Massive sports agencies have been brought into battle in the State of New York. On September 14, Excel Sports Management initiated litigation against Endeavor Group Holdings (formerly known as William Morris Endeavor Entertainment — “WME”) and its wholly-owned subsidiary WME Sports, alleging tortious plans and efforts by Endeavor to form a baseball agency by unlawfully poaching Excel employees James Murray IV and Michael Stival.
Excel claims that Endeavor knew that Murray and Stival had multiple years remaining on their employment agreements with Excel and, despite such knowledge, induced them to breach their contracts to compete against their former employer. The Complaint says that this was Endeavor’s way of finally building a reputable baseball division after many years of failing in such efforts, which included unsuccessful attempts to purchase baseball agencies.
“While competition among sports agencies for the best talent is fierce, there is a bright line rule that has been respected by every sports agency, at least until now: no agency can hire agents or other professionals who are under a contract for a term that has not yet expired (as opposed to hiring at-will employees, who are free to leave),” states the Complaint. “Violating this bright line rule would not only be unlawful, but would throw the sports agency business into disarray, to the detriment of agencies, agents, and their player clients.”
On August 31, Murray and Stival resigned from Excel. According to the Complaint, neither of them cited any provision of their employment agreements that permitted them to resign, perhaps because no such provision exists within the 4-corners of those documents. Excel says, upon information and belief, that Endeavor has agreed to indemnify Murray and Stival if Excel chooses to take legal action against them related to their moving to a competitor agency.
The hiring of Murray and Stival by WME Sports was highlighted in a recent The Hollywood Reporter article, which also noted that Billy Eppler, formerly the general manager of the Los Angeles Angels, will help lead Endeavor’s new baseball representation business. That article credited Murray with growing Excel’s baseball practice from 25 clients to more than 150 clients over the last 9 years and stated that there is currently no word on which clients may move with Murray and Stival from Excel to WME Sports; however, at least three Excel baseball player clients have now left since September 10 to become WME Sports clients.
Endeavor brought in former Creative Artists Agency baseball agent Kent Matthes before hiring Murray, Stival, and Eppler, but the Complaint makes Matthes out to be a junior agent at least as compared to Murray and Stival.
The Complaint makes it seem like Murray is the prized hire for Endeavor. He was a senior executive, reported directly to Casey Close, who serves as the President of Excel’s baseball division, and seemed to be very much involved in managing and growing Excel’s baseball division over the past few years. Stival worked for the Major League Baseball Players Association prior to his experience with Excel, and he took on an active role in the salary arbitration process for Excel baseball player clients.
Excel says that Endeavor was under enormous pressure to finally build a reputable baseball division or it would likely otherwise lose its sole MLB player client. While the Complaint does not name the player, it is believed to be Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, who will become a free agent after the current baseball season.
Excel is not only seeking monetary damages from Endeavor but also injunctive relief to prevent Endeavor from continuing to employ Murray and Stival for the remainder of the terms under their respective employment contracts with Excel.
“In short, Murray and Stival — two high-level executives working at an industry-leading agency with a substantial baseball division — resigned from that agency at exactly the same time to move to an agency with a single paying MLB client and no meaningful operational infrastructure,” states the Complaint. “There is no plausible explanation for this behavior other than that they were induced by Endeavor to breach their contracts with Excel, so Endeavor could use Excel’s confidential and proprietary information to compete with Excel and steal its clients.”