Monday, October 17, 2011

So you wanna be a Sports Agent…


So you want to be a sports agent? You saw Jerry McGuire, just like I did, and got inspired, just like I did, and thought to yourself, I WOULD LOVE to do that; just like I did. And just like a majority of aspiring sports agents out there, reality hits you in the face like a young Mike Tyson not only fighting to defend his title, but after you called him a very bad name right before the fight; Just like it did me.

Yesterday on twitter, a young man by the name of Edward Piontek asked NFL Business Analyst Andrew Brandt, "What advice would you give someone looking to become a sports agent?" Mr. Brandt's response was short, honest, and to the point. "Have thick skin and a thicker wallet". A Simple answer,  yet a very true one.

I apologize in advance for the length of this article. But a lot of the emails say that they have read articles, but not really understood the issues involved with becoming an agent. So I will try to break it down for you as thorough as I can.

 There are around 900 registered agents with the NFLPA. Less than half of these agents actually have a client on an NFL roster, and vast majorities (70% - 75%) of NFL Players are represented by less than 100 of those agents. Strictly based on these numbers, it doesn't take a statistical genius to realize that the business is very competitive, probably the most competitive in the U.S. And any agent would also tell you it is the most grimy, shady, arena to ever step foot in. A way to visualize what it's like to be an agent is simple. Think of a WWE Royal Rumble for the Championship Belt. You have 20 guys in the ring, all fighting each other for the ultimate prize. Some use their size to an advantage, others use their brains to outsmart their opponents, and others are just scrappy and will themselves to victory. Now all the wrestlers are different sizes, just like agents. But in reality, it would be hard for a small guy like Evan Bourne to throw Mark Henry over the top ropes. And that's just to speak with a guy.

The allure of being a sports agent is very appealing. But very few outside of the profession have any idea of what it's actually like to break in, stay in and be successful. Yet it doesn't stop over 200 agents adding to the ranks each year with caviar dreams. And just as many that bow out. I get hit up a lot through email, twitter, and even phone calls from "future" sports agents to offer advice on how to get their career started. So I asked some to email me their plan. I received over 27 emails, and the plans were identical in almost every aspect. After I explain the problem with some of their plans, I will answer some questions I received in part 2 of this blog.

The plans basically all said this to some degree. Graduate undergrad, go to law school or get secondary degree, get an internship, learn the business, network. Or after graduation become certified and start recruiting because they know really good players. To both of these, I say "Go for it", and don't stop until you achieve your goal. But you ask me for my experience, so I'll give it you. After graduation, I sent out over 40 resumes to different agents. I received 0 internship offers or interest back. As a matter of fact only maybe 5 even spoke with me. Looking back, I realized how this idea was in itself, to put it simply, not a good one. As I stated before, the profession of athlete management is a fiercely competitive one. Bringing on an intern, in itself, is basically creating more competition. You are teaching someone the way you do business, so they can eventually use what you taught them against you. I've heard people say sign a "no compete" agreement. I can see how this would work with current clients, but agents recruit all over the U.S., how can you not compete eventually? Secondly, an agent spends a lot of time and money traveling the country. To basically double your expense to basically train a guy how to do your job is not good business. Is this my personal feeling? No it is not, rather some feelings I received from other agents. In almost all the emails I received, the aspiring agents all seemed to say they are confident in their abilities, driven, and personable. These are great qualities to have if you would like to become a sports agent, however, if these attributes describe you to a T, how long do you plan to stay an intern. I've never heard of a sprinter who just wants to finish the race. You want the gold, so why would you do all the grunt work, just to see someone else constantly get the glory? And agents see this the same way as I stated before. Hard to train a guy in the way you do business, only to have that younger, more ambitious guy to do your business. Remember, the most important part of this whole thing is trust. And there is very little of it that goes around. Again, most agents don't have 100 clients, and the margin for error, the margin to maybe sign or not sign, and keep a player from other agents is so small, that agents prefer to handle every aspect of their careers themselves. Putting even the smallest amount in the hands of someone else could be a big mistake. I probably went a little over board on this, but it seems to be important because a lot of people think it's simple to get an internship in sports management. If your school doesn't have an intern program, be prepared for a real fight.

Probably the most famous line in the history of the biz is "Show Me The Moneyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy". And if you are planning to become an agent, you have to show a lot of people the money before you even get started. Before you even get a chance to negotiate a contract for a player, you have to get the player. To become a certified NFL contract advisor, you must first pass a test. The application fee and cost to take the test is $1,650.00. The test takes place in Washington D.C., in a two day event, so factor in cost to get to D.C. and hotel room, and let's just say that's an additional $600. Now, if you pass the test, you have to acquire NFLPA insurance so you shell out another $1200. Now you are ready to recruit players, and it only cost you around $3,450.00! Most agents stay local when they first start off to reduce cost of travel, a very smart idea. Let's say you live in Kentucky, and you want to recruit say KY and OH. To register with each state as an agent, you will look at an additional $700. Going to games, including traveling, tickets to games, food, and recruiting materials, it would not be out of the question to spend an additional $500 to $2000, depending on where you are recruiting. And this is just too have a chance to recruit a player. If you are able to sign a player, you are then responsible for training. For this example you work hard and you get a very good player to sign with you, and he is a projected draft pick, he would expect to be sent to one of many different training facilities. Just for arguments sake you get a great deal and only expend an additional $11,000 to cover training, travel, and any other request your client may need. And this is for a late round guy. Some say why would you spend this much on that player anyway? Simple; "If you don't, someone else will". And as far as getting the money for training back after they sign, they have to first get drafted and make a team, which isn't easy. And also most agents do not require repayment, so keep that in mind as your competition. So just assume that you will take a loss in the first few years that you are an agent. What if you get a first rounder you may ask? Well off top, the average for a first rounder is not 3% as many of you are led to believe, it's actually closer to 2%. Also, most first rounders are use to getting advances and marketing guarantees. So if you are lucky enough to get one of these guys you are looking to shell out well over 6 figures. I went into a little bit of detail in this section as well, because most aspiring agents do not have an idea of the financial obligations it takes to actually sign a player. And remember again, players want what other players are getting or have gotten. Maybe you can talk a player into training on campus, or not taking a per diem, but if their friend is getting it, they will expect it as well. And if they are a good enough player and have a legit shot, other agents will pounce on the player like a wounded gazelle in the middle of a lion pride. So you just spent all this money on college and grad school, to pursue a career where you will basically live in poverty? As an economics major, that's not that smart. So future agent, make sure you think about the financial part when doing your career path plan.

It's not just the financial part; another part is the actual scouting. You have to learn what to look for and trust your opinion. There are a lot of great college players who are not playing in the NFL. This is another downfall of new agents, knowing who to recruit. Most use various internet draft sites to go after players. And some of these are fairly accurate, but after the first 3 rounds, they differ tremendously. Just because a guy has 150 tackles, or 1000 yards receiving doesn't mean a team will draft him. The source if you really want to know, are the actual scouts and personnel of different teams. These guys for the most part do not like to be bothered, and are very selective who they talk to. Can you imagine if they answered the phone from every agent trying to sell a player? That's one of the reasons they rarely answer the phone now. You have to know that your guy is good enough, and even if you believe with all your being that he is, and he may be, does not mean it's a lock for him to be playing on Sundays.

Most plans are simple. I'll recruit a guy, and they will see how hard I am as a worker, and will sign with me. The problem is, they can't really see how hard you work, because to be honest you have never worked. When I first started I had two friends, one I would say was my best friend, that were seniors and we talked about the whole season how great of a job I would do if I were to represent them. I took it for granted and assumed I had them. Well after the season, let's just say, things didn't go the way I envisioned them. It was evident that even though I am their friends, and they trusted me, it's hard to say if they really believed in me. And their parents pretty much just told me to beat it. That was another lesson I quickly learned. You are dealing with their future, and even though you may know what to do, there are other guys who have been doing it for a while, and are talking to these guys as well. You have to find something to bring to the table that the other 900 agents don't bring. I can't tell you what that is, and I am not trying to discourage you, just giving you an idea of what you are up against. When you are starting out, you are dealing with the issue of raising capital, knowing how to recruit, knowing how to contact sell yourself and what you can do, and the most important part that seems to never be thought about, HOW ARE YOU GOING TO BEAT OUT THE OTHER GUY.

I hope this gives you a little bit of a background. But don't worry, THERE'S MORE! Come back for part 2 where I answer questions, and give examples of "My first year" from a few of my agent friends…

Greg "Tripp" Linton - @agentlinton

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