SHOW ME THE MONEY: THE SLIPPERY WORLD OF BEING A SPORTS AGENT
It’s been almost 20 years since the hit motion picture Jerry Maguire starring Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding Jr. took Hollywood by storm with a retroactive view of the sporting world through the eyes of a successful sports agent. The movie turned out to be a lackluster love themed predictable 100 minutes of your life that you will never get back with the consolation of a sports theme throughout the movies entirety that catered successfully to the male demographic. As sappy as the movie turned out to be, it raised many questions about the how accurate the portrayal was of the sports agent profession and the general consensus was that it seemed like a career worth at least looking into if not pursuing.
What Hollywood doesn’t tell you is that the life of a sports agent is equally as time consuming and taxing mentally as it is for the players they represent. The majority of the agents that represent professional athletes are associated with a firm that represents clients similar to a law firm. In fact many professional sports agents, have law degrees, or have their Masters in business law which is likely related to a business related Bachelors. These firms vary in size, but all have the same goal – to represent as many clients as humanly possible. If there are too many clients, more qualified humans are hired to represent these clients. Creative Artist Agency (CAA) which ironically represents Tom Cruise made the decision the also represent professional athletes to go along with entertainers and actors. Their expertise in representing professionals has cumulated into CAA being the most valuable sports agency in the world. CAA has negotiated years and years worth of contracts valued at over $5 billion but the $200 million in commission payouts to its agents are more than double the next most successful firm. Staggering numbers indeed, but not considering CAA represents the like of Tony Romo, the Manning brothers and Drew Brees in the NFL, Ryan Braun and Ryan Howard in the MLB, Sidney Crosby in the NHL, and Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Tony Parker in the NBA. Those names are just some of the major names in some of the major sports and don’t included the hundreds of athletes we don’t hear much about and that may play a sport than we’ve never seen on TV.
What makes a successful sports agent however, is what makes this topic so slippery and hinges really on how you define success. Is success having the most clients or is it strictly based on dollars earned? What if an agent represents a client for less than their traditional cut, and gets the athlete more than they expected? Or what if the agent negotiates a deal for less than the athlete would’ve received somewhere else, but the athlete is closer to his hometown, or in a place where he can win. This should be a major talking point in regards to this topic of the sports agent industry but in life as well. Will people sacrifice the almighty dollar to put them in position to meet the needs of their family, win or impact their local community? Moreover, how much time is the agent willing to commit to finding out what’s important to these players. Veteran agents Ben Dogra and Tom Condon have seemingly made a life of meeting the needs of the clients even if it didn’t make sense from a dollars and sense standpoint. This is most evident with the recent pay cut endured by Peyton Manning who is represented by Tom Condon. The $5 million delta between what Manning was making versus what he will now make cost Condon and CAA $150,000 in commissions but the opportunity cost of not meeting their clients need is far greater. Its no secret that Manning who has been on the back 9 of his career for several years, wants to win now. Condon’s sole responsibility at this point is to work with the Denver Broncos to make this happen at a price that is fair to both parties. Could Manning get more elsewhere – absolutely, but could he win – probably not. The $150,000 hurts, but if Manning hoists that Lombardi trophy the windfall that will hit that agency in the form of cliental will be astronomical.
Taking care of the Peyton Mannings of the world is a task that most agents would embrace with open arms, but there are far more difficult athlete types to represent. No one wants any part of players that can’t stay out of the clubs or prison or the pants of women that aren’t’ their wives. But if those players can net them 200K of guaranteed money agents will become babysitters, marriage counselors, bail bondsmen or security guards. The agents job is so much more than negotiating contracts and has transitioned over to protect the athlete at all costs, even if its from themselves.
This job is not for those who can’t handle rejection. Getting clients is one thing, but that’s why agents sign on with firms, its keeping these clients fully satisfied and on board with the ship your sailing that’s the challenge. Professional sports teams for the most part dread your existence and at times the 3% commission even though its 3% of a big number simply isn’t worth it. Let’s not pretend your landing only superstar athletes with million dollar contracts. Often agents are selling their souls for athletes who are pros in sports like MMA, Arena League Football and the NBA developmental league often only taking home hundreds of dollars, roughly 4-10%. An agent with four NFL clients who make the rookie league minimum of 420K will take home less than 50K and keeping up with one player can be considered a full time job. There’s money to be made in the sports agent business no doubt, you just have to ask yourself does your life’s work include working tirelessly to help professionals make much more money then you do? If the answer’s yes, congratulations you’re human, as 99% of people working in corporate America are doing the same thing.