Ice Miller attorney departs, takes sports practice with him

July 14, 2008

Sports agent Andrew "Buddy" Baker has left locally based law firm Ice Miller and is taking with him the firm's sports division, IM Sports Services, which he wants to develop into a giant agency with a national reach.

Baker's new firm, Exclusive Sports Group, starts with a list of high-profile clients, including Purdue University basketball coach Matt Painter, IUPUI basketball coach Ron Hunter, Chicago Bears safety Brandon McGowan, and former Purdue basketball player and Houston Rockets forward Carl Landry.

"After an evaluation of the firm's newly revised strategic plan, we determined that the services provided by [IM Sports Services] no longer fit with that plan," Phillip Scaletta, Ice Miller deputy managing partner, said in a statement.

Scaletta confirmed that all IMSS' assets had been sold to Baker and that Ice Miller would have no further involvement in the operation. Financial terms of the deal were not released.

Those in the athlete representation industry said conflicts can arise when a sports agency is owned by a law firm, and can hinder the agency's growth.

"Law firms often represent management within the sports industry and that leads to conflict," said Milton Thompson, an attorney and president of Grand Slam Cos., a local sports marketing consultancy.

Baker, 37, has already opened up shop on the ninth floor of the Pan Am Plaza office building. He's in the process of adding staff, beginning with Ice Miller's McAllister Collins and Aaron Smith. Collins will serve as vice president and Smith will be director of client relations for Baker's firm.

Baker said his goal is for Exclusive Sports Group to become one of the nation's biggest and best sports agencies, representing players and coaches in multiple sports.

The Long Island native who graduated from Purdue University and Indiana University School of Law was hired by Ice Miller in 2001 to launch IMSS. He said the operation has grown every year since.

"Being a part of Ice Miller was a good synergy for many years, but ultimately I felt it was a brighter future on my own," Baker said.

Ice Miller officials said in 2005 that getting a foothold in the ultra competitive sports agency business had been more difficult than they thought, but that the division had finally turned the corner financially.

Baker thinks the operation will attain a higher national profile now that it's out from under Ice Miller's wing.

"To grow this the way I want to, we felt our initiatives needed to be at the forefront of the company we are a part of, not a secondary thought," he said.

Thompson, a former sports agent who represented Indiana Pacers Detlef Schrempf and Rik Smits, among others, said Baker has his work cut out for him.

"There are more agents than there are professional athletes, and some of the big agents have more than one client," Thompson said. "What's that tell you? There are a lot of agents out there without any clients. And clients in this business retire young, so you have to continually restock the pipeline. It's not an easy way to make a living."

National Football League and National Basketball Association agents get 3 percent of the salary of players they represent, plus a cut of endorsements they negotiate. But Baker has grown his firm by offering more than traditional services.

"We help with the transition to the professional ranks," Baker said. "We help our clients move, find a home, buy a vehicle, deal with the media, and advise them in many other matters. I'm on the phone with my guys all the time, in some cases daily."

That approach has helped Baker grow his business, primarily by word of mouth. Painter, whom Baker met while he was a student manager and Painter was a player at Purdue, referred Cuonzo Martin, now the head coach at Missouri State University; Landry; and others to Baker.

Justin Green, now a running back with the Baltimore Ravens, met Baker through a mutual contact.

"I was approached by other agents, but Buddy quickly became a friend," Green said. "We've established a relationship where he's helped me beyond my athletic career."

Despite the name change and his firm's new independent status, Baker said little has changed for his clients. He represents 28 NFL players, 20 professional basketball players--most in European leagues, and three basketball coaches.

Baker's immediate goals include designing and launching a Web site, expanding his office, and establishing a central Indiana network of service providers, including media training and medical and training facilities for his clients.

"We want to be an elite agency," Baker said. "Our goal is to be internationally renowned. We want to have a facility here that reflects that."

While many agents are in New York and California, Thompson thinks an Indianapolis sports agency can work.

"Other agents have succeeded outside what some consider the major markets," Thompson said. "This business is about relationships and the deals you can broker."

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