Interview With The Agent: Todd Crannell
Todd Crannell, 31, left his job last February as director of the sports division of the Irene Marie Management Group in Miami Beach, Fla., a talent agency that specializes in representing people in the fashion and entertainment industry, such as musicians, actors, and models. Since then Crannell has started his own boutique firm, Q2 Sports & Entertainment, which operates out of New York and currently services various Hollywood and MTV-linked celebrities, models and track & field athletes. However, the NFLPA certified Crannell is also actively in the midst of creating an NFL division. He spoke with me at length while on the road during a recent recruiting trip in which time he has been trying to build up his company’s football roster in advance of next month’s all-important NFL Combines.
Crannell graduated in 2005 with an MBA from the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford outside of London, England, and in 1999 with undergraduate degrees in Economics and Sociology from Florida State University. Between degrees, Crannell worked in Washington, D.C. as an economist for the U.S. Department of Labor, where he contributed to the payroll section of the government’s “Employment Situation” report. During that period, he also volunteered his time for Georgetown University as an assistant coach for the school’s Division I track & field team, and specifically their pole vault program (a sport in which he enjoyed much success during his undergrad days competing for FSU). And it was also in D.C. that he began dating a girl who worked at Octagon, one of the premier sports management and marketing firms, based in Virginia. As her guest at various Octagon-sponsored functions, events and Christmas parties, Crannell got a glimpse into what it might be like to someday become a sports agent. And he has never looked back.
Describe your educational background and how it has helped you in your professional endeavors as an agent.
Todd Crannell: I started off at Florida St. in the mid 1990’s and was an economics major, which I knew would be a good degree to have to later get an MBA. I pretty much knew at a young age that I wanted to get an advanced degree, specifically in business. At that time I wasn’t sure, or didn’t know, that I wanted to be a sports agent. I really didn’t even know that much about being a sports agent. I just kind of always pictured myself as being in some kind of management role. I wanted to get an MBA, but all MBA programs want three to four years of [work] experience. So I got my economics degree, and then I got a job working in Washington D.C. as an economist. But during this time I was basically removed from athletics, which was strange because I’ve been involved in athletics my whole life. So I also started volunteering my time [coaching] at Georgetown for the track team. I liked that job more than my real job, so I knew I wanted to get back into sports. I was on the track team at Florida St., and like I said it’s always been a big part of my life. However, ironically it was at this point that I started dating a girl who was a sports agent for Octagon, whose headquarters are in McLean (VA), which is basically Washington D.C. I started spending time with her and also her friends, many of whom worked either directly or indirectly with Octagon. So I’d be in my cubicle in D.C., hammering away at numbers [as a government economist] and she’d be at center court of the French Open or the Australian Open. And I was like, ‘something has to change.’
So when it came time for the GMAT, I studied real hard and scored well, and ultimately picked Oxford [the Saïd Business School]. The reason I picked that school is because the sports landscape is more global than ever, especially the sports I’m most interested in—like golf and tennis. Also, I didn’t have many international roots or anything, and hadn’t really spent much time overseas, so [Oxford] was a perfect compliment, in addition to being a great education. And it gave me added value, because it is a school that people know a lot about. And that’s important, because in this business, you are the product. You are the brand. I’m selling myself, so I always want to associate myself with good brand attributes, like going to a school a lot of people know. And within business circles—a lot of people know about Kellogg or Wharton—but believe it or not, a lot of people outside of the business ranks, especially a 15-year old tennis player, they’ve never heard of Wharton. So it does me much better to go to Oxford, and at the end of the day it was the best decision I ever could have made—for other reasons as well. And it definitely helped me get into the industry.
[Going to Oxford] also helped me [land] my [senior] year internship. I basically sent out a bunch of emails to different talent agencies and sports agencies, volunteering my services for a summer. I volunteered my services because I wanted to make it as easy as possible to get in the door, and I knew that if I did a good job, then chances were I could get a job there. And I did. I got an internship in the summer of 2005 [with Irene Marie] and treated every day like it was an interview. So I looked at that 8-10 weeks like every day was a second interview for a full-time position. And that’s how I got my first job.
You worked in the U.S. Department of Labor as an economist before your graduate studies, and on your website you directly correlate the skills used in that line of work with negotiating, for example, an NFL player contract. Can you elaborate?
Todd Crannell: Yeah. My work there ironically helped me [as an agent], because now that I’m focusing on NFL representation, in terms of negotiating player contracts, today’s contracts have a lot less to do with the legal verbiage, and much more to do with monetary considerations, such as the player’s fair value and signing bonus, and that kind of wage data is similar to a lot of the work I was doing as an economist in D.C. So it’s a different approach, but the same core issues are involved.
How did you land your first job as an agent?
Todd Crannell: Like I said, I started off as an intern for the Irene Marie Management Group in their sports division, and basically I started off as a non-paid intern and worked my way up to director. Irene Marie is technically a talent agency. They’ve been around for about 25 years, and they’re best known for their modeling division—they represented Nikki Taylor, for example, who’s real popular. But they also started a small sports division, and there’s a lot of synergy—all of it is under the umbrella of representation. That’s why you see agents like Tom Condon and [Ben] Dogra, both at CAA (Creative Artists Agency), which is the biggest talent agency.
After my internship I returned to [Oxford] England to finish school, and then I was offered the job of director of the sports division by Irene Marie. So I came back to Irene Marie after I finished school. I was the head guy of the sports division, but I also was assigned other high-profile [client’s] accounts, doing the day-to-day agent work for some of the people on [the MTV show] 8th and Ocean, for example. This lasted for about thirteen months.
What made you decide to leave IM Sports found your own agency, Q2?
Todd Crannell: Well, I had a great experience at Irene Marie, and I was grateful for the opportunity to work there. It was very enriching. But for personal reasons it was better that I go out on my own. It just got to the point where I felt philosophically different on some issues. For me, one of the things I wanted to do was recruit more. But [at IM] I found myself having to be in the office a lot. But the bigger issue was, I was 30 years old, and I felt that if you’re going to go out on your own, now’s the time to do it. Because if you’re in the service industry—whether you’re a lawyer or a doctor—it’s a pretty common career path to work for a big company, get your feet wet, and then open up your own practice—because there’s such low overhead. And that’s the main reason, although there were plenty of other little issues. But at the end of the day, everyone kind of wants to be their own boss.
Was there any trepidation in starting your own agency?
Todd Crannell: Well, I wanted to carry the momentum I had out of Irene Marie. So ironically, even though I wanted to focus on sports, I kind of had more brand experience at Irene Marie, working with entertainers and models. So I was able to get those kinds of people on board [at the new agency, Q2] right away, and then right now I’m really hitting the recruiting trail when it comes to the NFL stuff. Also, I had to start from scratch. Like most people in the industry, you have a non-compete agreement, so I couldn’t take anyone from IM Sports with me.
Before doing so, did you ultimately think (in the back of your mind) that one day you’d start your own agency?
Todd Crannell: I definitely wanted to be running the whole show, eventually. At the end of the day—I won’t say 100%–I mean, if you get a job working at IMG or Octagon, then I would’ve happy with that, you know, if it would’ve been heading one of their major divisions. And you know, you can always go back. And the other thing I realized too is that these big-time agencies, like Octagon or IMG—a lot of times if you get hired at the entry-level, it is very tough to work your way up. But it’s much easier to own your own boutique agency, and then get bought out and join them as middle management. That’s how they acquire talent quickly, because for them, doing it organically—recruiting and all this other stuff—that takes time. They would much rather buy a small, boutique agency and its owners out, and make them middle management right away. I mean, I’m happy doing my own show, but that option is always there for me. But what would scare me is if IMG or Octagon or someone offered me an entry level job, because I wouldn’t take it right now.
How hard was it to initially recruit clients?
Todd Crannell: It’s always hard to get that first client. The football stuff—you have to get an NFLPA license. I had to take a test over the summer. And while you’re taking that—once you sign up for the test—you’re not allowed to recruit football players. So I had to wait to get certified, which I got at the start of October—so it really put me behind for the NFL recruiting, which is what I’m doing now. I was just in Kentucky, and now I’m driving to North Carolina, just meeting with guys.
Who was your first client and how did you recruit him/her?
Todd Crannell: On the NFL stuff, I’ll know soon. A lot of these guys will be deciding in the next week or two. The biggest clients I’ve got [thus far] are Vida Guerra, who is a high-end model, and Bam Margera, from Jackass. I just signed Jasmine Dustin, a real up-and-coming, high-end model turned-actress who was in Ocean’s Thirteen and [will be in] a new Tom Cruise movie. I’m really looking for up-and-coming people because everyone else is kind of tapped out. My top-guy is probably Joachim Olsen, who is the third best shot putter in the world. He’s one of eight track & field clients for whom we do marketing stuff.
How hard has it been to recruit clients? What does the typical process of recruiting a client entail?
Todd Crannell: It’s a lot different depending on the division. For the modeling or entertainment divisions, it’s a lot easier for me to recruit because I worked at Irene Marie. So that brand value, which I talked about earlier, really carries a lot of weight, because I think people see it as—they know about my formal education, the MBA, which is great, but now they want to see the real-world results—so they see [my experience at] Irene Marie and they say, ‘why not?’
Now the NFL stuff is a little more difficult, because although they know I have the NFLPA certification, which not everyone can get, I’ve never worked with NFL players before, and no one really wants to be your first. So that’s a lot tougher. And also, I don’t have the network. For example, on the modeling side and the entertainment side, we represent Patricia Kara—one of the ‘Deal or No Deal’ girls. If I wanted to get a hold of another ‘Deal or No Deal’ girl, I could probably call up Patricia and say ‘hey, I’m really interested in working with so and so,’ and she might give me her phone number or put in a good word. I don’t have those football players yet on board where I can do that. So it’s really tough getting that first one. But the way I do it is, you really want to show personal service. So, maybe guys don’t think that you’re the most acclaimed NFL agent. But they see how much time you’ll spend with them, and it makes up for any shortcomings, and that’s especially helpful for the guys that aren’t all-stars. We’re talking second day draft guys. But like I said, I’ll know in a week or two how this has all worked out and who I’ve got signed up.
So your agency is called Q2 Sports & Entertainment?
Todd Crannell: Yeah, and that name is for a couple reasons. One is, in my opinion, a lot of agents I meet—and this isn’t everyone, I’m stereotyping—a lot of them are just flashy people who just talk the talk, and it’s all just hype. In social science research that’s called qualitative. And that’s important—I mean, you do have to promote, you do have to hype your guy up. But I’m also, because of my economics background and all of the math that I had to take at Oxford, I’m quantitative too. So I’m qualitative and quantitative. So, when I go and negotiate with an NFL team or a Hollywood firm, or whatever I’m doing, I apply both strategies.
The other reason for the name, Q2, is that when I show people the business card they always ask me about the name (which I knew they would do), so it instantly leads to a little sales pitch about it. Also, you always want your name to be remembered. So instead of being like the typical agency—named after someone’s last name, like a law firm or something, which all kind of blend together, Q2 is more likely to be remembered.
Q2 has an athlete, entertainer and modeling division. How many people work in each division, and does their work crossover at all (i.e., overlap between the divisions and the work they do)?
Todd Crannell: The specific divisions are the celebrity, model, MTV, the track & field, and now the NFL division. I’m heading up the company, and there’s one other guy helping with me football in terms of recruiting. Then, the celebrity and model divisions have another guy. There’s probably two full-time people, and then there are several other people who help out as needed. For example, I have a sports nutrition expert who, as needed, is available for future NFL clients and who will do all of their sports nutrition.
There’s no crossover. It’s really like separate units, in a way. But the synergy come from—and this is what you see at CAA—because marketing is so big, a lot of times a company that wants a football player might also want a Hollywood entertainer to market something, and vice versa, so a lot of times a company like us, or CAA, can get their NFL players certain types of deals that a traditional NFL agent wouldn’t be able to.
The NFL Combine is approaching in late February. How many clients is Q2 preparing for the combine/draft? Can you take us through how Q2 will prepare its clients, and maybe single out one or two of the most important services that an agent can offer his or her client during this preparation period?
Todd Crannell: Because the Combine, as well as individual team workouts at an NFL team facility or on campus—is so important, we will place our clients with sports performance coaches. That type of coaching is an entire industry in and of itself. We have an arrangement with a company called Titus [Sports Academy] outside of Tallahassee that has its own indoor facility with weights and even a place to run, and elite coaches—people who train Olympic athletes. So we’ll place them with these coaches and essentially outsource the work to them. We also have an in-house sports nutritionist, like I said, who is actually a full-time professor whose resume is probably 30 pages deep and who has been doing sports nutrition since about 1993 (Dr. Scott Modell). Sports nutrition is very important. If you’re a lineman trying to drop 10 lbs, well that’s great, but you need to make sure you don’t drop 5 lbs of fat and 5 lbs of muscle. A lot of how you do it correctly is through diet, etc. So all of our athletes will get this service for free.
What kind of work (Estate work, investments, securing retirement and medical benefits) will Q2 do for its NFL clients, given that the average career of an NFL player is roughly only 4 seasons?
Todd Crannell: Actually, the NFLPA has it regulated now such that if you’re an NFL agent, one of the things you have to sign off on [in order to be licensed] is that you will not refer athletes to financial advisors who aren’t certified by the NFL—including yourself. So unless you’re certified by the NFL, by showing that you have [bona fide] experience giving financial advice (i.e., you worked for CitiGroup for five years or something), you can’t give financial advice. So there’s actually a whole other industry out there doing this instead, and when you’re recruiting football players, you find that there’s two groups of people talking to them—NFL agents and financial advisors. As of now we have no one on staff, although there is a guy I know who does good work to whom I would refer someone.
Now, I can tell a guy not to blow his money at an early age. I just can’t talk about, say, investing in bonds or a 401K. But the thing that I think most people don’t realize is that NFL players only get paid during the season. They don’t get checks every week of the year. So agents always need to tell their athletes not to blow their paychecks during the year, because it needs to last them the other ¾ of the year when they’re not getting any [money].
And one way we do to help them secure money later on in life, obviously, is to promote their name as much as possible while they are still playing. Because the more well known they are now, the more opportunities will potentially remain open in the future.
As to benefits, it used to be that NFL players [20 to 30 years ago] used to also hold part-time jobs and that there were no benefits. It was horrible. But now there are nine [types of] benefits that players get. The NFL has gone out of their way now to give great benefits—they give health insurance, severance pay, 401k, and players’ kids even get stuff. It’s unbelievable.
What is a typical day for you (if one exists)?
Todd Crannell: Right now, it’s different, because not only am I an NFL agent, but I’m also starting a business. Regardless of what kind of business you’re starting, you kind of have to be a jack-of-all-trades, because you don’t have a staff yet. For example, last week, I was in North Carolina, drove to Tallahassee, then to Kentucky, and now I’m driving to Raleigh—all to meet with football players. So this week, a typical day has been being on the road a lot and staying in hotels, and working on my laptop when I’m not doing other stuff. But if you take this time last month, I was just locked up in a room making the [Q2] website, doing code and other stuff, for almost six weeks.
Q2 will be based out of New York ultimately?
Todd Crannell: Yes, though I say that with caution, because if I start having some success say, at Florida St., then I might start working out of Tallahassee. Take Drew Rosenhaus, for example. One of the ways he really made things was that he focused on one college (University of Miami) and almost got a lock on it. You take a hotbed like Miami—since 1984, Miami has put more players in the NFL than any other college, and second is Florida St. So if I were to have luck somewhere, that’s what I’d be doing—spending time there more.
What advice do you have for people looking to break into the industry?
Todd Crannell: When I was in school at Oxford I met the agent who represents David Beckham, and he said that ‘the best thing you can do is become friends with athletes.’ Also, going back to when I was dating that girl at Octagon, I’d meet people at [company] Christmas parties or whatever, and I’d ask them how they got in the business, and almost all of them had some type of luck on their side, not some [fancy] degree. For example the agent who worked for Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova was from Melbourne, Australia, and as a kid she’d volunteer at the Australian Open. Eventually, she did such a good job that they promoted her from the bottom-level, hospitality stuff, to the high-end, VIP stuff, and she met someone from Octagon who said, ‘hey, why don’t you come work for us, I think you’d be great.’ So, it’s not just luck, but strategic luck, meaning you should put yourself in a situation where an opportunity could easily open. Obviously, it’s a lot easier said than done to just say, ‘become friends with athletes,’ but what you can do is volunteer for an internship at any sports agency. So try and intern with Octagon or IMG, and don’t require money if you don’t have to. And another thing is to have thick skin. People said ‘no’ to me 50 million times when I was applying. But don’t take it personally, because a lot of time it’s just timing—they don’t have anything available at that precise moment. Just knock on as many doors as possible, and keep in mind that you only need that one ‘yes.’ And when you do land an internship, treat every day like an interview, because someone you’re working with one day could offer you a job the next day.
Does your agency provide internships for people looking to break into the industry? Are you looking to hire new agents?
Todd Crannell: We’re good for now, but we always will keep our doors open. Certainly if someone was interested I’d take a look, and at the very least keep things on file, because you never know when something might open up. We might all of a sudden need a lot of help on something, for example. It can happen that quickly, so I would encourage people to apply.
On behalf of SportsAgentBlog.com and all of our readers, I would like to thank Todd Crannell for sharing his time, knowledge and experiences with us today.