Hollywood's portrayal of sports agencies presents a world
that is dramatic and cut-throat, with ambitious sports agents
competing for the chance to represent talented athletes. The recent
Alberta Queen's Bench decision in Evans v. The Sports Corporation
brought this competitive business into the courtroom when a sports
agency squared off against a former employee. It also provides
several important lessons of broad application to many
Richard Evans switched from the practice of law into sports
agency in 2000. He signed an employment contract with The Sports
Corporation ("TSC"). Evans was put in charge of TSC's
"Czech-Slovak pipeline". That was a network of contacts
through which TSC recruited Czech and Slovakian hockey players.
Evans became the primary TSC contact for these affiliated Czech and
By the spring of 2006, relations between Evans and TSC had
disintegrated. As the end of his employment contract approached,
Evans decided to split from TSC. He started his own sports agency.
Several of the eastern European contacts, including Peter Kadlecek
and Jaromir Henys, transferred their relationships from TSC to
Evans' new company. But TSC asked him to leave before the end
of Evans' contract.
The Key Issues
Evans sued TSC. He claimed that he was owed money due to, a) the
early termination of his fixed term contract, b) the suspension of
his salary during the 2004-2005 NHL lockout, and c) the outstanding
bonus he was owed for signing a player, Radim Vrbata, with TSC.
TSC countered with its own claim against Evans. It alleged that
Evans had violated the non-solicitation clause in his employment
agreement. In it, Evans had agreed to not solicit the employees or
clients of TSC after his departure.
Although both Evans and TSC were successful on certain points,
TSC won the overall battle in respect of the damages award.
The court found that Evans was entitled to payment of his salary
until the end of his fixed term contract. He was also entitled to
the bonus for signing Vrbata. But his claim for salary stemming
from the lockout was denied.
Importantly, TSC succeeded in their first non-solicitation
claim. The court ruled that Evans was in violation of the
non-solicitation clause for soliciting Kadlecek and Henys. While
these contacts were not officially TSC employees, the court found
that the relationship between them and TSC was tantamount to
employment - TSC paid their expenses and they were key employees in
the Czech-Slovak pipeline that TSC had nurtured. In addition,
although Evans maintained that he did not personally solicit these
contacts, the court found that Evans' decision to turn a blind
eye to such actions did not absolve him from his duties under the
The court dismissed TSC's second non-solicitation claim due
to a lack of evidence. Evans denied soliciting any clients and TSC
presented no concrete evidence to the contrary. It relied only on
circumstantial proof . It looked to the fact that a number of TSC
clients had followed Evans to his new agency. And that Evans had
forwarded calls from his TSC cell phone to his new business line.
The court stated that although suspicious circumstances existed,
they were not enough to allow it to make an inference of
solicitation. The employment agreement prevented Evans from
soliciting clients, but it did not prevent him from
accepting clients. The clients had a right to choose their
A key part of the decision was the finding that
quasi-professionals, such as sports agents have "the right and
duty" to advise their clients of their departure but do NOT
have the right or duty to inform their clients that they can follow
their agent. The court stated that, "the clients of
professionals can find out their rights from others, not from the
departing professional him or herself."
Impact for Employers
This largely employer-friendly decision makes several important
points. Firstly, it reinforces the principle that a clause
restricting the solicitation of employees can cover persons who do
not have the legal status of employees but are similar. Secondly,
it limits the information that departing employees can tell
clients, specifically denying the employees the right to tell
clients that they can follow that employee.
Finally, in a less positive vein for employers, this case
highlights the difficulty of proving that solicitation took place.
One needs more than merely suspicious circumstances.
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