Ovechkin lands with IMG ... and it's about time

November, 3, 2009

It is with great interest that I see Alex Ovechkin has come to his senses and signed with a big agency to handle his marketing.

It was announced Monday that the Washington Capitals superstar signed on with IMG, a big player in the sports marketing business. Think Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, etc.

"Alex is a very, very smart young man," Brad Pelletier, the managing director of IMG Canada, told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "I think he realized the potential. There's other athletes out there that are high-profile, and when you're at that level, you do kind of watch what others are doing."

You've seen more of Sidney Crosby in ads and marketing campaigns because his big firm, CAA Sports, has done a great job of getting its client out there. A player of Ovechkin's stature needs a big-time firm to help handle his image.

"His family wanted to make sure that he was set up for the long haul," David Abrutyn, IMG's senior vice president and managing director of global consulting, told ESPN.com. "Our track record and history with the clients we've represented in the global talent arena and the amount of time they've been with us was something that was very attractive to him and also the very methodical approach that we take. We're going to put together a brand plan for Alex so that there's a clear communication to the personality and the vision for the things that he should do."

It's about time, Alex.

Two seasons ago, Ovechkin fired veteran agent Don Meehan of Newport Sports, one of the bigger hockey firms that handles both contract negotiations and marketing, like CAA Sports, the Bobby Orr group and other agencies. Soon after, without an agent and with the help of his mother, Ovechkin signed a 13-year, $124 million contract with the Caps in January 2008. The theory behind Ovie's decision to go at it alone, which has proved to be flawed, was the salary cap made it obvious what a lot of players would sign for, so why give 3-6 percent of it to an agent? The fear, of course, was that agents might one day be frozen out of the big superstar contracts.

Which brings us to Monday's IMG announcement. It has to be a bit of an acknowledgment that Ovechkin and his family made a mistake to part ways with Meehan. Now, some may say, "Well, Ovechkin got that big deal without Meehan, so who needs him?" But that's small-minded thinking. First, Meehan had spent several years helping Ovechkin and his family to get him to where he was; from that standpoint alone, I think it was brutal for Ovechkin to fire Meehan. Second, whatever money Ovechkin saved by firing Meehan he may have lost by not having big-time representation on the marketing side of his career.

"Good agents since the lockout found a way to get the top young guys paid right out of the entry-level system and older players to get front-loaded, long-term deals," one NHL agent, who requested anonymity, told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "That didn't exist pre-cap, so agents have already found a way to be creative in the cap world."

In my mind, agents -- big or small -- are needed now more than ever in the NHL. Recognizable free agents have been left without a job every summer since the lockout, and a good agent will make sure they find work. And, of course, the good agents do so much more for their clients than just negotiate contracts.

I give Ovechkin and his family credit. They've figured it out. IMG will do a great deal for his worldwide image.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer


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