Last week we discussed the hyper-competitive world of sports agentry and what qualities it takes to be successful.
It is critical to have a great heart and true compassion for the welfare of athletes.
It is critical to keep the concept of being a "steward of the sport" a constant priority.
It is necessary to have a passion for the pursuit and a compelling work ethic.
It is critical to understand the powerful impact athletes can have as role models and to counsel them to retrace their roots to the high school, collegiate and professional community and set up programs that enhance the quality of life. And it is critical to commit to preparing athletes for a second career and stimulate their non-athletic skills from the day they walk in your office.
The role of an agent is to bring value to the life of a player. Athletes are not looking for someone who can recite the statistics of last year's Super Bowl or share anecdotes of favorite sports memories — that is the role of fans.
An athlete is looking for someone with specific skills — legal, financial and public relations, for example — that can help them solve problems.
The primary three roles in agenting are 1. Recruiting. 2. Contract negotiation. 3. Client maintenance.
Recruiting: This requires the ability to reach out to and convince an athlete to choose the right agent. Most draftees have their father or other family members screen the hundreds of competitive agents and set up meetings with a few. These interviews will have the player and family asking questions and scrutinizing backgrounds, doing due diligence. Some are so intense that I know I could be selected Secretary of State afterward. So how did I recruit the first player in the first round of eight NFL drafts and 60 first-round draft choices, and half the starting quarterbacks in the league on any given Sunday? By listening. Asking the right questions to explore the heart and mind of a young man and then carefully listening for text and subtext is key. Having a true understanding of the deepest hopes and dreams and greatest fears and anxieties affords the ability to speak directly to the most relevant concerns. And it allows an agent to lay out a compelling future for a young athlete.
Contract Negotiations: The ability to understand a client's true priorities is the irreplaceable formula for beginning to negotiate. Comprehensively researching the other negotiator, the economics of that team or endorser, and relevant facts that impact the discussions is next. An understanding of leverage — the ability to walk away from a deal to another opportunity — sets the stage. Creative mastery of contract language and compensation, as well as complete command of collective bargaining agreements, is indispensable. A sense of timing is essential.
Client Maintenance: Athletes have day-to-day needs and questions they want answered. They may be unhappy if not starting, or injured, or have disputes with coaches, or the team is losing, or they aren't happy with their contract, and they need counsel and advice.
So what is the best way to prepare for meeting these requirements? The one course I urged all of my children to focus on in high school was psychology. The ability to understand human motivation and why people act the way they do is the most important component of navigating through the world.
In addition to high school classes, writing for the school paper, assisting with the athletic teams and getting comfortable with numbers and math concepts are also helpful. Going to college is a must. Since most prospective agents and attorneys have liberal arts orientations, familiarity with business concepts and marketing can be valuable. Getting an internship in any phase of sports — media, administration, marketing or agency — can add depth. We have had a succession of Corona del Mar High students doing their senior project in our office.
I would suggest going to law school or business school, the joint degree is the most valuable. The field is so competitive that having these degrees gives a comfort level to prospective clients and elevates a young person above others. It also is helpful in securing employment with any institution. Take several business courses.
Tax may not be enthralling, but it is much more useful in counseling a player than mid-Eastern studies. There are now Masters degrees in Sports Management, as well as law and entertainment courses at most graduate schools. I will be teaching Sports and Entertainment law at UC Irvine's innovative School of Law beginning in February. Securing an internship at this level can be useful. There have been times I had as many as 14 law or business students interning during the school year or summer and we have a UC Irvine law student in the office currently.
Most sports representation is done in small practices with a few agents. This makes it more difficult to get hired directly from campus. But they do hire, as do the mega agencies representing many different sports. When considering an approach to being hired, think about a way to distinguish yourself. There are résumés and packages that illustrate by their design and creativity the skill set you may have and stand out. I have received as many as 6,000 résumés in a year. When a law student sent a mocked up copy of Sports Illustrated, featuring he and I on the cover, with every story emphasizing what he could do for our firm, I was intrigued. I once received a football with an entire résumé embedded in it. Someone took a Dr. Seuss book and did a clever mockup showing how he and I could change the world.
If you are planning on starting your own practice, don't quit your day job. The expenses of recruiting and training athletes don't end up being profitable for 80% of new agents in the field and they quit the business within several years.
Having a stable job that is revenue producing and developing a practice on the side is the way to go. First spread the word to every family member and friend that you are entering the field and are interested in representing players.
Eventually someone will run into or know an athlete who needs help. Go back to your university and find a way to volunteer services to the athletic department. Develop a non-agenting niché or skill set that gives entry to athletes — tax, financial skills, criminal defense, charitable foundations —and start to build friendships.
Develop a new theory or expertise that you can write an article or give a speech on. Each glamorous area of the economy — sports, entertainment or social media — are all hyper competitive. Every top agent went through unanswered phone calls, canceled meetings and long, unproductive days before succeeding.
How determined are you?
This may be a difficult field to break into, but new agents make it every year. I have had nearly 40 years of rewarding experiences in helping young men and women reach their life dreams and working together to make it a nicer, fairer, happier world.
Watching a Steve Young throw six touchdown in a Super Bowl that allowed him to throw the monkey of his predecessor off his back, watching six clients enter the Hall of Fame and presenting Warren Moon, writing a best-selling book, spending three years contributing to a beloved movie that changed the way people perceive agents, setting up charitable programs that raised $600 million and changed lives are all thrilling experiences. And you can experience your own if you have the courage to display your character and your passion.
LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports or blog.steinbergsports.com.