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Leading the Leagues in Assists

Concierge Industry Caters to Athletes' Needs -- and Whims

By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 4, 2004; Page A01

Detroit Lions running back Kevin Jones wanted a dog -- but not just any dog. He wanted an English bulldog and, when a star athlete such as Kevin Jones wants a dog, he doesn't go to a shelter, a kennel or a breeder. He picks up the phone and, within a few days, is walking the puppy of his dreams.

Tarrer Management put the leash in Jones's hand. The company caters to every personal and financial whim in the lives of the two dozen professional athletes it serves -- and that means tracking down the perfect English bulldog.

NBA star Carmelo Anthony is among a growing number of athletes who have turned to Terence Tarrer, among others, to manage their lives. (Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

An article and a caption in some Aug. 4 editions misspelled the name of Terence Tarrer, owner of Tarrer Management, a concierge firm that serves professional athletes.

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When Jones called, client services specialist Chyncia Brown jumped on the Internet and found a champion bulldog breeder in Britain, ordering an 8-week-old, $2,500 female that was flown to Dulles International Airport. Brown guided the puppy through customs and took it home with her. Three days later, the pup was plopped in a rented Jeep Cherokee and driven overnight by another Tarrer specialist to Dearborn, Mich., where "Cheeks," as the bulldog was named, was delivered to Jones around 7 a.m.

"I called them up and said I needed to get a dog, and the next thing you know, they got this dog," Jones said. "They got it to me within two or three days . . . all the shots done."

Jones is one of hundreds of professional athletes whose salaries have soared over the last decade, creating a class of young millionaires inclined to hire staff to handle the clutter and inconvenience of everyday life. A small army of personal assistants and lifestyle management firms has grown up around professional athletes, offering 'round-the-clock hand-holding that ranges from stocking refrigerators to paying the dry cleaner to making sure grandmothers get to the airport on time. The business is expected to double to $1.3 billion in annual revenue in the next five years.

"We can do everything from chartering private yachts and jets to simple things like finding you a housekeeper to finding the best tea in town for $10," said Dionne Muhammad, founder and president of Celebrity Personal Assistants Inc., which was retained by the NFL Players Association this year to be available to serve its 1,896 active players and more than 5,000 retirees. CPAI has a concierge division in addition to other lifestyle management services and handles athletes from most of the major sports as well as some entertainers.

Personal assistants have been serving A-list celebrities and the wealthy over the last century, and many of the top sports agencies have client service providers who help athletes navigate the demands of daily life. Sports agency giant SFX has designated individuals who help set up households for clients, do their shopping, negotiate leases, buy drapes, blinds, furniture. You name it.

"It's not like athletes expect this service, but it's something they like," said Steven B. Trax, vice president of SFX's financial services arm, which helps athletes manage their money. "They just don't want to be bothered with some of the mundane household issues that come up."

Octagon Financial Services, which serves hundreds of athletes, helps clients purchase homes, cars and other big-ticket items, and finds trainers, chefs and even sports psychologists and translators. But Octagon shies from household tasks, leaving that job to players or other companies, such as CPAI.

"It's a personal service business, so it's hard to say no when a client gets traded from one city to another and needs help to rebuild their lifestyle from scratch," said Frank Zecca, vice president at Octagon. "We do send people out in planes to get it taken care of."

Sheree Buchanan, wife of former Atlanta Falcons cornerback Ray Buchanan, who signed with the Oakland Raiders this summer, was in tears a few weeks ago when she called CPAI to ask for help finding a home in California.

"They had a realtor call me 15 minutes later," Sheree said. But the help didn't stop there. CPAI found Prince concert tickets for September, is compiling a list of Bay Area private schools for their four children and is working on a pediatrician, orthodontist, dentist and family doctor.

"I have four kids," she said. "You are constantly moving and you have people pulling at you. My husband is at training camp and it's wonderful to have someone there to help you."

Muhammad, 34, is a former software executive who founded CPAI four years ago with the idea of staffing celebrities with personal assistants who wore suits and were college educated. Previously, many celebrities relied on members of their informal entourages, usually made up of childhood friends and acquaintances, to handle minor tasks.

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