"These crossover deals turned out to be nothing more than smoke and mirrors," said one agent who formerly worked for one of the heavyweight agencies. "I'm still waiting for the film careers of Paul Pierce, Jason Kidd or Kevin Garnett to get off the ground."
"In this industry there is no big advantage to being with a big agency," said Joel Bell, a former Octagon agent who now represents Washington Wizards reserve guard Steve Blake. "Athletes follow people, not a company name. If any of the top agents in these big companies moves to his own office across the street, the athlete is going to get the exact same service. That's cause a good agent is experienced at marketing their people and negotiating contracts."
Arn Tellem, above, "has the loyalty of every agent in this place. The entire basketball and baseball staff would be out the door with him," one SFX agent says.
Bell uses Blake as an example. In only his second season in the NBA, Blake is hardly a household name around the nation. He averaged 5.9 points and 2.8 assists in his rookie year last season. Yet Bell has obtained Blake endorsement deals with sneaker company And1, three trading card firms, car maker Toyota and helped him launch a basketball camp in Germantown this summer.
Other agents fled because they found the corporate environment constraining.
"The clash between the entrepreneurial spirit and corporate culture was quite evident," said agent Bill Strickland, who once worked for IMG. "One could either endeavor to fit in or endeavor to survive on their own. Given these guys' former lives as entrepreneurs, many of them elected to leave."
A source within SFX said that fitting in at a company like the 30-year-old Clear Channel has not been easy for Tellem, who recently helped Kobe Bryant and Memphis Grizzlies forward Pau Gasol sign contracts worth $136.4 million and $86 million, respectively.
"We don't fit in," said the source. "Clear Channel is a staid old company, and we're hip. We should have been spun off from the beginning. They demand unrealistic year-to-year growth even while their stock has taken a beating this year. In my opinion, if Arn stays it's only going to be for the short term. At some point I would expect him to be on his own again."
Despite their troubles, some agencies continue to draw huge interest. New York buyout firm Forstmann Little & Co. is trying to finalize the purchase of IMG, which represents Tiger Woods, Joe Montana and Derek Jeter, for $700 million. The price tag isn't a surprise to Moross.
"Some of these institutions forgot who they were dealing with," said Moross. "These people [agents] negotiate for a living."
Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.