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Conflict of Interest?

During an MSG halftime show on the Red Bulls-Rapids broadcast in the New York area Sunday night, commentator Shep Messing, the former NASL goalkeeper, had some very complimentary things to say about U.S. under-20 midfielder Danny Szetela. Indeed, Szetela has had a very good World Cup in Canada and could be headed to Europe at some point this year.

JP Dellacamera introduced the segment by saying: "For the United States, everybody was talking about Jozy Altidore and Freddy Adu, but the kid that has really stepped up here and is making the rest of the world notice is young Danny Szetela."

Cue Messing.

"I don't really think that is a surprise. He's a great young man. Remember Everton was chasing him, trying to sign him when he was 16 years old. Danny Szetela made the decision to sign with Major League Soccer. He's had an erratic career in Columbus, never really became a full-time starting player, never blossomed. This is his time. He's 20 years old, remember he's got that Polish passport, that gives him an EU passport, and teams all over Europe -- in Italy, England, Scotland -- they're looking to sign this youngster."

Problem was, Messing failed to reveal that his player management agency, Global Sport Group, has represented Szetela since last fall. Whether Euro clubs are, in fact, competing to sign Szetela is unclear.

I asked Messing if, in the role of a TV commentator, he felt it was appropriate to say such glowing things about a client without revealing the relationship.

His response:

"In hindsight, I should have disclosed that to the viewers as a preface to my comments. Having said that, as you know in live television, things change on the fly and I was not afforded the opportunity to do that. The planned segment was cut short as we went on. It was originally intended to highlight the play of Danny, Freddie Adu and Michael Bradley with ample time to expand my comments. As an aside, because of my television work for Major League Soccer, I do not handle Szetela, [Messing's brother] Roy does, although within the same company. I limit my player representation to players outside of MLS."

The Global Web site also shows Red Bulls defender Carlos Mendes among its clients, although Messing said Szetela is Global's only MLS client. Messing handles color commentary for Red Bulls games on MSG. He also co-hosts a (video) show available on the MLS Web site.

Now certainly this is not the same as, say, an NFL team, TV affiliate or the NFL itself hiring super-agent Leigh Steinberg or Major League Baseball turning to Scott Boras for regular commentary about players he may or may not represent, but I am wondering if employing someone who is in the player representation business perhaps undermines the integrity of a broadcast.

Your thoughts?

By Steve Goff  |  July 12, 2007; 2:22 PM ET
Categories:  MLS  
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Comments

I'm surprised Messing can get it together enough to represent players. In 'Once in a Lifetime' he seemed completely out to lunch.

Posted by: New England Guy | July 12, 2007 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Messing is, and always will be, a tool. Horrible commentator even if he isnt shilling his own product.

Posted by: RIP General | July 12, 2007 3:04 PM | Report abuse

I do not think it is a huge thing.
we do not have many who can do commentary on soccer in the US. So we have to use who we can.
not a perfect situation, but not a huge problem, i feel

Posted by: vasco | July 12, 2007 3:05 PM | Report abuse

It is really up to the player whether he thinks there is a conflict of interest. Is Shep not supposed to say anything good about Danny?

On the other hand, if he is making comments that are untrue (mere puffery) regarding interest from European clubs, then this is something that should be reprimanded as Shep has duty as a journalist to report only those things he knows as true.

There are tons of conflicts - how about Wasserman (formerly SprortsNet) representing Bruce Arena and I think it was 13 members of the 2006 USMNT?

Unfortunately in sports, you can't have complete avoidance of conflicts of interest (how bout an agent who has 6 players on one team?). If the player feels there is a problem, then he can go find another agent. The one preface to this comment is that the agent has a duty to each of his players to fully disclose any of his positions and the reasons for them if there is a conflict.

Lastly, is a little encouragement for our players to go over to Europe such a bad thing?

Cheers!

Posted by: Stone | July 12, 2007 3:05 PM | Report abuse

I think it's highly questionable.

While I would trust Shep to be largely objective while during game commentary, individual highlight reels (and discussions about future player value) seem more easily tainted.

I wonder if the same sort of thing happens in the regular news world, though. Like, do reporters ever cover subjects who they share agents with?

Posted by: m_____s | July 12, 2007 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Can't be worse than Gulati. When the USSF President is setting the precedent we shouldn't be jumping on Shep.

Posted by: Kinney | July 12, 2007 3:13 PM | Report abuse

I think Szetela has gotten less buzz than he deserves (perhaps Zizzo and Rogers too).

Certainly a conflict, but a forgivable mistake, once.

I suppose in a more mature, big-money context (e.g., football in Europe, NFL) this would not happen becuase there's more specialization and everyone's on guard. By comparison, we have a rather friendly little soccer community in the USA.

Posted by: Postmaster | July 12, 2007 3:13 PM | Report abuse

In every broadcast in which Shep talks about players GSG represents, he should preface his comments disclosing that fact. If so done, I don't feel there's anything wrong.

If it gets to the point where Shep can not fairly comment on the game being played (e.g., he won't comment on a player's poor performance because GSG represents him), Shep should consider giving one role or the other role up. Don't think that's an issue (yet).

Posted by: 12th man | July 12, 2007 3:16 PM | Report abuse

The overriding factor, to me anyway, is this:

Are European teams relying on our color commentators to tell them whether a player is good or not?

Yes, he should have revealed his association with Szetela, but I don't think this is going to enhance his chances of going abroad. A 20 year old in MLS that can't crack the Columbus starting XI should probably be focused on that relatively minor step first before going on to the Evertons of the world.

Posted by: Chest Rockwell | July 12, 2007 3:19 PM | Report abuse

On the Shep thing... Yaaaaawn...

Don't know if anyone's seen the SI story on Beckham, but I was suprised to read that Simoon Fuller (from American Idol) is his manager! Story: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/writers/grant_wahl/07/10/beckham0716/index.html

Posted by: Soy United! | July 12, 2007 3:25 PM | Report abuse

I don't care about this too much, but I do care whether Adu, Altidore, or others will have to sit out the next U-20 game due to an accumulation of yellow cards! Does anyone know the answer to this question?

Posted by: Dsmac | July 12, 2007 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Remember, this is a guy who posed for Playgirl.

I'm not sure how relevant that fact is, but I felt that I should throw it in the mix.

Posted by: Jimbromski | July 12, 2007 3:31 PM | Report abuse

From a journalistic point of view, I think it's a huge conflict of interest. Broadcasters, including play-by-play and color commentators, should have the integrity to at least disclose such conflicts of interest.

At most, I'd question whether someone who runs a management agency should even be sitting in the booth in the first place. But maybe I'm just being old fashioned.

Posted by: DCBird | July 12, 2007 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Goff, I think you've raised an excellent point and I commend you for asking Shep about the conflict of interest.

Any chance the Post can get you in to interview Dick Cheney? ;-)

Posted by: JJH | July 12, 2007 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Dsmac,

It is my understanding that the yellow cards are wiped clean at the end of the group phase and begin again during the elimination phase. I'm not positive though.

Posted by: TCompton | July 12, 2007 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Off Topic:

Goff -- where can I see a transcript of your live chat from yesterday?
Thanks,
David

Posted by: David | July 12, 2007 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Damn, Roy's still living in Shep's shadow. Do you think he lives in his basement?

Posted by: Dave Lifton | July 12, 2007 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Goff | July 12, 2007 3:54 PM | Report abuse

I don't think this is a big conflict of interest, but agree he should have prefaced it. With that in mind, I do agree with his comment on Danny. I think he has been a great holding midfielder, and would say he has played better game in and game out than Bradley. Now, the question is, agents are hired to promote their clients anywhere they can, if the league is willing to give him the color commentary job knowing he is an agent, should'nt he be allowed to use his platform when possible? If the league or teams have issue with him doing double duty, it's simple: don't allow him to do both. But as long as he can, and there are no guidelines established, he really hasn't done anything wrong.

Posted by: Josh | July 12, 2007 3:55 PM | Report abuse

zzzzz....

Anyone looking to Shep Messing for objective reportage gets precisely that which he deserves.

Posted by: Dave Nelson | July 12, 2007 3:56 PM | Report abuse

It's only a big deal if his analysis of the player he represents is accurate or overblown.

Was his picture of D Szetala accurate?

Posted by: delantero | July 12, 2007 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Whether he is well-respected, listened to or even liked is completely beside the point. Basically he's helping himself to some free advertising that could potentially put money in his pocket. It doesn't matter if it's on CNN or public access or in the Springfield Weekly Shopper. It would be essentially the same thing if we discovered that our beloved host, Mr. Goff, was Freddy Adu's agent, and was saying all the great things about him after the Brazil match with no disclosure.

Thanks Steven, this is why blogs are useful -- neither the Post no any other major news source would waste inches on this, but it's something that should be shared and discouraged from happening in the future.

Posted by: bbarrie | July 12, 2007 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Article 17 Caution
1. A caution (yellow card) is a warning from the referee to a player during
a match to sanction unsporting behaviour of a less serious nature
(cf. Law 12 of the Laws of the Game).
2. Two cautions received during the same match incur an expulsion (indirect
red card) and, consequently, automatic suspension from the next
match (cf. art. 18 par. 4). The two cautions that incurred the red card
are rescinded.
3. If a player receives a caution in two separate matches of the same FIFA
competition, he is automatically suspended from the next match in
that competition. The Disciplinary Committee may exceptionally depart
from or amend this rule before the start of a particular competition.
Any such decision reached by the Disciplinary Committee is final.

Article 36 Carrying over cautions
1. Cautions received during one competition are not carried over to
another competition.
2. They are, however, carried over from one round to the next in the same
competition. The Disciplinary Committee may exceptionally depart
from this rule before the start of a particular competition. This provision
is subject to art. 37.
Article 37 Cancellation of cautions
1. Upon its own initiative or at the request of a confederation, the Disciplinary
Committee may cancel cautions that have not resulted in an
expulsion so as to restore the balance among several teams that have
not played the same number of matches during the fi rst round of a
competition, or in other exceptional circumstances.
2. In any case, the committee may do this only once in any competition.
3. The Disciplinary Committee's decision is final

Posted by: Regulations | July 12, 2007 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Article 17 Caution
1. A caution (yellow card) is a warning from the referee to a player during
a match to sanction unsporting behaviour of a less serious nature
(cf. Law 12 of the Laws of the Game).
2. Two cautions received during the same match incur an expulsion (indirect
red card) and, consequently, automatic suspension from the next
match (cf. art. 18 par. 4). The two cautions that incurred the red card
are rescinded.
3. If a player receives a caution in two separate matches of the same FIFA
competition, he is automatically suspended from the next match in
that competition. The Disciplinary Committee may exceptionally depart
from or amend this rule before the start of a particular competition.
Any such decision reached by the Disciplinary Committee is final.

Article 36 Carrying over cautions
1. Cautions received during one competition are not carried over to
another competition.
2. They are, however, carried over from one round to the next in the same
competition. The Disciplinary Committee may exceptionally depart
from this rule before the start of a particular competition. This provision
is subject to art. 37.
Article 37 Cancellation of cautions
1. Upon its own initiative or at the request of a confederation, the Disciplinary
Committee may cancel cautions that have not resulted in an
expulsion so as to restore the balance among several teams that have
not played the same number of matches during the fi rst round of a
competition, or in other exceptional circumstances.
2. In any case, the committee may do this only once in any competition.
3. The Disciplinary Committee's decision is final

Posted by: Regulations | July 12, 2007 4:11 PM | Report abuse

MLS loves to micromanage everything else...I find it hard to believe they don't have a rule about commentators representing players. If they don't...they should.

Also, news reporters are suspended and fired all the time for conflict of interest. There have been two news stories in the last few weeks where reporters have been investigated (one in L.A. and one in Chicago- it was the home page of AOL yesterday.) Are we saying that sports reporters/commentators shouldn't be held to the same standards?

And pleeeze...does anyone actually believe he isn't involved with the players in his management company? Nice loophole...but I'm not buying it. Whether he intentionally used his on-air position to showcase his client...we will never know. I just hope it doesn't happen again. It certainly isn't fair to the players who are represented by commentators.

Goff-- Thanks for calling him out.

Posted by: Turtle | July 12, 2007 4:14 PM | Report abuse

not a big deal

Posted by: andy | July 12, 2007 4:17 PM | Report abuse

I think the standards for TV commentary are very different for that of "real" journalists. They are paid for "color" not for objectivity. Did you ever expect objectivity when you watched the skins play on ESPN with Theisman calling the game? I agree that it's a little different with player respresentation, but technically it's still a conflict of interest.

Posted by: LeesburgSoccerFan | July 12, 2007 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Soccer Insider is awesome...Goff just drops a couple of flakes into the water and we are like koi fish jumping, mouth-open, to the surface of the pond.

Meanwhile, SI nudges ever closer to surpassing La Canfora's comment totals!

Posted by: DE | July 12, 2007 4:19 PM | Report abuse

He was a good commentator during the 1986 world cup; after that he reminds me of Spicoli. Too much chew.

Who cares if he's peddling his players? Our guys make virtually nothing so any chance they have to get a plug then good for them. Plus, I doubt any Euro team coaches are watching live broadcasts of MLS in their free time.

Posted by: Hacksaw | July 12, 2007 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Shep's questionable move is the least harmful form of media manipulation (as compared to, say, Fox news...)

Having said that, they should fire the pink cow loving scum. Nice work, Goff.

Posted by: d, dc | July 12, 2007 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Shep Messing makes Ray Hudson sound positively erudite. "OH, BABY!" is NOT soccer commentary.

Posted by: silentbob | July 12, 2007 4:32 PM | Report abuse

I agree there should have been disclosure, at a minimum -- and if I were MLS or a network, I wouldn't want an announcer shilling for a client on the air. I think this conflict pales, however, in comparison to Gulati's conflict between is USSF position and his Revs position.

Posted by: Dave | July 12, 2007 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Messing looks like an idiot making comments like that ... especially trying to backpedal when you called him out. But really what harm or good does it do either way? I mean, anybody seriously interested in bidding for Danny's services is not going to form their opinion based on commentary they hear on some highlight show. And anybody who watched the matches is going to have their own opinion of Danny's worth or lack thereof. So, while I don't think it's exactly proper, I don't it makes much difference.

Posted by: Matt | July 12, 2007 4:48 PM | Report abuse

I deal with conflicts of interest in the government's use of non-Federal experts all the time.

What Messing did was a clear conflict. His company stands to profit from Szetela's success (it matters not whether he or his brother is the direct agent). By pumping up Szetela without disclosure, he was also pumping up his future paycheck.

When Lalas or Garber is interviewed, we know each one has an agenda. Messing's was hidden. I'm glad you called him on this, but his response was essentially "it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission."

I'm not impressed with Messing as a commentator, but now I also know that he's not trustworthy.

Posted by: I-270, Exit 1 | July 12, 2007 4:53 PM | Report abuse

OH BABY, YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME! Not a big deal.

Posted by: Miguel | July 12, 2007 5:05 PM | Report abuse

You've got to disclose that, no excuses. The operative phrase in today environment is 'even the appearance of impropriety' and by shining the sunlight on such things we're all better off.

If his firm has just one client (read conflict) in MLS I think it's alright for him to do the broadcasts, but he needs to be upfront when entering the area of conflict.

If I worked for the Post and reviewed a restaurant that my brother had an interest in, the food might really be great, but I think most would agree the situation was not a good one regardless of how objective and accurate I was. I would indeed be 'undermining the integrity' of the paper.

Posted by: Kire | July 12, 2007 5:08 PM | Report abuse

not a surprise, Shep's a clown and it's not the first time he's made questionable comments on-air.

Posted by: J | July 12, 2007 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Hey, does anyone have a copy of Shep's Playgirl spread?

Posted by: Bobby Boswell | July 12, 2007 5:13 PM | Report abuse

He should have disclosed it, but I wouldn't consider it a firing offense. He seems to recognize it and will probably do better in the future.

Posted by: Terp | July 12, 2007 5:15 PM | Report abuse

My thoughts?

Shep Messing is an idiot and should get his teeth fixed.

Posted by: entropy | July 12, 2007 5:23 PM | Report abuse

Aren't many sportscasters hired or at least approved by the teams? Is this worse than Harkes did commentary for the CSN broadcasts of DC United?

Posted by: Tper | July 12, 2007 5:24 PM | Report abuse

Serious question Goff, too bad most of the comments here were directed to Messing's personality, former indiscretions or personal appearance.
Your question asks whether television, or radio, play by play and "color" announcers are journalists. I think, on balance, they are not. While I don't know the particulars of the MSG Red Bulls contract (our the Comcast/DCU contract either), I would assume the team has some input regarding the announcers. In baseball and football, the announcers are picked by the teams whose games they call and you assume they will be shills. (Listen to a Redskins radio broadcast for cryin' out loud.) If the team you are "covering" can fire you because it doesn't like what you report, you're not function as a journalist, you are part of the PR Department.
Now network announcers are somewhat different, but I still don't consider types like Al Michaels to be "journalists", they're more like "entertainer helpers" in that they facilitate the production of the entertainment event.

Posted by: griffin1108 | July 12, 2007 5:48 PM | Report abuse

Shep is pretty new to me so it's a little unfair to ask the following. But, this is the internet, I've been programming all day, and I'm tired after watching all of the futbol last night.

Setting aside the clear conflict of interest, why would you want this guy as your agent? That's the more interesting question to me.

Posted by: jj | July 12, 2007 6:21 PM | Report abuse

It's good to work for the WaPo, huh? Just make sure Fox doesn't go and buy you like the Journal! You won't be able to do any investigative reporting.

Posted by: jj | July 12, 2007 6:23 PM | Report abuse

I fear two things: (a) a moth flying in my mouth (b) shep messing's voice. And cobi jones's tiny cloven hooves, I guess. I love that goff went out of his way to trash messing because he hates the red bulls as much as any of us. Next he'll expose matt reis as an internet predator and he'll laugh!!! Hahahahahahahahaha

Posted by: just another idiot | July 12, 2007 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Reis is just a striker predator, and not in the good way.

Posted by: bbarrie | July 12, 2007 7:09 PM | Report abuse

Are we seriously debating a sports agent's ethics?

Posted by: Lynn | July 12, 2007 7:27 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone care?

Posted by: Philly | July 12, 2007 7:38 PM | Report abuse

would a chelsea or man u go to sign some american kid - or anyone for that matter - based on what some tv personality said about him?the answer is no - they'd send scouts to see him play extensively as well as look at video themselves and evaluate. at the end of the day he may be getting his guys looks, but if they're any good the scouts will be able to tell that. if not, the teams will be able to see right through him.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 12, 2007 11:26 PM | Report abuse

It's a conflict of interest. And one can clearly see that his comments are very much affected by this. Shep loves to start rumours and has no integrity. Shep is a disgrace. I hit the mute button when he starts his "unplugged" segment now and I refuse to watch Extra Time until he's no longer associated with it.

Posted by: Gilbert | July 13, 2007 7:48 AM | Report abuse

I've disliked Messing since he was a player. This just keeps that rolling.

Posted by: Kim | July 13, 2007 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Shep makes my ears bleed when I'm forced to listen to a game he's commentating on. I'd rather dig out my eyes with a grapefruit spoon then pick Shep as a face of soccer on American TV.

However, objectivity is incredibly scarce in the broadcast booth for MLS and US game broadcasts, so it comes as no surprise to learn that Shep is mired in a conflict of interests. Normally I'd say that a broadcaster and a comentator should be brought to task for this sort of thing, but it's Shep, and I have a hard time believing that him waxing poetic about one of his clients w/o disclosing the relationship is going to have any sort of effect on contract negotiations or career opportunities for Danny.

By the way, I'm an ardent long-time Crew fan, and it needs to be clear that Danny hasn't languished in Columbus, but has been snake bitten w/ regards to playing for the Crew due to injuries or national team duties. This year, while he was still getting back into form from a concussion has been the only time that the coach has ellected to leave him on the bench (and his form was terrible in the USOC qualifier against LA, so it made sense at the time).

Posted by: DavidK | July 13, 2007 12:41 PM | Report abuse

"integrity of the broadcast" . . . ha ha, good one Steve.

Posted by: Bastiat | July 13, 2007 12:50 PM | Report abuse

At first I was shocked at the clear conflict of interest, and then I remembered we are talking about something under the jurisdiction of FIFA. I think if Goff does an investigative piece tomorrow that reveals that all games in all divisions throughout the world are rigged, and Sepp Blatter is in on it, I would not be surprised. I would be surprised if Shepp was in on it though.

Posted by: LostinBA | July 13, 2007 4:56 PM | Report abuse

See this article from the NY Times - I thinks he caught out here.

http://goal.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/07/28/szetela-could-be-headed-to-europe/#more-129

July 28, 2007, 11:05 am
Szetela Could Be Headed to Europe
By Jack Bell

Everyone needs a passport to travel, but if you happen to be a young American soccer player, holding a passport from a country (or political union) other than the United States is a definite plus if you plan on playing soccer in Europe. It does not hurt being a citizen of the world if you want to play the world's game.
Danny Szetela, the midfielder who scored three goals for the United States in the recently completed FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada, is likely to end up on the other side of the Atlantic, and he could be moving soon. Szetela is one of those citizens of the world -- his parents were born in Poland and moved to the United States. Szetela (who has an European Union passport) grew up in Clifton, N.J., and played at the same high school as Giuseppe Rossi. Rossi's father was the long-time boys coach at Clifton High School before he moved his family back to Italy. Rossi is now with Manchester United (at least for the time being) and has played on the youth international level for Italy.
According to Szetela's agent, Shep Messing (he of a professional past with the New York Cosmos and a present as a player agent and color commentator on New York Red Bulls telecasts), Szetela has drawn interest from several English teams, but is more likely to end up in Italy's Serie A.
"Everton is probably his preferred destination, while Middlesbrough and Reading are also interested," Messing told BBC Sport (efforts to reach Messing directly were not immediately successful; he did not return messages left on his cell and home phones). "But there's more interest from Serie A and we're closer to doing something in Italy, possibly in the next two weeks."
The Italian clubs showing the most interest include Lazio, Parma, Roma and Siena. Szetela, 20, currently plays for the Columbus Crew, but his contract is due to expire at the end of the year. Most player contracts in Major League Soccer, which signs all players as a single-entity operation, generally include a two-year league option. It is unclear if Szetela's contract includes the option.
M.L.S. held a special league-wide draft for Szetela, who had been part of the United States Soccer Federation's residency program at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. He had hoped to go to his hometown MetroStars (now the Red Bulls). In a nationally televised event, viewers could see Szetela's outward disappointment when the Columbus Crew ended up with his rights.
He spurned advances from Everton and Manchester City to sign with M.L.S. and stay in the United States. But now a strong performance in Canada and good performances in the league have reignited interest in England and Italy, and also drawn inquiries from Scotland, Turkey and Switzerland. It is expected that Szetela's services could be had for a modest transfer fee of about $50,000.
"The U.K. would be his preference should he leave the U.S. because of the English language," Messing said. "So Rangers would be good, but I have heard nothing from them. He had the chance to go to Everton when he was 16, but he felt he was too young to leave his family and decided on M.L.S. However, he was impressed by the club and the people there."
Everton has another American player on its roster -- goalkeeper Tim Howard who played at Goodison Park on loan from Manchester United during last season before the two clubs worked out a transfer deal.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 29, 2007 5:16 PM | Report abuse

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