Sports agent Leigh Steinberg inspired the immensely successful 1996 comedy-drama, Jerry Maguire. The movie grossed more than $273 million on a $50 million budget. Mr. Steinberg has represented over 300 professional athletes and has negotiated over $3 billion in contracts for players. Despite all his prodigious accomplishments as a sports agent, Mr. Steinberg filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in January 2012. Alcoholism played a role in his problems, according to may reports, one being ESPN. On the positive side, three U.S. presidents presented him with commendations for his philanthropic work with numerous charities.
Mr. Steinberg referred to “that pressure” to maintain an empire. Perhaps the demand to be available twenty-four hours a day was a contributing factor—an agent’s clients command that you never close. He/she must be a cell phone call away at all times – 365 days of the year. The reason for the accessibility is that personal issues may arise while the world sleeps. A client has a problem with the law, which could be a DUI, DWI, domestic violence, or other run-ins with law enforcement. The first call from the client could be his/her agent.
Most people think of the sports agent as the person who negotiates a lucrative contract with the respective team for the athlete-client. Deal-making is part of the job. Presenting the client to companies for endorsements is another aspect of the agent’s services. These contracts can generate millions for a sports agent: the NFL and the NBA limit a sports agent’s commission to three percent of the salary. Endorsements earn the agent 10 to 20 percent of the contract.
Being a perceptive and intelligent negotiator is a relatively small portion of being a successful agent. One agent expressed that the challenge lies in ensuring that the client reaches the negotiation phase. To attain this step, the agent may provide nutritional and training services. He/she wants the client to be in the best shape for the sport. The agent wants to take precautions with the athlete’s training to avoid injury or setbacks. In essence, the agent treats the athlete as a commodity. A commodity that can translate to millions in revenue for the athlete, which in turn, benefits the agent through commission. Success in one’s sport launches endorsement opportunities and more money.
The dictionary defines a commodity as something useful or valued. No doubt that the client is someone useful and valuable for both parties. How does one treat this person of value? A shortlist of the qualities required is respect, integrity, honesty, and professionalism. The agent forms a personal relationship with each client providing exemplary service and attention to all the client’s needs. The various functions may come from an individual agent or a sports agent firm. There are multi-services firms that offer everything from relocation house hunting to tax advice to physical training, and more.
To succeed, you must possess the ability to work under stress, be willing to travel, be devoted to each client, be comfortable talking to groups, be convincing, and exude confidence. These qualities and more are necessary to thrive as a sports agent. However, if you work in an agency that provides various services, you can specialize in real estate transactions, tax preparation, marketing, or financial advising.
It is incumbent on the sports agent to open closed doors for each client. For example, you aggressively pursue shoe contracts, food and beverage contracts, and other endorsements. You may need to have the client take acting lessons to be more natural in front of a camera. You promote, promote, and promote until a negative answer turns into a positive one. Consequently, this may require travel across the nation or across the globe to secure endorsements. Dwayne Wade, for example, signed a deal in 2012 with the Chinese shoe brand Ni-Ling for his basketball shoes.
Your time and dedication to clients do not end with their retirement from sports. Look at the exposure of former professional athletes, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning. Their notoriety continues to attract a host of companies to advertise products through television primarily. Leading up to departure from a sport, the client may need financial planning for his family after the paychecks cease. The agent helps the client transition effectively into a new career. The prospect of the client’s athletic days terminating at some point should be part of a gradual process. Again, the agent should impress on each client the inevitability of leaving the sports arena as a professional athlete.
One minute the agent takes the role of psychologist or counselor, providing solace for an athlete. The next, she/he is in the midst of a contentious negotiation session with team executives. The sports agent wears many hats. Success is predicated by how well the agent manages with the challenges to balance one’s personal life and professional commitments.