Should an Athlete Get a Sports Agent?

by Erick Fabian, Sr.

Whether the answer is yes or no is up to you. Depending on what goals you want to achieve as a sportsperson, a sports agent can mean boom or bust. This is why it is important to make personal assessments on what you intend to achieve as an athlete before deciding to work with an agent.

sports-agent-salaryIf you are still starting out as an athlete, and have yet to join international gaming events, it would seem prudent to consider building your personal portfolio of achievements first. Give yourself some years of mileage, undergo strict training, and have a veteran athlete or coach mentor you first. It pays to be ready for the next step in your career.

So when should you consider getting a sports agent? Depending on the sport you’ll choose to focus on, the demand for agents are usually more apparent in individual-oriented sports such as track and field, boxing, and sports that involve running. If you are considering on becoming a professional athlete, you will need a person or a team to take care of the logistics for you so that you can focus on your craft without distractions.

When your career takes a turn into a point when you need to negotiate business and sponsorship deals, a sports agent with a business acumen and a whole-hearted belief in your abilities can raise your chances for sports career success. On the downside, an agent whose focus is only to profit from your abilities and reputation as an athlete can surely lead to career suicide.

An agent can represent you in media and help garner up publicity for you, because public presence can drum up support and help you gain financial assistance, which includes sponsorships and product endorsement contracts. Sports gents also know a lot of people in the sports industry and can hook you up with other players and people who can help you get a career boost, not to mention insider tips and advice.

This is why you, as a person who cherishes sports mastery as a vocation, should be careful in choosing your agent. It is best to find someone who is already a good friend and has your best interests in mind.

Screencap from Jerry Maguire
Screencap from Jerry Maguire

According to Runpro.com, a site for professional runners, there are ‘three C’s’ that you have to consider before getting someone to represent you:

  1. Convenience. Having an agent take care of the details is easier than doing it yourself. Getting sponsors or gaining entry into meets can be difficult and stressful. Depending on your personality, an agent may be essential, allowing you to focus on training so you don’t have to sweat over making travel arrangements or negotiating a shoe deal.
  2. Contacts. Agents have contacts with shoe companies and meet directors that most athletes do not. Your agent should be able to connect you with the necessary people and companies in the sport.  Similarly, an agent can make you appear more professional to both meet directors and potential sponsors.  Potential sponsors see you as more serious thus increasing their confidence that their investment in you is secure.  Your agent should work hard in an attempt to secure a shoe deal or other endorsement deal. In addition to getting you into meets, this is an agent’s primary responsibility.
  3. Cost. The cost of an agent can be significant but an agent can be a worthwhile investment for many professional runners. Typically, an agent will require a  commission to be paid on any money earned including: (a) product endorsement contract, (b) meeting or event appearance fees; and (c) prize money. Additionally, it is typical for an agent to charge a large commission on any and all endorsement contracts outside of your primary endorsement deal. An athlete’s agreement with an agent – including the percentages – can be negotiated, but most athletes have little bargaining power because the average professional athlete does not necessarily generate a huge amount of revenue.

Of course, when you have already created a reputation for yourself, that you can already promote your own brand (i.e. celebrity athlete), you can renegotiate your contracts because you already have the public image to back up your sports prowess. But until that happens, a good agent is someone who might make the journey easier for you.

In selecting an agent, according to NFL center Tyler Horn (ThePlayersTribune.com), you also have to consider these factors:

  1. Is this person someone you can trust? Does this person have your best interests in mind? You have to be constantly assured that your agent is out there, doing the nitty-gritty work for you, without you needing to remind him or her every time. They should know their job well. Good agents don’t wait for you to pester them to get the job done on your behalf. Trust is of utmost importance especially when money and sourcing funds is involved. Do not make the mistake of relying on money to build trust. An agent should guide you in the contracts you sign, and know which deals you should refuse before it turns into career disaster. They would know if some entity is just taking advantage of you. This doesn’t mean you should hire a close family as your agent, because it can compromise the integrity and professionalism of your career. You need someone who can give you objective, unbiased but constructive advice.
  2. Is this agent honest? You need a person who will give you the facts straight, and not be wishy-washy with decisions. Your agent should be able to give you an honest appraisal of you what you need to improve on, and they should also be honest on where they fail or come short in things like negotiating deals for you. Never hire agents who are secretive, over-eager, and can’t give you a straightforward answer. You can get exploited and not know it. They should be able to tell you if you’re not doing great in your craft, so that you can both work to find room for improvement.
  3. Does this agent have a good reputation? An agent’s poor reputation and bad performance in the past can reflect on you. A great agent can do wonders for your career and give you the publicity boost you need with the least effort. This is why it is important to ask around first and interview this agent’s former clients before hiring them. Check their media reputation as well. An agent known for their questionable behaviour in public rather than their negotiation and management skills might not be the best for you.
  4. Is this agent accessible at the most crucial times? Trust is not enough, you also need to be assured that your agent is reliable when you need them the most. You should watch out when an agent is known to suddenly disappear on their clients, because that can happen to you. Great agents do not leave you in the dark, and should be able to help you move to the next step of your career. You should be able to know where your agent is when you need them the most.
  5. Does this agent believe that you matter? While this may not be applicable anymore to successful, big-name athletes, your agent should believe in you and have faith in your capabilities. They will want you to be successful. They will never do anything that will discourage you or pull you down. A proper agent should be willing to work hard to get you where you need to be, and own your success as theirs. This is why you might want to avoid agencies that are ‘glorified puppy mills’, taking in too many athletes and playing all of you like game cards, watching to see who will win and earn them profits. Your agent should treat you like a person and not just one of their ‘stable animals’.

Jason Belzer, sports lawyer and Forbes sports industry analyst, advises that “[Contract] negotiations are complex. The highest percentage of an athlete’s lifetime income comes from their earnings on the field or court; thus, their contract negotiations are a game of extraordinarily high-stakes. Professional sports teams negotiate formulaically, they consider: the player’s age, injury history, personal history, statistical trends, and position-specific wear-and-tear. Sports agents argue by comparing similarly-traited players with high salaries. The contracts of different positions are drastically different; each position’s salary demands a high degree of industry specific knowledge and the arguments to be used against assertions made by the team’s negotiators. Agents are experienced in these types of negotiations..”

Screencap from Million Dollar Arm
Screencap from Million Dollar Arm

On the Philippine context, one way to learn about agent dealings is to read up on longtime boxer Manny Pacquiao’s career from a business standpoint. His missteps in the past should be a case study on what happens if you choose the wrong people. There are a lot of sports scandals in the past that athletes aspiring for professional careers should learn from.

It all comes down to having the right person to help you. Learning from the past mistake of other professional athletes can help save you the headache and heartache when you have to deal with the complications and contract fine print. This is also why athletes should not just be all brawn but no brains. As one trains their bodies, so should they train their minds to be literate, well-informed, and discrete in the business relationships they build in the sports industry.