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Jason Collins: Agents Analyze Endorsement Potential

Jason Collins Oprah - H 2013
OWN
Oprah Winfrey and Jason Collins

Neither the first openly gay pro sports figure nor agent Arn Tellem is talking, but experts say the market is there for book and speaking deals.

This story first appeared in the May 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The Jason Collins roadshow likely is just beginning.

Collins made headlines April 29 when the 12-year NBA veteran revealed in Sports Illustrated that he is gay.

After interviews on Good Morning America, Piers Morgan Live and a May 5 sit-down with Oprah Winfrey, the 34-year-old Washington Wizards center becomes a free agent July 1 and will try to sign with a new team, likely for the minimum of $1.4 million.

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Collins has earned about $34 million over the course of his NBA career.

His only endorsement deal is with Nike, which has not revealed plans for Collins ads, and his agent, Arn Tellem, declined comment on new opportunities. 

One sign of Collins' potential appeal: The Washington Wizards, the last team he played for, tweeted that 100 percent of its post-announcement custom jersey sales were for Collins' no. 98 (which he wore to honor Matthew Shepard, the gay college student murdered in a 1998 hate crime).

But Collins' sure path to capitalizing on being the only out athlete in U.S. team sports would be book and speaking deals.

The AP reported that one publisher rejected a memoir because the SI piece might hurt sales, but an experienced book agent downplays concerns. "The market is there," he says, if Collins "strikes quickly."

Tellem denied rumors of a book deal. He issued a statement to the AP saying, "As of now [I] have not had any discussions on behalf of Jason regarding a potential book deal because Jason has yet to decide if he wants to write a book.”

One person who is definitely writing a book: Carolyn Moos, Collins' ex-fiancee who was told the news only days before the public. 

She posted the news on her website (which still features a picture of her working out with Collins), asking people to submit questions "about what they would like to hear more on given topics that were discuss[ed] at the surface level in the interviews."

David Lavin, the president of the Lavin Agency Speakers Bureau, thinks Collins will be in "high demand" on the well-paying speaking circuit, especially at colleges and universities. 

Such speaking engagements can be particularly lucrative.

Consider that 33 years later, 1980 Olympic hockey gold medalist Mike Eruzione still commands upwards of $40,000 a speech.

Other sports figures who command similar fees include Hall of Famer Bill Russell and University of Louisville coach Rick Pitino, whose team won this year's NCAA basketball championship. 

But Collins' first talk is a freebie -- an LGBT-themed fund­raiser for the Democratic National Committee he's co-hosting with Michelle Obama on May 29.