Sports Agent Interview:
with Matthew Vuckovich
Paul Sheehy is a 43-year-old sports agent who leads the pack at Pro Star Sports Agency (www.prostaronline.com). Mr. Sheehy has been in the business for over 19 years and represents around 70 total clients of which include athletes, coaches, and management personal. He is a published author, has written on the business of professional sports in several print and online publications, and he is a frequent guest at universities and in the media. Mr. Sheehy has been seen on TV with FSN and is also an adjunct professor at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business as part of the school’s Sports Management program. I was able to chat with Mr. Sheehy a little bit and learn not only about the sports agent industry but also how he got to where he is now.
SportsAgentBlog: How did you get started in this industry?
Paul Sheehy: Well, I realized early on there would be no need for a 5’9 division 2 offensive lineman in the NFL, so I better look for another profession! The real story is actually a fun one. My Springfield College roommate and teammate was an All-American tight end. He was a senior and I was a junior, and in the spring of his senior year, the Patriots called our apartment after the draft offering him a workout and if things went well, they’d most likely sign him. I drove him to Foxboro from Springfield thinking this would be a great opportunity to see how things worked and maybe I could talk the equipment guy in to giving me a new pair of turf shoes before I started spring football practice the next week. Well, the workout went great even though I didn’t exactly see it, I was in the equipment room. We both went up to the GM’s office and sat across from the GM while he told my roommate how well he had done and that the Patriots wanted to sign him. They tried calling my friend’s agent, but could not get him on the line and we were told he was too busy with a big hockey client at the time. My roommate was anxious and nervous to say the least. I then asked the GM, what are you looking to do? He said, 2 years, $60,000 and $80,000; remember this is in 1984. My friend was ready to jump up and hug the guy. I put my hand on his leg and asked, How about a little something up front? After about a 10-second pause, the GM stands up, reaches into his pocket and slaps a $100 bill down on the desk. My friend and I looked at each other and together said, DONE! I loved that! For the record, we used that money to fill up on gas and hit an all-you-can eat seafood buffet on the way home. This was my unofficial start in the industry.
SportsAgentBlog: Did you attend law school? If so, which law school?
Paul Sheehy: Yes, following my MBA I attended Whittier College School of Law (http://www.law.whittier.edu/) in Southern California. I was also the President of the Entertainment & Sports Law Society there.
SportsAgentBlog: Who was your first client (year, sport), and how did you recruit him?
Paul Sheehy: Like many first client stories in this industry, mine was a friend of a friend type thing, referred by my college roommate. His name was Wesley Keck and in 1988 he was playing semi-pro ball for the Duncanville (Texas) Drillers. He was a big, fast, strong kid. When we signed with the old Houston Oilers, he literally hyperventilated, prompting a team official to call me to see if I could calm him down. He was very excited, as was I! He didn’t make that roster, but he was one of the American Gladiators for a few years when that show was popular.
SportsAgentBlog: How did you handle your first contract negotiation?
Paul Sheehy: My first official negotiation was back in 1988 and it was simple. It went along the lines of something like this: Really? You want to sign him? Let’s get it done! It was clearly what we call an opportunity-only contract. This, by the way, is the type of deal the vast majority of first-time agents deal with. By comparison, the most recent contract I concluded this weekend was a 5 year $10.1 million dollar deal for a kicker, which took several weeks to get done with dozens of calls, emails and faxes that were exchanged.
SportsAgentBlog: What is the most important aspect of being a sports agent?
Paul Sheehy: In terms of importance, it is easily the number of lives I am able to impact and change for the better. This includes everything from negotiating and structuring a contract to setting a client and his family up for life, to the day-to-day guidance and counsel I am able to give to many clients, both current and retired. I know we do a great job putting our clients first, and the number of retired clients who keep in touch on a regular basis proves it. In this sense, it is very rewarding.
SportsAgentBlog: At what age do you feel an agent will hit his prime/glory years? Why?
Paul Sheehy: There is no substitute for experience. You have to put yourself in the shoes of the player being recruited. Would a veteran player or top draft choice entrust his financial future to a young, inexperienced person, or would there be a greater comfort level with a more established agent/attorney? I advise young agents just getting in the business to represent anyone they can, just to get a have a person to talk to all 32 NFL teams about, get a feel for the business, get to know people and build from there. Age as a number is irrelevant, but experience is very relevant.
SportsAgentBlog: What is your opinion of larger agencies with less attention to their clients compared to smaller agencies who counsel more with their clients?
Paul Sheehy: We have a saying in our office that bigger isn’t better; better is better. It’s our reminder to be selective about who we represent because we truly believe in treating each and every client as if he were our ONLY client. That’s a tall order, but we’ve been doing it that way for 19 years now. It just works for us. This is also why our number 1 source of new business is current-client referrals. The large agencies do not and cannot provide the personal attention we do and their biggest concerns are recruiting, recruiting, and recruiting.
SportsAgentBlog: Where do you see the athlete representation industry going in 10 years?
Paul Sheehy: With regulation becoming more and more prevalent, from state agent laws to players’ associations regulations, operating as a sports agent is getting increasingly more expensive and regulated. I see this positively impacting the industry as a whole, as it will keep the fly-by-night, part timers out of it, leaving a smaller group of agents who make this their livelihood, and who believe it or not, are a more ethical group. Part time agents are the guys who do this to simply say; yeah, that player in the NFL is my one and only client. It really hurts this business from a competency and ethical standpoint.
SportsAgentBlog: Take our readers through a typical day in your life.
Paul Sheehy: This industry is anything but typical, that’s for sure! One of the greatest things about my job is that everyday brings something different. We represent around 70 total clients, so we are always dealing with different issues. The constants each day are things such as reading the sports pages from each NFL city to get a little local insight on every team in the league. We touch base with all 32 teams literally each week during the season, check in on current clients, and see if we can find a fit for any unemployed clients. We also touch base with each client several times a month, constantly tracking recent contract signings and extensions around the NFL as well as NFL roster composition. Not to mention managing ongoing contract negotiations, preparing for upcoming negotiations, free agency preparation (we are scheduled to have 4 unrestricted free agents in 2007 and 1 restricted free agent, for example). I love it!
SportsAgentBlog: What advice do you have for people looking to break into the industry?
Paul Sheehy: Intern within the industry. You can intern with a large and smaller agency, a team, a league office, or even a players’ association. You should try to intern for as many as possible. Get to know the business from as many vantage points as possible. It’s truly a process, so set expectations accordingly.
SportsAgentBlog: Does your agency provide internships for people looking to break into the industry?
Paul Sheehy: Yes. We typically accept 1 or 2 interns during the winter (January – May) when the NFL Free Agency period and NFL Draft preparations are the busiest. This gives the intern the best first-hand experience we could offer.
SportsAgentBlog: If you could do one thing to renovate the Sports Agent industry, what would it be and how would you go about accomplishing that goal?
Paul Sheehy: The NFLPA has been outstanding in their efforts to more closely control who can hold themselves out as a certified contract advisor (i.e., agent). Things like requiring a post-grad degree, passing an entrance examination, attending annual seminars, doing extensive background investigations have all served the players well. Competency is the issue. As long as safeguards are in place to assure competent representation, the system in place works. Where we are diverging is in the state regulation where each state is seeking to regulate based on one or two negative experiences they’ve encountered with the stereotypical slimy agent out there. Even states, which adopted the Uniform Athlete Agent Act, have varying enforcement mechanisms and fees, bond requirements, no bond requirements. So being able to truly standardizing this would be ideal.
SportsAgentBlog: What drives you to represent professional football players?
Paul Sheehy: I love the game, first of all. I also know that players really need competent, effective representation, and not just to negotiate a contract, but for all of the other things that pop up during a professional sports career. Injury issues, grievances, settlements, workers compensation issues, benefit issues, restricted and unrestricted free agency, franchise and transition rule issues, marketing and endorsements, post-NFL career transitioning, and off-the-field issues. You name it, these players need someone who knows what’s going on, can best advise them under any scenario, and who isn’t a yes person to them, who can just shoot from the hip, and have an honest, open and candid conversation about literally anything going on in their lives. Not to mention the types of contracts I’ve been able to secure for our clients have been life changing for many players and their families. As for the day-to-day things, the energy and excitement during ongoing contract negotiations is incredible. Getting a big deal done is to me, what my clients feel like standing in the middle of a NFL stadium erupting with excitement and energy!
SportsAgentBlog: What differs from representing NFL players to representing CFL and AFL Players?
Paul Sheehy: Really just the value of the contracts. One of the reasons we are so successful in the CFL and AFL is that we treat those players with the same respect as we do our NFL Pro Bowl players. We probably have half of the top 10 highest paid players in each league.
SportsAgentBlog: I see that you not only represent athletes but you also represent coaches and management personal. Can you please compare the differences from representing athletes to representing coaches and management personal?
Paul Sheehy: I love representing coaches and front office personnel. The deal begins with literally a blank page, and we can get very creative. It’s just a different dynamic and one I enjoy.
SportsAgentBlog: You still have the same toll-free number that you had when you first started your agency. Can you explain the meaning behind this and what you are trying to convey to our viewers?
Paul Sheehy: Stability and consistency. It’s as simple as that. Dozens and dozens of agents and agencies have merged, jumped to other agencies, folded, were bought out in the last few years alone. With us, we’ve just gone about our business day-to-day, year-to-year since 1988.
SportsAgentBlog: You also serve as an adjunct professor at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business as part of the school’s Sports Management program. Can you explain how being a professor has contributed to your success as a sport agent?
Paul Sheehy: When I began teaching the Sports Law/Contracts class 8 years ago, I went into it thinking I knew pretty much all there is to know about the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement and the inner workings of the NFL, for example. What I found quickly, was that teaching offered me an opportunity to continually learn. Students at the grad school level were asking me questions which I didn’t know the answer to off the top of my head, so it forced me to dig into the CBA for pretty obscure things and I enjoy that exercise.
SportsAgentBlog: On behalf of SportsAgentBlog.com and all of our readers, I would like to thank Paul Sheehy for sharing his knowledge and experiences with us today. You can check his website out at ProStarOnline.com. Till next time, be safe and act ethically in the business that you love.