Sports Agent Interview:
with Matthew Vuckovich
Rick Walden is a 49 year-old sports agent and he represents hockey players at Dishon & Walden Sports Agency in Los Angeles, California. Mr. Walden has been in the sports agent business since 1995 and he specializes in hockey players that play in Europe. I was able to chat with Mr. Walden and obtain information from a hockey agent’s perspective.
SportsAgentBlog: How did you get started in this industry?
Rick Walden: I began practicing law in Los Angeles in 1983. In about 1995, I decided that I wanted to be involved in the sports industry and decided to start Dishon & Walden.
SportsAgentBlog: Did you attend law school or grad school? If so, which law school or grad school?
Rick Walden: I went to law school at the University of Texas at Austin (http://www.utexas.edu/law).
SportsAgentBlog: Who was your first client (year, sport), and how did you recruit him?
Rick Walden: At the time I started my agency, I had no contacts in the industry, either on the management or the athlete side. I knew I wanted to be involved in hockey and I also knew that I could not expect to land a young North American player about to be drafted or an established star. So I focused on the Czech Republic and players there that might have been overlooked by the more established agents.
Much of the process was through the internet. I met, by internet, a man who ran a Czech professional hockey fan web site and we corresponded. He was very knowledgeable about how Czech hockey worked and about amateur and professional players there. He eventually put me in contact a few younger Czech players who were playing in North America but for one reason or another had not been drafted. Included was my first client, an 18 year old playing high level junior hockey in Canada.
SportsAgentBlog: How did you handle your first contract negotiation?
Rick Walden: My first two contract negotiations were both for minor league hockey. I relied heavily on the Professional Hockey Players Association for information. I asked as many questions as I could to everyone willing to talk to me. Obviously, at the minor league level, the player has much less negotiation leverage, particularly regarding money, so I focused on finding the right team and opportunity for my clients.
SportsAgentBlog: What is the most important aspect of being a sports agent?
Rick Walden: HONESTY! The agent and the client are a team and there must be complete honesty both ways even if it sometimes painful. In a broader context, honesty with your peers, teams and everyone else you come in contact with is crucial. I will not poach another agent’s players; I am honest with clients about their worth and options; I am straightforward with management about my players. I want players who want to be with me for many years, not ones who hop from one agent to another. It helps in all negotiations if the person on the other side of the bargaining table trusts you.
SportsAgentBlog: At what age do you feel an agent will hit his prime/glory years? Why?
Rick Walden: I can’t say. I think it depends on the path the agent is on, how he/she is getting clients, what each agent’s background and education is. For example, I think that someone in their early to late 20’s who has perhaps interned and obtained real world experience might be in their prime. However, someone who of a similar age who has only gone to graduate or law school might need a few years of experience to hit their stride. And, of course, someone older that has a great deal of experience, both in general life experiences and specifically in the sports industry might be in their prime later in life because of the experience they can bring to bear in any situation.
SportsAgentBlog: What is your opinion of larger agencies with less attention to their clients compared to smaller agencies who counsel more with their clients?
Rick Walden: I don’t assume that larger agencies give less attention to their clients, although in some cases it is true. Larger agencies have assets smaller agencies usually lack, both financially and in terms of leverage. On the other hand, smaller agencies can spend more time and effort on a player of lesser accomplishment because that agency does not need to focus on a few stars and that agency recognizes that such a player is crucial to its reputation.
SportsAgentBlog: Where do you see the athlete representation industry going in 10 years?
Rick Walden: I sort of see two paths. I think the very big agencies with the ability to recruit the most elite of stars and procure endorsements and cross-over deals for them will continue to thrive. I think that given the evolution of salary caps and collective bargaining agreements, agents will become less important to most athletes in the traditional team sports. A number of athletes are already simply paying lawyers an hourly fee to review their contracts rather than paying an agent a percentage to negotiate a deal that in most particulars will have its parameters already defined by the CBA. I am not saying this is what athletes should do, since agents can offer so much more for their clients than merely negotiating salary ” for example, finding the best team for a player (factoring in the player’s desire for advancement, family, quality of life, etc.). I simply see it as a trend. I think that in the future other, non-traditional sports will offer more opportunities to smaller agencies (UFC, extreme sports, etc.)
SportsAgentBlog: Take our readers through a typical day in your life?
Rick Walden: There is no such thing. But a lot of time on the telephone and emailing seem to be prominent themes.
SportsAgentBlog: What advice do you have for people looking to break into the industry?
Rick Walden: Get into the industry as soon as you can in any way whatsoever. Intern; volunteer (high school, college etc.) to do anything you can in the industry. These activities expose you the industry so that you can learn. And they expose the industry to you: you will meet and hopefully impress people on the management side as well as athletes.
SportsAgentBlog: Does your agency provide internships for people looking to break into the industry?
Rick Walden: Not at this time. It would take too much of my time to prepare a position for an intern.
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?
Rick Walden: I think that beyond being certified by the union in each sport, a national agent group that certifies agents and promulgates ethical rules, in which agents would feel obligated to join in order to compete with other agents in recruiting clients, would be a good idea.
SportsAgentBlog: What are some of the things an agent can offer their clients besides the negotiation of contracts, getting endorsements, and others along those lines?
Rick Walden: The lawyer in me is very wary of offering other services such as tax, estate, financial advice and that sort of thing. Even an agent’s referrals to experts in these areas can backfire. But certainly an agent has a duty to discuss with the client the client’s need for these professionals. I think in a more informal way, an agent needs to always be there for the client. Perhaps not as a friend in the traditional sense or as a family member, but something more than a mere hired representative. An agent really should try to see the whole picture including the client’s family life, personal and professional goals, future plans. I don’t mean that an agent should be invasive into the player’s personal life, but if you don’t have some sense of where a clients wants to be, not just geographically but in terms of his entire life, in ten or twenty years, then it’s difficult to help him get there. The easy part of being an agent is negotiating a contract and helping the player with perks. The hard part is finding the right job for him and helping him get the most out of his life now and when his athletic career is over.
SportsAgentBlog: What drives you to represent professional hockey players?
Rick Walden: I have represented baseball, basketball, and tennis players, as well as race car drivers, boxers and others. But hockey is my primary endeavor.
I have always liked hockey (and baseball), so when I started the agency I knew I wanted to focus on those sports. I felt that baseball was more insular and would be harder for an outsider like me to break into than hockey. I keep representing hockey players because I find them to be extremely genuine and appreciative. I’ve never had a hockey player fail to thank me for anything I’ve done for him. I also think hockey players have a greater sense of the history and tradition and culture of their sport. You can talk to any hockey player about players and events from 20, 30, 50 years ago and they will be well-versed. I don’t think the same is true in other sports where today’s players might not even recognize a star from 10-20 years ago.
SportsAgentBlog: How did the NHL lockout affect you as a hockey agent?
Rick Walden: Since most of my players were playing in the minor leagues or Europe, it did not affect me to a great degree.
SportsAgentBlog: What are some of the obstacles that you have to deal with when your clients are playing hockey in Europe?
Rick Walden: It’s tough to visit them or otherwise spend enough time with them to get a real sense of their lives. Whether or not they are happy on the ice and off; whether or not they are progressing; whether or not they are being used in a way that best suits their talents.
SportsAgentBlog: How do you feel about all the new rules that the NHL has recently adapted?
Rick Walden: Even though I tend to be a traditionalist and purist when it comes to any sport, I think the new rules are great almost without exception. I think they have opened up the game and allowed for a faster, quicker game with an emphasis on finesse. It’s certainly more fun to watch than the clutching, grabbing, trapping game of the last few years. I don’t care about increasing scoring. A 1-0 game can be more exciting than a 5-4 game. I care about seeing skills. There is more flow now, more speed, and more scoring chances. Even if those chances aren’t cashed in, it’s enough that we get to witness such skilled players using their talents to create those chances. I did not think I’d be a fan of the shootout as it is such a departure from tradition, but it’s exciting. And at least with the shootout there is a winner and loser.
SportsAgentBlog: On behalf of SportsAgentBlog.com and all of our readers, I would like to thank Rick Walden for sharing his knowledge and experiences with us today. Till next time, be safe and act ethically in the business that you love.