Three months following the ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement, two key members of the MLS Players Union’s front office, including U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame defender Eddie Pope, are leaving to join sports marketing powerhouse Octagon. The division established next month by Pope and MLSPU staff counsel Mike Senkowski may shake up the North American player representation landscape, which is dominated by Wasserman Media Group and James Grant Sports.
Pope and Senkowski will work out of Octagon’s headquarters in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., as directors of the firm’s new North American soccer practice. According to Octagon’s website, it currently represents around 900 athletes and sports and media personalities around the world, manages more than 13,000 events annually from 68 offices and is responsible for approximately $3 billion in sponsorship spending. NBA MVP Stephen Curry, swimmer Michael Phelps and six-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson are among the athletes in Octagon’s portfolio.
The company hasn’t done much with soccer, however. It managed World Cup sponsorships for MasterCard, Budweiser and Johnson & Johnson, among others. Octagon also represents Liverpool and England forward Daniel Sturridge and NBC pundit Graeme Le Saux, a former Chelsea, Blackburn Rovers and England defender.
Pope and Senkowski hope to bring Octagon’s size and influence to bear in North America, and eventually beyond.
“An opportunity was presented to us, a really good opportunity, and it was just too good to pass up,” Pope told SI.com. “The ability to run a soccer division, essentially build my own business at a large company, it was just really hard to pass up.”
A three-time World Cup veteran and three-time MLS champion, Pope retired following the 2007 season and has spent some eight years as a liaison between the MLS player pool and MLSPU office. As Director of Player Relations, the North Carolina graduate visits every club every year and is available to players who have questions about their contracts or career. He’s played a role in two CBA negotiations.
“The phone calls that you get in my position, any problem that any player could ever come up with, I’ve probably had to deal with it and counsel that player and tried to help them get through that issue,” Pope said. “If a player were to retire and come to me and say, ‘I want to become an agent,’ my advice would be to go work at the Union for five years and get that experience. You’re forced to deal with everything … You’re touching almost every aspect of the business from both sides of the business—from the league side of the fence and player side of the fence.”
Senkowski earned his law degree from American University and spent time at Creative Artists Agency and the NFL Players Association before joining the MLSPU, where he monitors CBA compliance, reviews contracts, represents players with grievances and helps them prepare for upcoming contract negotiations.
Asked for comment, MLSPU executive director Bob Foose said the departure of Pope and Senkowski was amicable. Pope said the MLSPU’s main priority over the next year would be to help players adjust to the new CBA—to “really dig into the weeds of everything and educate everyone”—while preparing for the league’s first foray into free agency this winter.
“I am grateful for all of the great work Eddie and Mike did on behalf of players in their years at the Union,” Foose said. “It was a pleasure working with them both and I wish them the best of luck in their new venture."