Becoming a Sports Agent
Part I. Sports Agent Certification and Educational Requirements
Key Topic: The Basics: How to Get Certified and Registered as a Sports Agent
Becoming a sports agent is not for everyone—it takes someone with drive, passion, and an uncanny ability to sell his or her services to an individual to act on behalf of that particular individual. The agent needs to be comfortable speaking with people and also be professional and personable. The agent needs to be likable and relatable, while still maintaining a level of superiority to convey to the client that he or she is an expert in the field. The drive and passion become evident through the agent’s enthusiasm and dedication to the client. The ability to sell his or her services needs to come across in a genuine manner, even though the sale directly impacts the agent’s bottom line. The ability to facilitate opportunities outside of the regular contract allows the agent to be much more successful than other agents. Being able to lock deals in and think outside of the box is a positive trait that makes an agent stand out. Finding groundbreaking opportunities allow agents to set themselves up because they will oftentimes be able to use that to sell their services in the future. For instance, if an agent finds an opportunity for a player, whereby it is a first to market opportunity, that particular agent will be able to use that opportunity to garner more clients and opportunities.
Each sports league’s players union agent certification requirements is different. As a result, you must pay attention to the specific requirements for the sport(s) that you are most interested in obtaining certification in.
Some league players unions have educational requirements. It is very important to research the requirements and familiarize yourself with what is needed for each league players union as soon as possible.
Educational requirements can delay your debut as a certified sports agent; so get specific and get educated on these requirements as soon as possible. For example, in Major League Baseball, only after a player has designated the agent as his representative, may the agent apply for certification. In this case, it would have been fruitless to go through a number of certifications because you must wait until you get this specific player as a client.
The National Football League Players Association requires that an agent has graduated and hold a degree from a college or university or hold a postgraduate degree of some type. It is imperative that the individual understands the requirements and essentials necessary to becoming an agent in certain sports. It is also important that the agent understands the requirements, because on a practical matter, the athlete wants his or her representative to not only be educated but also effectively guide his or her career. Thus, having a basic or rudimentary educational understanding is of the utmost importance for an agent.
Aside from players unions having specific requirements, the states also have requirements agents must meet. For example, certain states require agents to post a bond within those respective states so that the agents can actively recruit student-athletes and professional athletes in those respective states.
Additionally, the NCAA requires agents to be certified if recruiting basketball players.
What is important to understand, and sometimes a common misconception, is that an aspiring sports agent has to obtain a law degree. While a law degree can be very beneficial for a future agent, such as becoming well versed in contract law and language, it does not determine how successful one can be as an agent. In professional sports, contracts are all about understanding a league’s collective bargaining agreement, which you do not study with any degree. A lawyer could be seen to have an advantage with all the legalese in order to break down and understand a collective bargaining agreement. However, having a law degree does not ensure success as a sports agent. A sports agent must wear many hats (aside from contract negotiations), such as marketing, therapist, and crisis manager. A college degree in a challenging curriculum can greatly benefit an aspiring sports agent in terms of finding a niche in the industry. Any path has its pros and cons, and an individual has to understand what his or her strengths and weaknesses are when determining his or her own path to becoming a sports agent.
What You Need to Know
The competitive landscape of the sports agent business is fierce. There are many agents going after the same players. The job of an agent may be glamorous and can provide many perks. There is a lot of money associated with this profession. Contracts are big. Having the ability to make large sums of money by negotiating a player contract is one reason why landing clients is so competitive.
Many agents cannot make a living off of solely representing professional athletes. As long as the agent is aware of this, he or she can branch out and also set realistic expectations. If you look at the raw numbers of players represented by agents across all of the well-established team sports leagues, the alignment is allocated to a handful of agencies. However, the rise and proliferation of agents have become widespread because of the salaries associated with players, and the mentality that representing one player can lead to several.
As discussed previously, there are many educational paths to choose from, such as law, business, marketing, finance, etc. While it is important to gain the proper education to become an effective agent, it also helps to gain knowledge in other fields, where you can apply your skills to other ventures while you build your career as a sports agent. It is the dedication and drive that set aspiring agents apart.
In terms of the competition and ability to land marquee clients, it is very difficult because a few agents represent many of the players. However, once an agent can break through and get a major player, or a few less popular players, the opportunities are endless.
Part II. Players Unions and Collective Bargaining
Key Topic: Discussion on How Agents and Unions Interact and the Collective Bargaining Process
Players Associations/Collective Bargaining Agreements
Federal and labor laws govern the relationships between the players associations, its members, and the leagues. The collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) is the document that sets out the rights and obligations of the players, teams, and leagues. History suggests that coming to an agreement between the players and owners has been contentious because of rising player salaries and league revenues. Collective bargaining is often seen as complex because of the money involved and the rights associated with what the players want and what the owners want.
Some of the key areas covered in the collective bargaining agreement include: minimum and maximum salaries, the salary cap, the uniform player contract, salary arbitration, health and player safety, performance enhancing substances, drug testing requirements, and disciplinary player repercussions.
In terms of the salary cap, the collective bargaining agreement outlines how much players can be compensated, how they are compensated, and length of contract.
The uniform player contract is the standard agreement between the players and the owners (teams), in which all parties have to abide by. Depending on the sport, each uniform player contract is different. For instance, all player contracts are guaranteed in Major League Baseball; however, they are not guaranteed in the National Football League.
Salary arbitration is often used in Major League Baseball, which allows a player to go to arbitration. The distinction here is that the team and player both submit offers to which the player is seeking. An arbitrator often decides what that number will hold. Major League Baseball is very complex because players have the right to go to arbitration based upon service time.
Another area that a collective bargaining agreement covers is free agency. In terms of the National Football League, free agency can often be a complicated system that has many different requirements based on number of week to week roster lists (active/inactive) a player is on. This is where an agent who has extensive knowledge of the collective bargaining agreement, and understanding of free agency, can help protect his or her client’s rights during the off-season. There is also certain terms that can be negotiated that pertains to how much a player can make, based on his or her active/inactive status, which is known as “split” and “credited” language.
Health and player safety is collectively bargained for within the collective bargaining agreements across all major sports. An issue that has been illuminated in society, thus far, has been player concussion associated with playing in the NFL. Collective bargaining also allows for the respective leagues to cover the costs associated with player safety and health benefits.
Another area that is collectively bargained for pertains to rights surrounding performance-enhancing substances.
A sports agent must monitor the enforcement of the collective bargaining agreement, serve as a client’s advocate in disputes, inform and educate clients on keeping up with new developments pertaining to the collective bargaining agreement, and keep abreast of insurance and retirement benefits.
Players unions are a great resource for agents to use to make sure that contract negotiations run smoothly, and to make sure that players’ rights are protected.
State Laws and the Uniform Athlete Agents Act
There is a paucity of laws associated with regulating sports agents. Registering and filing with the appropriate state governing body is essential and needed in order to ensure compliance. At all times, sports agents must keep abreast of all new laws and new developments pertaining to state and league compliance. The Uniform Athlete Agents Act is a model state law providing guidance on regulating agent conduct.
Once a sports agent is officially certified by the respective players union, it is important to understand what is expected of the two parties. Agents need to always make sure that they comply with all of the rules of the union, which is to always make sure that they do their due diligence to the athlete(s). It is up to the agent to be aware of the rules of the union. Effective sports agents memorize the rules and understand them so that they are not acting recklessly. Remember, it is always important to know these rules, as your client does not and should not know all of these rules because it is your job, not your client’s job.
As an example of how serious state sports agent laws can be, at the University of North Carolina, the football team was rocked with improprieties. A sports agent was arrested and later found guilty for 13 counts of giving money to NCAA athletes. While state laws are in place, various states do not have the state resources to police everyone. Thus, it is important to understand what is at stake when these rules are attempted to be violated.
Part III. The Fundamentals: The Skills Needed to Succeed as a Sports Agent
Key Topic: Discussion on the Skills That Set Certain Sports Agents Apart From Others
The Skills Needed to Succeed as a Sports Agent
The ability to establish and cultivate relationships may be the single biggest skill needed to becoming an established sports agent. Relationship-building takes many forms: the ability to interact with professionals, coaches, and other controlling people associated with a prospective client, to gain the trust of the prospective client and other people associated with the prospective client, and doing good work.
For example, leading sports agents have the ability to connect with families and other “key” influencers that can help better land or facilitate an opportunity to a potential client. Leading sports agents also have relationships with coaches that can help promote and influence agents to land prospective clients or receive critical information that may be necessary to land a new or bigger contract.
Other relationships to establish are those with the decision makers themselves, professional team front office executives. Being able to develop positive relationships with these people can help an agent in the future when dealing with them for clients in regards to the draft, negotiations, or free agency. Having relationships with scouts can also help an agent in terms of understanding who the legitimate prospects are during the recruiting cycle, and help the agent better understand what challenges he or she may face in preparing players for the draft.
Developing Soft Skills and Hard Skills
Building relationships—interacting with personnel, prospective clients, and current and former clients—will allow you to establish your network to gain clients and build a reputation within the sports agent industry. Interacting with personnel related to the prospective client is important because, initially, you never know who the prospective client’s current advisor is or whom the client currently trusts most. Getting to know the dynamics of the personnel involved in your prospective client’s life can provide great insight for you, as the agent, so that you know who you should focus your time getting to know.
Working on your soft skills (presentation, listening, writing, communication) will help you refine your ability to interact with prospective clients in the future. Developing your hard skills (quantitative and statistical reasoning) is also important because it will allow you to be creative in your negotiation of a player contract or marketing agreement by using statistics and rationale reasoning to justify your position.
The Closer’s Mentality
The ability to establish yourself as a closer in the sports agent space is critical. Having the ability to obtain and sign new clients and negotiate deals by providing your client the confidence in your ability to get the deal finalized (with good deal) is in the best interest of your client. Having the closer’s mentality will allow you to negotiate deals using your acquired skills. In summary, in order for a sports agent to build a successful career, he or she needs to develop the necessary skills to fully represent professional athletes. Negotiating skills are very important for an agent to possess, but the agent also needs to have great communication skills, relationship-building abilities, knowledge of the league(s), and be able to pay attention to details. An agent needs to be dedicated to working for each client around the clock, always looking for the next opportunity.
The ability to be in the position to close might take several years, while an agent gets fully established in the industry and within the agency. The “closer’s mentality” is a mindset that an agent has to walk into the industry with. The same type of determination that an athlete needs to enter the league with is exactly what an agent needs to do from the start of his or her career. From the beginning of a sports agent’s career, he or she needs to dedicate him or herself to learning the industry; and sometimes, the best way to get ahead faster is to find a seasoned veteran to shadow, intern, and assist him or her in any way during a negotiation.
Part IV. The Beginning: Once You Are Ready to Begin Your Journey and Obtain Clients
Key Topic: Now That You Are Certified and Registered, How Do You Stay in the Business and Make a Career Out of It?
Once You Are Ready to Begin Your Journey and Obtain Clients
Now that you are ready to begin recruiting and servicing clients, you need to determine whether you plan to work as a sports agent full-time or part-time. Your financial resources, network, commitment, and amount of time allocated to landing clients will dictate your ability to finding a client, servicing your client(s), or positioning yourself within the sports agent industry. Upon landing your first client, you will be able to build your network, obtain referrals, and begin your journey to establishing your reputation within the sports agent business.
The Importance of Referrals
One of the key ingredients to establishing yourself within the sports agent business is building your reputation as a good negotiator for your clients, in hopes that you can obtain new clients from your referral network: existing clients, coaches, scouts, former players.
Understanding the industry itself is very important, in terms of big, medium, and small agencies. Each type has its own pros and cons, so it is important to be matched with the right agency. Regardless, these agencies are not waiting for you—as a prospective sports agent, you need to be able to market yourself, and network with many people to get your foot in the door.
As a sports agent, you need to dedicate yourself to recruiting prospective clients. Just like the agencies, future pro athletes are not waiting for you to represent them; you need to find them and prove to them why they should choose you. This can take many months, even over a year. It is a process of building and sustaining relationships with many different people.