Key members of Anschutz Entertainment Group’s sales and marketing team left for other companies after last year’s departure of Chief Executive Tim Leiweke, prompting the sports business giant to wage a fight against one of the defectors.

Shervin Mirhashemi, former president of AEG’s global partnerships division, left in July to open an L.A. office for rival Legends Sports, a move that was followed by the exit of Bill Pedigo, senior vice president of partnership sales, who went to San Diego’s Competitor Group Inc. in November.

But it was Mirhashemi’s alleged poaching last month of another senior AEG employee, Michael Tomon, that has rankled AEG officers.

The company has launched a legal fight against Mirhashemi, claiming that he stole trade secrets and violated a nonsolicitation clause.

The fight comes as Southern California has emerged as a player in the sports world’s big-money sales and partnership industry. The business involves not only negotiating multimillion-dollar naming rights for sports venues but also more mundane, yet no less lucrative, deals to sell beverages, banners, parking lot signage and other assets. Sports sponsorship spending in North America was estimated at $13.7 billion last year, according to an annual report by consulting firm IEG.

With the announced purchase of New York sports firm IMG by Beverly Hills talent agency William Morris Endeavor in December and the growth of homegrown firms such as Premier Partnerships, the entrance of New York’s Legends into the market has further marked Los Angeles as an epicenter of the business.

That expansion has created opportunities for talent to make a move.

“When Tim Leiweke left, I think it may have signaled a time for others to look at other opportunities and leverage what they did at AEG,” said Jeff Marks, managing director at Premier. “Los Angeles has become a new hub of partnership marketing.”

While Legends is seen as having different strengths from AEG, such as selling premium seating, the Mirhashemi hire is viewed as an attempt to bolster its sponsorship capabilities.

Keith M. Gregory, an attorney who reviewed AEG’s case against Mirhashemi and Legends for the Business Journal, said such lawsuits are often aimed at more than one audience.

“It’s done as a way not just to send a message to the person who left to make sure that they better comply with the contract, but also as a message sent to the current employees that are still there to say if you leave and provide confidential information or poach people away, we’re not messing around and you could be subject to a lawsuit,” he said.

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