Gaining Clients as a Sports Agent

Part I. Where to Begin

Key Topic: Discussion on Ways to Land Your First Client

There is no generic answer to where to begin when it comes to finding your first client. Big sports agencies have the money and resources (staff and marketing capabilities) that can impress athletes in order to sign them. As a result, solo or smaller agencies sometimes have to go the extra mile in terms of developing a plan and methodology when recruiting a prospective client. The easiest way to land your first client is to be aggressive and communicative, yet show the prospective client that you have the ability to not only negotiate your potential client’s playing contract, but also land him or her marketing opportunities. In many respects, your ability to act as a “chameleon” is important—having the ability to read and react to your client at a moment’s notice, and making sure that your client is represented to the best of your ability.

Finding your first client is a long process of researching athletes, and mapping out a plan. Research different athletes and hone in on which types of athletes you are most interested in.

In recruiting, it is all about geography. The smartest way for a new agent to recruit prospective clients is to find out which athletes are located in the agent's region. Many times, reaching out to athletes in your local region is an efficient way to land new clients because you keep costs down in terms of travel and lodging. This also allows you to find niche areas in terms of recruiting.

An agent needs to be able to develop a relationship with an athlete in order to gain trust, so it is important to meet him or her many times. In-person meetings allow the agent and prospective client to get to know each other in the best way possible. Most of the communication and cues are non-verbal, so getting comfortable in person helps facilitate a closer relationship and helps establish trust. Finding athletes in your local region allows you to develop your practice into a niche practice.

As a hypothetical example, a sports agent began his career residing in Northern New Jersey, 40 minutes away from Rutgers University. Through his research, he identified a player on the Rutgers baseball team that showed great potential as a professional player. Instead of going after the top rated and reported players in Florida and California, he chose to attend as many Rutgers games as possible in order to show his face with that player. Eventually, the player’s draft stock rose, and when it came time for the player to make a decision on which agent to sign with, he chose the agent who showed interest and dedication from the very beginning. Sometimes, a player just needs that one person who shows that he or she truly believes in him or her, and that is ready to work for him or her.

Part II. Recruiting: Useful Resources That Can Help You Land a Client

Key Topic: Experiences and Discussion on Where to Recruit Your First Client or Gain More Clients

A sport agent at an established agency that represents numerous clients can have an advantage when it comes to recruiting a prospective client. Athletes need to be reassured that they are dealing with an agency that is experienced in the industry. Athletes like to see a track record pertaining to player contracts and marketing deals, and want validation for why they are choosing the agent. When a prospective client can see a competitor or a similar athlete in his or her respective sport, and where the agent has taken this athlete in terms of earning potential and his or her career in general, it is easier for the prospective client to sign on with that agent. The agent is already in a position of success based on his or her other clients, and the agent’s other clients have what the prospective client wants.

An exceptional agent needs to understand all of the influences around the athlete, such as family members, coaches, advisors, etc. The athlete turns to his or her trusted advisors and people closest to him or her to help make major decisions such us which agent to work with. This is where an agent’s communication skills are key. Not only should the agent focus on his or her relationship with the athlete, but the agent should also focus on becoming close with family members, coaches, advisors, and anyone else who is important in the athlete’s life. Keep in mind that this is important so that the agent can get a full picture of the athlete. Knowing as much about your client as possible will allow you to effectively communicate to teams for playing contracts and companies for potential business opportunities and/or endorsement and sponsorship deals. The agent will be able to communicate and articulate the player’s story to them.

Historically, many of the bigger agencies have represented a very large portion of the athletes because of their selling point of “full service.” Full-service representation encompasses negotiating an athlete’s playing contract, along with any marketing and outside deals that the athlete may be presented. However, many athletes have started to define their respective agencies’ roles when dealing with their professional careers. For instance, some athletes are hiring only contract advisors for their playing contracts and are engaging outside parties to help them with their marketing and outside business interests.

In regards to the draft recruiting cycle, the agents selected by the potential draftees are selected because the potential draftees usually base their decisions on which agents attended their games; which agent have not only earned their trust, but their family’s trust; and which agents have been there from the beginning. This is not the only formula to gaining a client; but if an agent can gain the trust of the athlete, and prove that to the athlete’s inner circle of people, then it raises the odds of landing the prospective client.

Part III. What Athletes Look for: A Breakdown of What Athletes Look for When Choosing Their Agent or Advisor

Key Topic: Discussion on How and Why a Professional Athlete Chooses His or Her Agent

In the past, many of the same agents have represented the majority of the professional athletes within their respective leagues. The competition is fierce, and very few people were able to break into the sports agent business. However, due to technological advances and the ever-changing landscape of recruiting tools, more and more people have the ability to represent professional athletes.

In today’s industry, there are sometimes hundreds of agents trying to recruit the same player. This makes for a huge decision for that athlete, and there are many factors that go into this decision. The athlete will turn to his or her trusted advisors and inner circle of people who currently care about him or her. Professional or prospective professional athletes turn to people close to them to make key decisions because of a comfort level surrounding like-minded people.

In terms of key characteristics, first, an athlete wants the best negotiator that can fully maximize his or her earning potential. The agent needs to be well versed on what other players are earning, the general earning potential in the athlete’s specific sport and specific teams, and other options for earnings such as sponsorships and endorsements. It is also important for agents to surround themselves with a strong agency that has other clients to use as case studies. When an agent has data and examples to back his or her case up, a clear picture is painted for the prospective client to see where the agent is capable of taking the athlete in terms of earning potential.

Next, the athlete wants someone that he or she can trust and knows that the agent will make any sacrifice for him or her necessary. An agent needs to be an excellent recruiter and position him or herself as close to the athlete as possible throughout the process. It is not just about showing the athlete the money; it is also about being the athlete’s right-hand man or woman when it comes to everyday life. As an agent, you are almost acting as a surrogate parental figure whereby the client must trust you, especially when it comes to negotiating a player contract or a marketing opportunity.

Furthermore, it is all about service and the ability to react when necessary. No situation should alter the agent’s ability to suddenly have to step in and make sure the athlete is properly taken care of.

Lastly, it is about relatability and communication—can you relate and communicate in all facets of life—family, business, and times of tragedy? This is why an agent needs to be versatile and well rounded; the agent needs to be an excellent recruiter, communicator, and be able to position him or herself as close to the potential client as possible throughout the recruiting process to really get to know him or her.

Building a personal relationship with an athlete while recruiting him or her to be a client goes beyond just traveling to see him or her. Sports agents travel to their clients’ games, family events, and charity events, in order to show their support and devotion. Sports agents who fail to keep constant contact, will most likely fail to keep clients and expose their reputation. Professional athletes want more than someone who will work for them; they want someone that they can count on to be there, just like how they count on their family and friends.

Many experienced agents can negotiate great contracts for players, but what set agents apart from the pack is knowing that they will be there for their former and current clients throughout their lives.

Part IV. Keeping and Gaining New Clients: Successful Strategies to Keeping Your Client Base

Key Topic: A Look Inside a Case Study and Why Agents Lose Clients and Why Certain Agents Always Pick up New Clients

Recruiting an athlete is one thing—now an agent must prove to each client why he or she made the right decision. An agent can be terminated at any given notice, and agents oftentimes seek to poach new clients away from other agents and agencies. Every player appreciates validation and confirmation that he or she made the right choice. Everything an agent spoke about during the recruiting process has to now come to fruition in this newfound partnership.The agent needs to come through on his or her word and deliver for the athlete. An agent needs to always maintain contact with a client during all the important stages: while being drafted, in contract negotiations, and throughout free agency. At the same time, an agent needs to always be proving his or her worth a step further by searching for opportunities off the field, such as endorsements, sponsorships, appearances, business opportunities, interviews, charities, etc. The agent needs to stay on top of all of these opportunities to continuously increase the earning potential for the player and also continue to gain trust from the player.

Communication between an agent and client are key in understanding the entire process of each service that is being performed. While sometimes a client may not want to be bogged down with too much information or details, it is up to the agent to ensure that, if anything, there is more communication as opposed to less communication.

An agent, who makes sure that his or her clients’ expectations are kept in check, can increase his or her chances of keeping those clients. If the clients have the wrong idea from what an agent promises, then that is where there is a communication breakdown, placing the sole blame on the agent. If an agent can prove him or herself to his or her client base, then referrals can happen. Referrals can be a major source of clients, and in fact, may lead to an agent not needing to use traditional marketing or recruiting strategies. In some respects, great service and attention may have clients lining up at the door for the agent!

Example: An agent that is able to create and sustain personal relationships, as well as perform various services, will be able to obtain and retain clients vis-à-vis word of mouth. Additionally, the agent will build his or her reputation. When a successful agent has several clients, and those clients are happy, those clients will likely tell other potential clients about their agent, allowing for client referrals.