Do you really want to be an agent? This is the important question you should ask yourself, but how much about the sports agency industry do you really know? The stereotype of the sports agent is mired with misconceptions. Young, aspiring agents typically do not know much about the industry other than the overly glamorized depictions courtesy of Hollywood. This is why it is not a big surprise to me that when students have the opportunity to hear an agent speak, it is the simple, seemingly mundane, information that educates the most. I had such an opportunity this past week that I would like to share with our loyal readers.
I attended a sports law panel presented by my law school this past week that had two agents as speakers. The first, Michael Huyghue, is the CEO of Axcess Sports and Entertainment and previously held the position of Senior Vice President of Football Operations for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The second speaker, Paul Healy, is an independent agent that specializes in representing NFL players (which include Houston Texans linebacker Sam Cowart and Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski, among others); he is also a graduate of the University of Florida which makes him a-ok in my book! Mr. Healy draws many comparisons to fictional agent Jerry Maguire. Mr. Huyghue and Healy were gracious enough to share their knowledge with prospective sports lawyers and agents for over an hour. The subject matter they covered certainly opened up the eyes of many students to what a job as a sports agent truly entails.
I hope that my notes from this panel will leave each of our readers more informed and knowledgeable in their decision to pursue a career in player representation. The topics covered Mr. Huyghue and Healy included:
What is a job as a sports agent really like?: Hollywood has lead to a glamorization of sports agents, but a sports agent’s job is very similar to the work a lawyer performs. Obtaining a job as an agent is a tooth and nail battle – staying in the industry, and prospering, is even more difficult. Becoming an agent is not as easy as many prospective agents believe. The NFL Player’s Association, which oversees the industry and certifies agents, has an extensive list of requirements which include:
- A graduate degree is required and each prospective agent must pass a 60-question, multiple choice exam. Approximately 300 agents apply each year and around 200 pass the test. The industry, as a whole, sustains a turnover of approximately +/- 200 agents each year.
- Agents must pay an annual certification fee of $1,200 if they have less than 10 clients and $1,700 if they have 10 or more.
- Agents must carry liability insurance. The amount of coverage required is based on the agent’s income in the previous year. The minimum cost last year was $2,500.
- At least 35 states require agents to be registered and to pay a fee under the Uniform Athlete Agents Act.
- To maintain certification with the NFL Player’s Association, every agent must negotiate an NFL contract within a three-year period or they lose their certification.
- An agent is entitled to compensation of no more than 3 percent of the NFL player’s contract (no more than 4% for NBA player’s contracts). Agents are paid only after the players are paid, and those arrangements usually are worked out between the agent and player.
It should also be noted that many new agents struggle to make a living in the early stages of their career. Six-figure incomes are the exception, not the rule. The overhead involved in being an agent (NFLPA fees, state fees, travel expenses to recruit players and, in some instances, training costs for a potential draft pick) can be a serious impediment for agents just getting into the business. Many agents become financially overwhelmed if they’re not successful early in their career and many even have a second job to supplement the income they receive from sports agency work. Mr. Healy, for example, devotes most of his time to real estate law, trusts and estate planning.
What is the best way to secure a job as a sports agent?: As much as many students hate to hear it, obtaining a job at an established sports agency is best secured by first gaining practical experience in the industry. Taking an unpaid internship or working in a related field (such as sports marketing or law), then transitioning into a sports agency job are two excellent way to “break into the business.” Mr. Huyghue and Healy both worked for years in related industries before they started representing players. Persistence is also an important trait to possess. Explore every avenue, make as many contacts as possible, and always carry a resume with you.
What are the most important skills that a prospective agent should cultivate?: First and foremost, it is crucial for an agent to have strong substantive skills. Lawyers employed by professional sports teams are some of the best lawyers in the world. Without a strong foundation of knowledge of the law, league by-laws, and association rules, an agent will be quickly be overwhelmed by the superior skill of team counsel (and subsequently, quickly parted with his clients). Negotiation skills are paramount. You must be able to market your players. People/personal skills are of utmost importance. You must be able to relate to people from all walks of life – some of your clients will come from affluent families, while others will have grown up in poverty. You are basically selling yourself to your client. What will make you a better choice as an agent than the next guy? In the end, almost every successful agent has similar qualifications and many times it will boil down to who the player and his family feel most comfortable with as a person.
What is the most enjoying aspect of representing players?: Mr. Huyghue explained that he gets an extreme amount of satisfaction from seeing a client and his family’s excitement on the day he receives his very first bonus check. The amount of joy a family gets can be analogous to winning the lottery, and seeing a person achieve lifetime financial security in their twenties is an incredible feeling. Mr. Huyghue also expressed his enjoyment in seeing how the process of becoming a professional athlete can change his clients’ lives. Much enjoyment can be derived from becoming a mentor to a young athlete and helping him establish goals outside of the sports world. Aside from being a client, some of the athletes you represent may also become lifelong friends.
The greatest disservice you can do to yourself is to remain ignorant of your goals. Educate yourself on what it means to be an agent. Digest every bit of information possible. Find a mentor, if possible. Continue to read this blog. Always keep your end-goal in mind and never stop striving toward it.