In an era when salaries and endorsements for professional athletes have
skyrocketed, agents are becoming important players in a multibillion-dollar
industry. A professional sports agent handles the business and legal deals
for professional athletes, negotiates contracts and helps athletes manage
This is not a 9-to-5 desk job. In many cases, sports agents do a lot of
traveling to meet athletes, league representatives and potential clients.
Rick Curran is an agent who spends much of the fall and winter meeting with
clients. The spring and summer months are occupied with contract negotiations.
Weekend and holiday work is common.
When agents do find themselves behind a desk, it usually means they're
taking care of taxes, negotiating contracts for salaries or bonuses, or setting
up product endorsements for their clients.
The job attracts people who love sports and want to be involved on a professional
level. Curran is a former U.S. college hockey player and hockey school director.
He attends as many as 75 National Hockey League and minor league games a year.
A connection to the sports world is vital to becoming an agent. Los Angeles-based
lawyer and agent Tim Davies admits he wouldn't be a sports representative
now if it weren't for all the caddying he's done over the years.
"You have to make that connection and be able to see the situation from
the inside. Otherwise, who's going to trust you to represent them?"
Agents say you have to be prepared to devote yourself completely to the
job, which can take a lot of time.
Most agents work for international agencies that may have various offices
in major cities on different continents. Or they may run their own agency
in big cities, such as New York and Los Angeles.
While there are agents who operate independently, big-name athletes like
Arnold Palmer and Shaquille O'Neal are increasingly turning to management
companies to represent their interests. "Even with league expansion, I don't
see a lot of opportunities out there for independents," says Davies.
Some sports agents also work on staff at law firms.
Most sports agents are male. Sports management giant IMG estimates only
about 10 percent of its agents are women. "It's mostly men, just because of
the fact that it is sports. However, we are seeing more women in executive
positions in the company, such as vice-president," says Shelly Jankowski,
a representative with IMG in Cleveland.
Jeanne McNulty-King is one woman who's breaking the ice. She is the president
and CEO of an agency that represents female athletes only.
When she started, McNulty-King recognized a need for women in the industry.
"I only represent women and basically just provide for them what, when I was
an athlete, I knew I needed or wished I could have had."
Since there's such a need for legal experts in professional sports, many
of today's agents are tax lawyers who have a solid grounding in business and
finance. "The majority of people who work here start out as chartered professional
accountants or lawyers with tax or sports backgrounds," says Jankowski.
How tough is the competition? Just consider this joke that went around
the basketball circuits a few years ago: "A college basketball coach was lucky
enough to have four NBA prospects on his team. Late one night, he entered
the gym. When he flicked on the lights, he saw dozens of player agents scurrying
This joke not only reveals heavy competition among agents, but also the
image problem that agents often suffer. Allegations of recruiting violations,
gifts given to amateur players and tampering and gambling violations have
given rise to the idea that agents are dishonest and driven to win at any
Breaking into the sports agent field is not easy. The best route is by
starting out at a large agency. Most agents eventually want to break out on
their own. Given stiff competition for clients, a solo agent must be able
to survive long periods without income and have a willingness to work and
travel often to land the best clients.
Handle the business and legal deals for professional athletes
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Agents and Business Managers of Artists, Performers, and Athletes
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