Sports Agent Interview:
with Samyr Laine
Agent: Max Eppel
Agency: Max Eppel Soccer Agency LLC
1.) How did you get started in this industry?
I qualified in England as a barrister (Lawyer) in 2002 but knew that while it wasn’t going to be the career I ended up in it could be a means to an end. After about 4 or 5 years of practicing mainly civil/commercial law and having appeared in Court in well over 1,000 cases for my clients I figured it would be worthwhile to combine my knowledge of the law with a passion that I had; that being soccer. I then took it upon myself to qualify as a Players Agent Licensed by The FA, which is the Football Association of England.
2.) Did you attend law school or grad school? If so, which law school or grad school?
Yes, I attended the Inns of Court School of Law which is the most prestigious Bar school in England.
3.) Who was your first client (year, sport), and how did you recruit him?
I am unfortunately unable to give client names as per soccer regulations. In terms of recruiting, it was all about establishing links with other agents and scouts and approaching those players who aren’t yet signed and convincing them to sign. Also, listening to those players when they recommended friends of theirs who also play the game worked helped.
4.) How did you handle your first contract negotiation?
First, being a lawyer helped with all of that. I spoke to the client first and between the two of us we agreed, following my advice, on a top and bottom line in terms of desired salary and other bonuses. I also did a lot of research on similar players and similar clubs which helped a lot and added weight in the whole negotiation process.
5.) What is the most important aspect of being a sports agent?
You’ve got to be honest, fair and firm so that there can be some longevity in the business you do with the players, clubs and franchises. Also, it’s vital to always remember that you’ve got to be acting in your client’s best interest.
6.) At what age do you feel an agent with hit his prime/glory years? Why?
It’s not necessarily a question of age and has more to do with luck, tenacity and your clients achieving their potential. You could luck out and find a Ronaldinho at age 29 or work hard for 3 or more years before making a breakthrough. It’s more usual to have to work extremely hard for the first few years to develop a strong portfolio of players as well as making oneself known to the soccer clubs so that a relationship is developed between us. Eventually, they start calling you for players which is a great position to be in.
7.) What is your opinion of “larger” agencies with less attention to their clients compared to “smaller” agencies who counsel more with their clients?
I can’t really say that other agents and agencies pay less attention to their clients. But I do agree that it’s important to give the client as much care and attention as possible which is why my business plan is to remain small (small meaning, niche/boutique rather than undersized).
8.) Where do you see the athlete representation industry going in 10 years?
Specific to soccer, I’d like to see more young professionals entering the profession. It might help, in my view, to clean up the image. Soccer agents now have a lot of bad press and new, young professionals entering the field could help provide a cleaner image and perhaps more accountability.
9.) Take our readers through a typical day in your life.
It varies depending on the time of the year. Soccer has two main international ‘transfer windows’; May/June through August and the month of January. Those times are especially chaotic as you’re constantly on the phone and most importantly doing a lot of negotiating to set up the deals.
A normal day outside of those times means two main things: marketing and scouting. During this time it’s very important to keep one’s momentum going. By marketing I mean getting out there, getting to know the people and getting in front of as many sporting institutions as possible. You can’t just sit back and expect work to come so my goal is to get my name out there and become one of the best agencies in CA.
In terms of scouting you don’t want to pass up opportunities that may be out there so I attempt to catch at least 3 soccer games a week, sometimes up to 5. I save some time and the expenses of travelling by utilizing my network of scouts and other agents to scout outside of the California area.
10.) What advice do you have for people looking to break into the industry?
My advice is to have a strong professional and/or athletic background. You’ve also got to understand that the main point of the job of an agent, once again, is to act on behalf of the client and their best interests. Finally, you have to be tenacious and if you really think this is the career for you, pursue it 100%
11.) Does your agency provide internships for people looking to break
into the industry?
Yes, the next application window isn’t until November of this year though. If interested you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
12.) 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?
On my earlier point of getting young professionals into the industry; I would make a push to help that happen.
Also, what most people don’t see is that the vast majority of agents are extremely hard working, honest and ethical. We deal with so many human factors in trying to construct a deal, you might only see the tip of the iceberg when reading about the deals done in the press/media as they can seems as if they just happen. What most don’t see is that constructing a particular deal takes a lot of time and effort, with some setbacks along the way. That includes dealing with coaches, managers, and sometimes other agents. It can be frustrating but also incredibly rewarding when it does come off. Making people aware of the realities of the industry would help a lot as well.
13.) What are some of the things an agent can offer their clients besides the negotiation of contracts, getting endorsements, and others along those lines?
I actually don’t view that (negotiating and getting endorsements) as the main part of the job. For me it’s about developing a relationship and rapport with the client and even their family sometimes. If they trust me then things in the relationship flow a lot easier. Developing that strong relationship is about being professional, courteous, respectful, and attentive. You’ve got to make clients understand that you’re working on their behalf and not the other way around. A prime example of that is just returning calls and emails because you’d be surprised about how little of that goes on.
I also want to give something back to the game. I coach an amateur team and in time my agency will provide cash scholarships to underprivileged children to get into the game. One of the major criticisms of soccer agents is that we’re taking money out of the game so my way of getting around that is to give back. I can’t be criticized for taking money out of the game if I’m reinvesting back into it.
14.) Are there some notable differences between agents representing athletes in the Big 4 of US sports and soccer agents?
I can’t really speak on the differences between agents in the two realms. That being said, I would love to see soccer become America’s 5th major sport. The role of soccer agents is going to be pivotal in that. There is no doubt that the game has come a long way here and with America as one of the proudest sporting nations in the world I would relish the chance to be at the forefront of a soccer renaissance here.
15.) Is it difficult to run a truly international agency with many of your clients being overseas?
Soccer is truly a global game and I feel the nature of the industry reflects that. With the US sports you’ve got all the best athletes in the world playing here but unfortunately the US isn’t the first destination people have in mind when attempting to play professional soccer. They tend to look at England, Spain and Italy first, but I came here because I realized that there was a real opportunity to make soccer at least on the same level with the rest of the big 4.
16.) Finally, do you have any thoughts on improving the game of soccer in the US and its popularity?
I can say that the game is heading in the right direction here as it is. MLS leadership is very upwardly mobile and committed and they’re working hard to ensure a very professional game here as well as constantly looking at new ways to increase the league’s competitiveness. It’s not going to happen overnight but extremely positive changes are being made right now. An example is the recently implemented “Designated Player Rule,” also dubbed the‘Beckham Rule’ which should help to attract further top players. There is also huge interest from sponsors and from television now, with last season being the first season that every MLS game was shown on TV. It was also the first time that the league itself didn’t have to pay for coverage. Game attendance has also leveled out at this point and will doubtless increase as time goes on. I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t think there was a lot of opportunity for growth. It is just going to require some input from professional agents and also from scouts, coaches and the teams and players themselves. I feel the future is getting brighter all the time for soccer in the USA and I’m very much enjoying the challenge of being out here as an agent.