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TSBX Special Report: So You Want To Be a Sports Agent

Author: Caleb Mezzy Email: CSMezzy@gmail.com Twitter: @Caleb_Mezzy

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Ever wonder what it would be like to be a sports agent? You could start your own agency and begin recruiting or work for an already established agency. In one scenario, agents will enter the industry with one sport in mind and slowly branch into other sports. In a second scenario, sports agents might spend their time recruiting all sports to find their “bonus baby.” I decided I need to do some research on my own to find out exactly what agents in the industry thought were the best methods for becoming a successful sports agent. With a background interest in becoming a sports agent myself, I reached out to agents I had previously become acquainted with and ask them to fill out an online survey about their thoughts on the industry. Based on the results received, we can see that neither scenario standing alone is based suited for entry into the industry but rather a combination of both scenarios is more likely to ensure long term success.

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METHODS USED/SAMPLING Before I established my questionnaire, there was a need to search for valuable information that impacted various aspects of developing a new branch. Making notice of each important aspect would help gather the information to draw conclusions. It was necessary to understand all of the aspects and implement them into the questionnaire in terms of a likert scale so each sports agent can apply their opinions on the different aspects and their corresponding impacts. The questionnaire was not structured with many demographic items, but did begin with two open-ended questions that provided information on the sports agent’s name and position within his or her company. After, there were more basic questions that showed the sports agent’s experience in the industry (based on years) and then stating the clients that the agent is currently representing (based on the four major sports). Then a few categories were asked to analyze the impact each sports agent determines it would have if they were to implement a new branch. The analyzed categories were; time period for success of clients, non-financial resources to build a new branch, financial resources to build a new branch, commitment and dedication to new branch, personal passion for the sport, personal knowledge of the sport, competition from other firms, and the locality of the business site. The experience of representing professional athletes, basic demographics of the agency and its employees were analyzed to help determine the specific demographics of various agencies. The last portion of the questionnaire consisted of two open-ended questions that allowed each sports agent to determine their biggest hurdle in developing their agency and also their greatest strength and/or advantage towards a prospective client. After the final revision it was posted online and ready to be sent out to hopeful respondents.

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DATA COLLECTION: To complete the research and gather information, the online survey was emailed to various sports agents that I had previous discussions with about the industry. Reaching out to the sports agents who knew me or my name was the first action taken to develop easier responses, due to the already established common ground. Through that initial e-mail, I received approximately ten responses, but I needed more to gather a significant amount of data that could be thoroughly analyzed. Using www.sportsagentblog.com, I spent three days e-mailing every agency on their thorough list of agencies which is categorized by sport. This helped me gather a total of twenty-two responses. These responses solidified my data as I closed out the online questionnaire after it was up for three weeks.

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RESULTS: In the appendix, there is a clear print-out result page that indicates the total of respondents and answers to their questions. The first question of the sports agent’s name and position was interesting because it allowed us to see all of the positions involved within a sports agency. Only a few agencies had multiple agents respond to the online questionnaire. This meant that about fifteen other agencies were answering my questionnaire from around the world. How many years of experience do you have as a Sports Agent? The majority response was 10+ years of experience (10 responses, 45.45%) followed by 4-6 years (7 responses, 31.82%), then 1-3 years (4 responses, 18.18%) and lastly 7-9 years (1 response, 4.55%). This indicated that the majority of the responses were coming from very experienced sports agents, who have a good understanding based on their tenure in this industry. It was a surprise, however, to see the responses be so high at 10+ years, and drop to a lesser increment of 7-9 years. In what sport(s) do you currently represent players? (Check all that apply) This showed a great deal of data displaying the diverse population of respondents taking the questionnaire. The respondents were allowed to answer this question for multiple sports. In all, there were thirty-seven answers. Baseball had the most responses (14, 37.84%), probably because the clientele of the sports agents were not Major League Baseball players, but rather minor leaguers somewhere in the lower ranks. Football, followed Baseball, with the second most responses (11, 29.73%). Basketball was next with eight responses (21.62%) and “other” was answered four times (10.81%). Hockey was recorded without respondents. The likert scale was probably the most beneficial aspect because it brought different data and truly highlighted the important aspects and the more minimal impacted aspects. These questions were measured through no impact, minimal impact, neutral, moderate impact, and significant impact.

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Time period for success of Clients (i.e. A baseball player is drafted and may not make the Major Leagues until 3-5+ years) The most answered response was significant impact (13 responses, 59.09%), then moderate impact (5 responses, 22.73%). Minimal impact and neutral were tied with two responses each (9.09%) and no impact registered an obvious no respondents. It was expected to see “significant impact” as the majority choice and also seeing it followed by moderate impact. This obstacle is important in determining the baseball branch development. Non-financial resources to build a new branch (i.e. the connection with scouts, player personnel, coaches) Again, significant impact was the highly picked choice (11 responses, 50%) and moderate impact was next with seven responses (31.82%). Neutral and minimal impact were with responses of three and one respectfully (13.64% and 4.55%). Also, no impact had zero respondents. It was interesting to see significant impact with half of the respondents because it indicates a need for the connection with scouts, player personnel and coaches. Financial Resources I projected that this would have the most “significant impact” respondents especially since we are in a recession right now. The results showed that fourteen respondents, chose significant (63.64%), five respondents chose moderate impact (22.73%) and two chose minimal impact (9.09%) with one respondent choosing neutral (4.55%). These responses were all expected as finances are always a decision making factor. Commitment and dedication to new branch (i.e. representing basketball and baseball players with season ending and starting) Significant impact registered ten responses (45.45%) with moderate impact following having five responses (22.73%). No impact and neutral were tied with three responses (13.64%) and with minimal impact registering only one response (4.55%). The effect of time and commitment was seemingly not as much of a significant impact as the other questions prior.

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Personal passion for the sport Many sports agents get into the field to maintain their connections through the sport they played, and pursue their passion for a sport that they might not have been able to play at the highest level. Significant impact registered half of the responses (11, 50%) and moderate impact had five responses (22.73%). Neutral followed with three responses (13.64%) and no impact was next with two responses (9.09%). Minimal impact only had one respondent (4.55%). Half of the respondents considered personal passion as a significant impact because having a passion for what you are doing and who you are working for will help to make things happen efficiently and successfully. Personal knowledge of the sport (i.e. understanding the specific minor leagues, salary caps, current trends, etc.) This is essential to understand how your client can move up and succeed in his or her sport. A sports agent’s understanding benefits him/her and benefits each client to the fullest in contract negotiations. Significant impact had more than half of the responses (13, 59.09%). Moderate impact was next with five responses (22.73%), with no impact and minimal impact both having two responses (9.09%). Neutral received no respondents. Locality of your Business site This is interesting because many agencies are located in big city areas such as Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, etc. Moderate impact came out with the most responses (10, 45.45%) and significant impact followed with five responses (22.73%). Neutral had four responses (18.18%) and minimal impact recorded three responses, (13.64%) while no impact did not record a single response. This was the final question in the likert scale and all of these responses were answered how they were anticipated.

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How many years has your agency/firm been representing professional athletes? Seven respondents (33.33%) had 13+ years of experience in representing professional athletes. This majority gives our data a good indication that the respondents are knowledgeable about the industry. Five respondents (23.81%) were qualified as 10-12 years of experience and another five respondents (23.81%) fell into the 4-6 years of experience gap. Three respondents (14.29%) were newer to the field with 1-3 years of experience. Only one respondent (4.76%) had experience of 7-9 years of representing professional athletes. One respondent chose not to answer this question. The remainder of single-choice questions were general certification and employee related. How many people work within your agency? It seems that most of the respondents were using the “small boutique firm” as the structure to their agency. The results showed that seven respondents (33.33%) employeed only 1-2 people within their firm. There was a big jump, however, that the second most chosen answer was 9+ employees (5 responses, 23.81%) followed by 3-4 employees and 5-6 employees both with four respondents (19.05%). Only one respondent (4.76%) employeed 7-9 people in their agency. Once again, one respondent chose not to answer this question. Of the employees at your agency, how many are NFLPA (National Football League Players’ Association) certified? Of the employees within each respondent’s agency/firm, I thought it would be interesting to see how many are certified through their sport specific union and/or the states. This question, was answered by twenty-one of the twenty-two respondents. Ten (47.62%) of the respondents had 1-3 employees that were NFLPA certifed. Nine (42.86%) had zero employees NFLPA certified, which showed that there were many respondents not dealing with the representation of professional football players in the National Football League.

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Of the employees at your agency, how many are NBPA (National Basketball Players’ Association) certified? A shocking number of respondents had zero employees (13 responses, 65%) who were NBPA certified. The other seven (35%) who responded had a minimal 1-3 employees who were NBPA certified. This meant two respondents chose not to answer the question. Of all the employees at your agency, how many are MLBPA (Major League Baseball Player’s Association) certified? Only one person chose not to respond to this question. Thirteen (61.90%) of the respondents were stating that there were 1-3 employees in their agency that were MLBPA certified, which meant that these agencies carried a client who is on a Major League Baseball team’s 40-man roster. The remaining eight (38.10%) that answered this question had zero employees within their agency that were MLBPA certified. This could have meant one of two things; one is that their clients are still in the minor league rankings. The other indication is that there are no clients in professional baseball, either due to lack of resources or lack of interest. Are you certified in any other sport? Three (14.29%) respondents said that they were certified in another sport. Eighteen (85.71%) of the respondents were not certified in any other sport. Again, one respondent chose not to answer the question. Of all the employees at your agency, how many are state certified? Fourteen (66.67%) of the respondents had 1-3 employees within their agency who were state certified. Four respondents (19.05%) had 4-6 employees that were state certified within their agency. Two respondents (9.52%) indicated that there were 7-9 employees in their agency that were state certified. One respondent (4.76%), however , stated there were zero employees at their agency that were state certified. Once again, there was one respondent that chose to leave the question unanswered.

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The remainder of the questionnaire consisted of open-ended questions: What was the biggest hurdle that you may have faced in developing your agency? Many of the responses were very similar. Of the twenty-two respondents, sixteen chose to participate and offer their answers. The most common answers were financial restraints, time commitments, and competition. “Unscrupulous agents” was the exact wording used multiple times in describing the biggest hurdle that was faced. In an industry that is very cut-throat, it comes as no surprise that this would be a common answer. Some other answers were inexperience and lack of connections. This would prove to be tough because the agency would, in essence, be starting from scratch. However, one respondent (Erica McKeon) indicated she was ahead of her time in dealing with women’s basketball. This, for her, opened many doors that no one had ever knocked on before. What are the strengths/advantages your agency can offer to a prospective client? This question gave the respondents a chance to use their sales pitch that they would use when trying to recruit a prospective client. Many of the answers were offering the same strengths. There were five terms that stood out the most; time, personal attention, integrity, honesty, and contacts/relationships. Not all the respondents, however, said all of these terms, but many offered three or four of them. Also, many respondents took a unique approach to this question to actually analyze what separates their agency/firm from the others. There were some older, more established agencies that made you aware of their experience and the amount of attorneys that were employed within the agency. Of the twenty-two respondents, seventeen voiced their opinion on their greatest strength/advantage that they could offer a prospective client.

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DISCUSSIONS: The whole research was very effective. The respondents ranged from seasoned veterans to rookies. This wide range helped to see the new wave of talented sports agents and compare them to the old breed of seasoned, well-refined sports agents. Many agencies went for the “jack-of-all trades” approach as others chose the “master -of-one” approach. It was evident that the likert scale based questions were there to grasp which aspect impacted the decisions of sports agents when developing a new branch. Many of the respondents who may or may not have more than one sports branch could have gone through this decision making process. In all, it seemed as though each of the questions received the most responses for significant impact. Only two of the likert scale questions (locality of your business site and competition of other firms) received more of their responses from something other than significant impact. This could have been because the respondents were very confident in their ability to act as a successful sports agent meaning the competition and location from where they operate would not be a factor in forming and developing a new sports branch. The open-ended portion of the questionnaire probably had the most implications in terms of responses. Explaining the biggest hurdle in developing your agency is tough because there is likely to be many hurdles in a) developing the agency, b) getting exposure for your name/brand, c) getting clients, d) maintaining clients. Also, many agents will start in their home and then when that “big break” happens they will expand. There are so many expenses that add up in developing an agency and the money is not coming back quickly.

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Many college and law students would love to become the next Drew Rosenhaus, but before Drew Rosenhaus, not everyone wanted to be a sports agent. Times have obviously changed and the change has made this industry saturated with people who want to be sports agents. Some of the respondents started their firm prior to the saturation and due to that, they have been able to stick in this tough field. Sticking in this tough field leads to the last open-ended question of the strengths/advantages one can offer prospective clients. These older firms can proudly and confidently say their established contacts and relationships are better than those who have just begun their agency, but is that the only thing they can offer that is different? This question was open-ended to allow the respondents to be creative and voice what they truly believe separates them from their competition. How can they effectively recruit better than their competition? How can they maintain their client’s satisfaction as he struggles? How can they make this unknown client a household name? These are questions a prospective client or their parents may have. Obviously, I would not ask these questions because I do not want the respondents to reveal their “secrets”, but these are the true strengths/advantages when it comes down to separating your agency from another.

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CONCLUSIONS: Based on the results of the questionnaire, we have narrowed down the different questions and are clearly able to see which aspects (in order) impact the decision. The financial resources, through the results, showed to have the most significant impact. Following that the results showed that personal knowledge of the sport, (i.e. understanding the specific minor leagues, salary caps, and current trends) along with the time period for success of clients (i.e. a baseball player is drafted and may not make the Major Leagues until 3-5+ years) are the next most impacted decisions before creating a new branch. The personal knowledge of the sport is an important factor to consider because it gives not only you (the agent) leverage, but also your clients and the future of your firm. If you can form an understanding of all the minor leagues, you are also providing a chance for more opportunities for each client. The same goes for the salary structure and collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that is different for each professional league. The non-financial resources needed to build a new branch (i.e. connections with scouts, player personnel, coaches) was next as the most significantly impacted decision. This is an aspect that takes time to build. If, for example, an agency is successful as football representation agency than they have, most likely, built a network of scouts, player personnel and coaches in which there have been relationships built that have guided the football agency on the right path to where they are now. For them to develop a new branch, it would be beneficial if there are mutual connections (through the football relationships), otherwise it would mean the agency may have to start forming relationships and this could take time away from their football representation branch. Along with the non-financial resources was the personal passion for the sport. As I stated prior, many sports agents will succeed in the sport that they, themselves, are passionate about. After those aspects, discuessed was then the commitment and dedication to a new branch. Similar to the example above, many sports agents think offering their time and personal attention to their clients is their main strength. With that said, multiple branches could take a sports agent’s time away from his or her clients especially if seasons are in session simultaneously. The final factors, competition from other firms and locality of your business site, received the least amount of responses for significant impact toward the decision

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to start a new branch. This seems accurate as many sports agencies would look at the financial and non-financial resources before they even consider where their business will be located and which sports agencies are surrounding them. Many sports agents spend so much of their time traveling that the locality of their business site serves as minimal as possible. Other sports agencies are started in an area that is saturated, but believe they are focused on a certain niche that the competition will not pose as a threat. Through the results, we were able to see clear evidence that there are decisions made regarding the impact to develop a new branch. The questionnaire also showed something that is not as clear when first looking at the results. That is the new breed versus the old breed. This was briefly mentioned before in the results section, but there is a need to conclude with it. The new wave of sports agents are facing more competition than ever before. Many college graduates are either starting their own sports agency or heading to law school to begin their own agency or join an already established firm. The question of separation still lingers. As the young, new breed progresses, so does the industry. Many of the older breed serves as a “parent” role for their clients, but these clients are the same age and going through the same exact thing these new breed sports agents are. If a poll was taken on collegiate athletes on how many of them use Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, or any similar social networking source, it would be evident that the college athletes being recruited spend the majority of their time texting, on Facebook, or Tweeting with their friends. If we took the same poll for sports agents, we would see a greater divide between the new breed of sports agents and the old breed. The old breed, usually, is not as equipt to involve themselves with these sources of social networking, but their new breed is and they live by it. The questionnaire was not created to inform me about the new breed versus the old breed of sports agent, I was able to gather enough data from a variety of sports agents and learned about these important and innovative factors. These factors impacted the decision in all different facets of developing and creating a new branch within a sports agency. Before anything is decided by the sports agency, it is imperative to realize and analyze all potential losses and gains by developing this new branch.

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WORKS CITED: "First Year Player's Draft." First Year Player's Draft. 04 Aug. 2008 <http://www.angelfire.com/vt/prospectwatch/index88.html>. Gilbert, Bill. "Salary Arbitration, A Burden or a Benefit." Baseball Research Journal (2006): 1-6. Hagen, Paul. "Young MLB players seem to lean toward secure deals." Philadelphia Daily News 25 Apr. 2008 Interview with Patrick Murphy of Reynolds Sports Management (See Appendix) "Major League Baseball Salaries." Baseball Almanac: Major League Baseball Salaries. 04 Aug. 2008 <http://www.baseball-almanac.com/charts/salary/ major_league_salaries.shtml>. "MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement." MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement. 2007. 04 Aug. 2008 <mlbplayers.mlb.com/pa/pdf/cba_english.pdf>. "MLB Players Association." Major League Baseball Players Association:FAQ. 04 Aug. 2008 <http://mlbplayers.mlb.com/pa/info/faq.jsp>. Secondary Interview with Bernie Lee (through SportsAgentblog.com) APPENDICES: For a copy of any of the appendices, including the questionnaire used, please contact TSBX at info@thesportsbusinessexchange.com.

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