.
Steinberg, reached on his cell phone last week, declined to comment on his future. 

IMG spokesman Jim Gallagher, in an email, said, “We are going to respectfully decline any comment on Mark Steinberg’s contract.”

Sources said that under the terms of his deal, Steinberg cannot speak to any rival agency until 30 days before his employment deal expires. One source said his agreement with IMG expires on June 30 and he can begin talks on June 1.

It is believed that Woods could leave with Steinberg if Steinberg were to choose to leave IMG. As a practical matter, star athletes tend to stay with the agent with whom they have developed the closest relationship. Steinberg has worked his entire career at IMG, starting there in 1992, and becoming Woods’ agent in 1998.

Whatever the course, the type of marketplace that Steinberg will face as early as June 30 is uncertain.

As Woods’ agent, Steinberg is widely viewed as the most powerful agent in golf, but his value on the market today might not be the same as it was 2 1/2 years ago, when Steinberg previously re-signed with IMG. Back then, Woods was the No. 1 golfer in the world and he carried a number of blue-chip endorsement deals.

Since late 2009, Woods has been beset both by injury and by the revelation of extramarital affairs that ultimately cost him his marriage. According to a CNBC report last year, Woods lost millions of dollars worth of endorsement deals through the resulting scandal, in turn costing IMG at least $4.6 million in fees. Deals lost included agreements with Accenture, AT&T and Gatorade.

Although the financial details of Woods’ ongoing, high-profile endorsement deals with EA and Nike, among others, are not known, under normal industry practice, IMG would still receive fees from those deals should Woods depart with Steinberg.

Steinberg’s value moving forward would be in bringing in new deals for Woods, as well as endorsement deals for any other clients he may sign in the future.

On the course, Woods was ranked No. 8 in the world as of last week, not having won an event since September 2009 and far-removed from the dominance that had him ranked No. 1 in the world for 281 consecutive weeks between June 2005 and October 2010. He pulled out of last week’s event, The Players, after nine holes on Thursday, citing injury.

Steinberg re-signed an employment deal with IMG in late 2008 or early 2009 after exploring the possibility of leaving the sports and entertainment giant. Sources said Steinberg talked to a number of other agencies in 2008, including meeting with Creative Artists Agency President Richard Lovett, before choosing to stay at IMG.

Steinberg’s contract expiration comes at a delicate time for IMG as an agency. It has recently been reported that IMG owner and CEO Ted Forstmann is battling brain cancer. In addition, Forstmann and Steinberg are said not to be close, and although Forstmann has personal friendships with a number of IMG star clients, including golfer and former IMG client Vijay Singh, he does not have a close, personal relationship with Woods.

Forstmann told Fox Business last year, “I don’t know Tiger Woods hardly at all.”

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