US group buys Michael Owen's agent

THE LUCRATIVE rights to represent Michael Owen, England's football prodigy, fell into American hands yesterday after the Liverpool star's agent was bought by the US marketing group Marquee.

The American company, which is listed on the Nasdaq exchange, is believed to have paid around pounds 3m to acquire Tony Stephens Associates (TSA). The company, founded 10 years ago by Mr Stephens when he was marketing director of Wembley Stadium, also represents the England captain Alan Shearer and the Manchester United star David Beckham.

Marquee said yesterday that TSA will be merged with Park Associates, a company headed by the sports impresario Jon Holmes acquired earlier this year, to form Marquee UK. The deal leaves Mr Holmes, who will become managing director of Marquee UK, in control of one of the largest sports agents in the country. His clients - who include the former England striker and TV presenter Gary Lineker, the former England cricket captain David Gower and the one-time rugby captain Will Carling as well as Owen - are believed to be worth more than pounds 100m.

Mr Holmes, a well-respected figure in the game with a reputation as a tough but fair negotiator, built Park Associates on a small but selected list of sporting stars. One football commentator yesterday described him as "a blue-chip agent of great integrity".

He said he had decided to join Marquee because the recent boom in the football industry required a wider expertise than the traditional agent could provide. "Consolidation is a world-wide trend. There are requirements for expertise on a wider basis".

Mr Holmes said he was "actively looking" for a TV partner to boost the company's reach. Marquee UK, which will have an annual turnover of around pounds 15m and profits of just below pounds 1m, derives most of its income from fees charged on players' transfers and marketing contracts. Agents normally charge a fee of around 2.5 per cent on players contracts and of up to 20 per cent on advertising deals.

Marquee UK will soon be part of an even larger group. Its US parent company, has recently agreed a $100m takeover by SFX, a publicly-quoted US entertainment group, with a market value of around $1bn. SFX represents the US basketball superstar Michael Jordan.

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