Over the last several years, a small cadre of shrewd and powerful agents has cornered the market on some of television's most valuable commodities—the announcers, producers and directors of network sports. The disturbing result is that with so few representing so many, these agents must chart a zigzag course through all sorts of potential conflicts of interest. In examining some of the incestuous relationships in this arcane slice of life, it's helpful to keep one point in mind: As Alice knew, things have a way of becoming curiouser and curiouser.
With the exception of a few announcers, most notably Howard Cosell, who majors in promoting himself, virtually everybody who's anybody in network sports is handled by one of three high-octane agents. Ed (The Hook) Hookstratten, 49, a Los Angeles lawyer who represented Elvis the last 15 years of The King's life and still has a major share of the Hollywood set, works for glitterati only. Most producers, directors and second-level announcers need not apply. Barry Frank, 50, senior corporate vice-president of Mark McCormack's International Management Group, has a gaggle of clients, most of them announcers. Finally, Bob Rosen, 47, of New York, represents some announcers, too, but has made a specialty of the lunch-box crowd out in the truck. His clientele includes leading producers and directors at each network. The word is, if you have enough talent, any one of the Big Three can get you a salary commensurate with that of the ninth man on the San Antonio Spurs, minus the agent's 10% cut, of course. But be forewarned: Your agent may also represent people against whom you'll compete for a position or assignment.
Take the 1982 World Series telecasts on NBC. Observant viewers will recall that Joe Garagiola opened each game with two innings of play-by-play. Dick Enberg then did the next four innings before Garagiola returned for the last 2½ or three. Meanwhile, Tony Kubek served as a traffic cop. Little did anyone realize that Garagiola and Enberg had clauses in their contracts that guaranteed them important roles in the Series and effectively benched Kubek. One line in Garagiola's deal stated that no announcer could do more innings of play-by-play than he. Another clause reportedly said that the first face seen and voice heard in each telecast had to be—you guessed it—Garagiola's.
Enberg's contract said that he had to have a role commensurate with his position at NBC, for which he happens to be play-by-play man par excellence. Before the beginning of the Series, Hookstratten, who is Enberg's agent, Felix Shagin, whose only major sports client is Garagiola, and NBC Sports President Arthur Watson had to work out how many innings each of the announcers would do. Still, the climate was frigid in the booth, with Enberg and Garagiola hardly speaking to each other.
Hold on, there's more. The Hook recently moved Vince Scully from CBS to NBC, where Scully will do all the baseball play-by-play this season, with Garagiola handling the color. Kubek, the odd man out, is now doing his own negotiating with all three networks. His former agent? None other than Joe Garagiola Jr. Whatever happens to Kubek, NBC may already have played musical clauses with agents a little too often, because Hookstratten has worked a line into Scully's contract that says he must do at least nine innings of play-by-play on all NBC games. Moreover, Enberg still wants a role in future World Series.
Can Hookstratten serve the interests of Enberg and Scully equally well? Of course, says Hookstratten: "Each knows I represent the other, and there's only a conflict of interest when there is a failure to disclose." Hookstratten insists that neither broadcaster's assignments will conflict with the other's. But Enberg, when informed of Scully's nine-inning clause, disagreed.
Scully's move to NBC indirectly involved Rosen. Hookstratten advised Scully to leave CBS after Scully had failed to land the play-by-play job for the 1982 Super Bowl. Pat Summerall, the fastest horse in Rosen's stable, got the assignment. Rosen takes credit for Scully's move. "The reason he's now at NBC is that we caused CBS to make the Scully-Summerall Super Bowl decision," he says. "We did it by creating an NBC offer for Summerall. CBS was afraid it might lose him, so it put him on the Super Bowl." Hogwash, says CBS Sports President Neil Pilson, who maintains that claiming credit for assignments is "one of the more annoying things that agents do." Nor is Pilson fond of an agent tactic he calls leapfrogging. "They'll make a deal for X," he says. "Then they'll say, 'Well, if you're paying X this, you ought to pay Y more.' That one is irritating."
Rosen, who has headed his own agency for better than 20 years, also represents Dick Stockton and Gary Bender, who do mostly basketball and football and could someday emerge as head-to-head rivals. In addition, he has blue-chip CBS directors Sandy Grossman, Bob Fishman and Frank Chirkinian. No problem, says Rosen: "It's a small business, and if you're not trusted, you're dead." True, but the potential for abuse is always there.
Says NBC Producer Teddy Nathanson, a former client of Rosen's who's now with a lesser-known agent, "Suppose ABC is looking for a producer and the agent has more than one person at NBC. He then has to make up his mind which one to pitch to ABC. Or say ABC is looking for a director and the agent has Sandy [Grossman] at CBS and me at NBC. How does he handle that situation?"
Frank, who has the most name clients among the Big Three, is TV's version of the Army general who puts in his years at the Pentagon and then retires in middle age for a six-figure job in the munitions industry. First a vice-president for sports programming at ABC and then vice-president for sports at CBS, he founded the TV-agency side of IMG in 1978. Frank sells programs on behalf of Trans World International (a division of IMG) to the very networks he negotiates with on behalf of clients. What's to say he wouldn't demand fewer dollars for Johnny-at-the-Mike if his old network friends could find it in their hearts to buy Battle of the Network Bimbos? No way, claim Frank and TV executives, because the system contains checks and balances and too many careers are at stake.
In 1981 Hookstratten won our Quinella of the Year Award for negotiating Tom Brokaw's move off NBC's Today show and onto the network's Nightly News and Bryant Gumbel out of NBC Sports and onto Today. Frank won last year's Quinella by obtaining a lucrative play-by-play contract for NBC's Bob Costas, while Len Berman, another of Frank's clients, eased onto the very NFL '82 show for which Costas reportedly had been chosen. Costas says it was his decision, not Frank's, to pass up NFL '82 for play-by-play.
Frank and Rosen, whose partner is Clarence Cross, a former CBS executive, sometimes wind up in the awkward position of conferring with a client for a client. One of Rosen's people, Mike Weisman, just became executive producer of NBC Sports, a position that puts him in control of all production and announcing assignments. Rosen may eventually have to lobby Weisman for a better football assignment for an NBC director who's also a Rosen client.
Since agents began blanketing sports TV in the mid-1970s, an informal salary scale has evolved. A front-line announcer like John Madden might make $300,000 a year, sources say, while more senior luminaries such as Brent Musburger, Summerall and Enberg go for more than $700,000. Ranking producers and directors like Grossman or Nathanson are said to earn $150,000 to $400,000. All of Cosell's TV, radio and outside work, sources agree, could bring him more than the $1.6 million per annum Dan Rather is said to make.
For the agent, 10% of enough $250,000 paychecks comes to a nice piece of change. But in truth, the hunt may be half the fun. "Ah, the nefarious webs we weave," says one of the Big Three with a chuckle.
BOOKED BY THE HOOK
VINCE SCULLY: His losing the '82 Super Bowl at CBS aroused The Hook's ire.
DICK ENBERG: His World Series innings were apportioned by special committee.
BRYANT GUMBEL: Brokaw, the man he replaced, also was advised by The Hook.
MERLIN OLSEN: Ideal Hookstratten client: a free agent who can talk and act.
PHYLLIS GEORGE: A Miss America title made her perfect bait for The Hook.
O.J. SIMPSON: The Hook's newest client is now negotiating with ABC and NBC.
PAT SUMMERALL: Rosen says an NBC offer led to his Super Bowl job on CBS.
MIKE WEISMAN: At NBC, he could control the destiny of other Rosen clients.
HARRY COYLE: He's the premier baseball director on television.
DICK STOCKTON: He and Bender could end up competing against each other.
GARY BENDER: His clippings aren't classy but his assignments always are.
SANDY GROSSMAN: Rosen also handles potential Grossman competitors at CBS.
AL MICHAELS: His father ran TWI, so he became Frank's second client.
BOB COSTAS: Stayed in play-by-play, becoming front half of big Quinella.
LEN BERMAN: Became second half of Quinella by landing NFL '82 post.
JOHN MADDEN: Frank takes credit for persuading CBS to give him a shot.
EARL WEAVER: Now that he's in the booth, Frank coaches him on delivery.
AHMAD RASHAD: Frank reportedly had NBC give him a New York flat.