Agent Spotlight: Donald Dell
On Friday, September 14, I had the unique privilege of getting up close and personal with one of the most influential agents in the history of the sports industry. As previously mentioned, Donald Dell was at the University of Florida Levin College of Law to speak to anybody that was interested in hearing what he had to say. Dell was also in town to see his 2 newest clients: Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer, receive their championship rings for winning the 2007 NCAA College Basketball Championship.
There were hardly any empty chairs in sight as Dell spoke to a group of students and professors at UF Law’s largest classroom. It have been due to his sharp looking khaki suit, but I imagine there were other reasons for the nice attendance. Besides sticking around to talk to Dell for about a half an hour after his speech, I was able to jot down many of the important things that he spoke about during his stay. This is what I came up with:
Many people know that Donald Dell started the agency ProServ, which then became SFX Sports Group…which was then integrated into Blue Equity. It is also well known that Dell previously represented Michael Jordan. Here are some things you may not have known:
- Dell became the first tennis agent ever in 1970.
- Dell did not originally want to be a sports agent, but ended up taking Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith as his first two clients after he had taken Ashe to IMG 4 different times to meet with the former Mark McCormack. Ashe did not feel comfortable at IMG.
- Dell is the man when it comes to tennis. Included on his client list are Yanick Noah, the Brian brothers, Henin, and Roddick.
- Dell is becoming a UF man. Through his relationship with Yanick Noah, he knew Joakim Noah since he was 3 years old. Now he represents Joakim and fellow teammate, Corey Brewer. Dell also represented John Lucas. John’s son, Jai, is a freshman at UF…anyone see where this one may be going?
- Last, Dell went to UVA Law, and currently teaches a Sports Law class on weekends at the school.
Dell believes that you must know a client well. The key is building trust and confidence between the two parties. It is also important to learn how to say “no” to a client. You should be available for a phone call at any time and any place.
The best way to sell your client to a company is to listen. Instead of trying to force your needs on a potential sponsor, you should want to learn about what their needs are. You do this by listening.
As a negotiator, you actually do not want to win every point. You will have to talk to the person on the other side of the table more than once in your career (hopefully), so you do not want to burn any bridges. Dell also gave some negotiation tactics:
- You have to be able to walk away from the table if the deal is not good enough. It is vital to be able to say “no”.
- You should never negotiate out of fear and never fear to negotiate.
- Always look and listen to what the other side needs.
- Generally, never make the first offer. (I bolded this, because I liked it)
- The other side (the team) has scouts. They picked the player and believe to be the experts in the matter at hand. They might as well make the first offer.
Why Agents Will Always Be Needed
Slotting values and maximum caps were discussed in Dell’s speech and in the ensuing questions. Many valid points were made on why an agent may have a diminishing role with determined slot values and maximum caps that may be set. Dell even mentioned that he did not charge Joakim Noah or Corey Brewer any money on their rookie guaranteed contracts because they were first round picks, and the NBA fixes first round pick salaries. His actual negotiations with teams on their behalf does not truly start until 5 years from now (when their rookie contracts will expire). With that being said, Dell still believes that agents will always be needed because:
- Starts today are targets. Everyone wants to get in their pockets, and they need someone close by to protect them.
- Society spoils athletes. The public creates many of the problems that are highlighted in newspapers. Agents need to filter some of that out.
- All athletes are role models. Charles Barkely is wrong on this point. Agents need to make sure that their clients are always carrying themselves in the proper manner.
The Media Should Stop Blaming Agents/Athletes For The Rise In Costs
Dell took a while to hammer in this point. He is upset that the media is missing the true reasoning behind why ticket prices are going up. He said that ticket sales have nothing to do with costs. Instead, they have to do with television contracts. Salaries for athletes go up as television rights go up. In the NFL, 60% of adjusted gross revenue is paid to players in salaries. In the NBA, it is 55%. It is mostly percentage based. When the TV rights rise, the player salaries rise.
Sidenote: Dell loved it when Alex Rodriguez signed a $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers. Dell was in the middle of negotiating Jeter’s contract with the Yankees when A-Rod signed the monumental deal. Immediately, Jeter’s deal shot up from $120 million to $180 million.
If there was one thing that Dell wanted us to take out of the discussion, it was something that every agent has mentioned in their interviews on this site and something that I have stressed time and time again. Build relationships and create trusts. That is the name of the game whether you want to be a sports agent or any other professional. At the same time, a lot of this specific business is luck and timing. One thing you can control is your reputation. You do not want to be known as the agent who holds everyone out. You also don’t want to be known as the agent who steals clients.
Overall, I was thoroughly impressed by Donald Dell’s speech and was delighted to talk with him afterward. Hopefully we will remain in touch.