Sports Agent Interview:
With Matthew Vuckovich
David Canter is a 34 year-old sports agent and is the President and CEO of DEC MANAGEMENT (http://www.decagent.com). He has had the opportunities to work for the Florida Marlins while in college and quickly learned that players need a voice too. Mr. Canter has seen some hard times when he first belonged to TEAAM, but has bounced back to be a big name in the sports agent world. Mr. Canter is a class act and looks out for the best interest of his clients. I was able to talk with Mr. Canter and this is his story.
Matthew Vuckovich: How did you get started in this industry?
David Canter: I worked for the Florida Marlins while in college doing an internship and the lockout of 1994 occurred and my position (GAMEDAY OPERATIONS) was no longer necessary, so I decided to attend law school and try to become an agent. I saw how the owners treated the Major League Baseball players during the lockout and it inspired me to be on the other side, protecting the player’s interests.
Matthew Vuckovich: Did you attend law school or grad school? If so, which law school or grad school?
David Canter: I attended and graduated from the University Of Miami School Of Law in Coral Gables, Florida (http://www.law.miami.edu).
Matthew Vuckovich: Who was your first client (year, sport), and how did you recruit him?
David Canter: I actually have two first client stories- the first is actually how I got started as an agent. In 1996 (my second semester of law school), I met Lamar Thomas at a gas station in Coconut Grove Florida while I was trying to fix a broken tail light. Lamar walked into the gas station and when he walked out I asked him if I could speak with him about the agency business and he was nice enough to spend 20 minutes talking with me. A few months later I began doing the marketing and endorsements for him as his marketing agent and it led to me handling the marketing for over 10 Miami Dolphins.
I then got certified (1997) as an NFLPA contract advisor in the state of Florida and I began recruiting. I started an agency called Total Entertainers and Athlete Management with 2 partners who were in the financial services industry, and I signed 3 Florida Gators in 1998. My first draft pick was Tony George (3rd Round, 91st overall), later on that year William Tank Black was thrown out of the business, and I was able to begin representing Mike Peterson (2nd Round, 36th overall).
Matthew Vuckovich: How did you handle your first contract negotiation?
David Canter: It was very interesting. The Patriots were in their old regime and I decided to do it face to face, so I flew to Boston and had dinner with their then VP of Administration, Andy Wasynczuk. We talked general terms and philosophy but didn’t even come close to getting a deal done. It was the beginning of a long standing quality relationship with one of the classiest owners and organizations in pro football, the Patriots.
Matthew Vuckovich: What is the most important aspect of being a sports agent?
David Canter: I actually believe its 2 things:
1- HONESTY! Unfortunately every year that goes by I see less and less of it from the other agents in this industry, the runners, and unfortunately the players.
2- INFORMATION! Especially around free agency and draft time. The more people and decision makers an agent knows the better prepared his/her clients are. It’s crucial to give clients what I call CLEAN INFORMATION, which is unfiltered coming directly from GMs, HEAD COACHES and OWNERS, the people who have final say in making up the final roster and what amounts will be paid.
Matthew Vuckovich: At what age do you feel an agent will hit his prime/glory years? Why?
David Canter: I think you need a certain number of NFL contracts under you before you can even start to grasp this industry. It’s ever evolving so there isn’t a set age that an agent peaks. It’s important to constantly stay on top of the younger people within organizations who will eventually head up the personnel and scouting departments, because the longer you do this, the more contacts you have to help your clients with information.
Matthew Vuckovich: What is your opinion of larger agencies with less attention to their clients compared to smaller agencies who counsel more with their clients?
David Canter: I have been fortunate to have both experiences. At our peak, TEAAM had 76 active NFL players before an unscrupulous business partner stole all of the money and attempted to steal the clients. Bigger agencies only work for certain type players- those that don’t envision an agent as an extended member of their family but more of an employee who can be fired and hired on a whim. It’s a very unattractive aspect of this industry for me because I do this to help manage an athlete’s life, not just their playing career. The larger agencies do not have the ability to be intimately involved in all life choices and decisions like we can at DEC MANAGEMENT and at smaller agencies. Currently I believe we are approaching the perfect size for DEC MANAGEMENT- around 20-30 clients in one sport. That way we can give them clean information and help manage their lives and not just handle the day to day of their football career. I would be remiss without mentioning my co agent on some clients, who has been crucial to the growth of DEC MANAGEMENT (Christina Phillips).
Matthew Vuckovich: Where do you see the athlete representation industry going in 10 years?
David Canter: I’ve been blessed with over 10 years doing something that I live for. I imagine representing professional athletes until the day that I pass way. The ability to represent athletes is my passion and my life and I plan on continuing as an agent and life manager until I pass on. The industry in and of itself is getting more and more controlled by larger agencies through mergers and acquisitions and I see the next ten years a tremendous telltale as to what powers the players want to give up to their unions and the leagues. I think the next collective bargaining agreement in the NFL is going to be crucial for the success of the NFL because there are some powers that the players still need to take back and control. I also believe that the unions wish more and more smaller shops would close up and that fees to practice as an agent will continue to rise. The expenses related to doing this business at a high level are ever changing and increasing and that’s in part because the larger agencies can throw money at players without real care for the bottom line and profits.
Matthew Vuckovich: Take our readers through a typical day in your life.
David Canter: I typically begin each morning by checking my cell phone from bed for emails and voicemail messages. Unfortunately I sleep with my cell phone on so it’s always right by my side. I then begin the process of spending the first part of the day returning all emails and phone calls. The second part of my day is spent calling my clients, putting together pitch ideas for marketing of our clients, keeping in touch with friends throughout the business, and finally, managing the day to day of our clients lives. We just recently purchased an in house travel agency, so I have spent a little time helping get that set up and running to benefit our clients. Hopefully by 5 or 6pm I am able to get in a workout at my in home gym and then by 7 or 8 I make my west coast calls to clients and teams out there. Usually I am on the phone either calling or text messaging for 6 to 10 hours a day nearly every day of the week. I’ve been in this business for 11 years and have yet to take a vacation. I am actually going on my first vacation later this month.
Matthew Vuckovich: What advice do you have for people looking to break into the industry?
David Canter: PASSION- it’s the driving force. If you don’t live, eat, sleep, and drink this business you can never be successful. It requires a tremendous amount of personal, financial, and emotional sacrifice but in the end you can persevere and be successful. Get in with an established agent, or whatever it takes to learn the business, work for free, put together dossiers on every player in the country, be relentless, be restless, be passionate.
Matthew Vuckovich: Does your agency provide internships for people looking to break into the industry?
David Canter: Yes we typically have one off site intern a year from a major university and have had one or two commissions-only based independent contractors who help out with marketing and recruiting.
Matthew Vuckovich: 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?
David Canter: I would do everything I could to eliminate the amount of negativity from one agency to another in our business. Other agents are constantly lying, deceiving, and out right hating on other agents and people in our business. The level of competitiveness brings out the worst in people and each and every year that goes by I hear more and more horror stories. The best way to combat that would be to rethink the disproportioned amount of money being paid to players at the top of the NFL draft that could be better invested into the established veterans in the NFL. That is a major issue for me and my older clients. All of us who do this for a living should be in it for the right reason- to help young men become professional adults and establish a head start in life by converting their playing dollars into lifelong sustained wealth. I am in this business to help people not hurt nor damage them. Other agents who have various degrees of negative tactics only hurt the players themselves by creating and telling them deceptive and misleading things about other agents.
Matthew Vuckovich: What are some of the things an agent can offer their clients besides the negotiation of contracts, getting endorsements, and others along those lines?
David Canter: I think that what we offer at DEC MANAGEMENT is a perfect blend after years and years of experience refining our package of services offered. We are equipped to handle everything from travel, event planning, marketing, endorsements, charitable foundations, public appearances, speaking tours, television show development, literary management, shoe deals, automotive deals, free merchandise deals, contract negotiations, and we recommended financial planners, accountants, wealth advisors, and estate planners. We also have in house legal counsel available to all of our clients at no cost.
Matthew Vuckovich: What drives you to represent professional football players?
David Canter: I’ve been around professional football all of my life. My mother made sure I had season tickets to the Miami Dolphins since I was 5 years old, and at one point I would baby sit a lot of the Dolphins player’s children during and after the games. My father played college football at the University of Miami and he and my uncle spent the late seventies and early eighties working around and with a lot of the Oakland Raiders. I was 6 years old when I visited my first NFL locker room. I played football while growing up and got an opportunity to play in college and win a national championship.
Matthew Vuckovich: How has being a former college football player helped prepare you to be an agent? What aspects from playing football were you able to apply when recruiting and representing clients?
David Canter: Obviously playing in college and being around pro football players and athletes my entire life makes is a lot easier to understand the lifestyle and the challenges that being a professional football player presents. I know that I probably have a better understanding of the game, its intricacies, the x’s and o’s aspects, better than more than 99.9% of the agents out there and the rest of the population. Since football is all I’ve done pretty much my entire life, it makes it that much easier to determine who has talent and skill and in scouting future clients and knowing who will/ can make it and who will or won’t make it.
Matthew Vuckovich: How did your work experience with the Florida Marlins help you in your career?
David Canter: My experience with the Marlins was amazing because it taught me that the players need a mouthpiece and someone to stand up for them at all times. That’s the role and profession I’ve chosen to be in. If the lockout of 1994 doesn’t happen I most likely would have ended up working for a team in the NFL or MLB.
Matthew Vuckovich: What were some problematic issues that you had to deal with when opening up your own agency?
David Canter: Being a smaller agency and opening one on your own with no financial backers means you have to be more diligent and concerned with monetary issues and how it affects your business. My situation was made even more difficult because I literally started with zero dollars. My former partners stole all of my money and clients, and I had to scratch and claw my way back to sustain and establish the company. It also creates staffing problems. About a year or so ago a young man called me who had tremendous work experience in this field and wanted to come over to join us at DEC MANAGEMENT. His asking price was far too high for what we could afford to pay. Sometimes that works out in the end for the better for both sides. It ended up he got a big base salary from a larger agency and wasn’t able to close not one of the over 30 recruits he went after. He made his base and then was promptly let go by the bigger agency. We saved the cost of paying him, flying all over the nation recruiting a too expansive target list, and the frustration of not being able to sign players. Believe me, I would love to have the money a CAA or IMG has and I’ve been fortunate to see the differences of being a plodding monolith type agency or being a smaller more agile and aggressive one. I couldn’t be happier where we are and where we’ve come from with DEC MANAGEMENT.
Matthew Vuckovich: On behalf of SportsAgentBlog.com and all of our readers, I would like to thank David Canter for sharing his knowledge and experiences with us today. You can check out his website at DECAGENT.com. Till next time, be safe and act ethically in the business that you love.