While a law student in 1993 at St. Louis University, Ben Dogra, now 43, interned for free with Jim Steiner of SFX Football (then SMG). Dogra would later call Steiner his mentor, but in time, some began to wonder who was teaching what to whom. By 2006, Dogra and Steiner sold SFX Football (which was generating an estimated $7 million in revenue at the time) for roughly $30 million to Creative Artists Agency (CAA), where they joined Tom Condon and his partner Ken Kremer (of then-IMG Football) while bringing 57 NFL clients as well as their eight employees (CAA Football now has a staff of 15, including those who handle player endorsements). The deal raised eyebrows throughout the industry by bringing together the largest and most star-studded football client rosters, creating what SportsBusiness Journal called “the most dominant player representation practice in the business.” By this time, Steiner was in the backseat, so to speak, as an associate of Dogra’s, and it was Dogra and Condon who were set to become the division’s principals. The results have been staggering. Dogra and Condon represent about 130 players, including 4 of the first 8 picks from last April’s draft, and 6 of the top 21. They have also represented four of the past five first-overall choices and 48 first-round picks since 2001, eclipsing any competitor. Recently, they were named #1 (Condon) and #6 (Dogra), respectively, in SBJ’s list of the Top 20 most influential agents in sports.
There was a time, however, when some wondered whether their merger would be a problem, especially with the various fiascos that took place at SFX when “mega-agents” in the same sport were paired together under the same roof. However, Dogra and Condon’s yin and yang like balance has thus far yielded solid chemistry, and much admiration from the industry as a whole. Said Denny Thum, the Kansas City Chiefs’ executive vice president: “Tom (an NFL guard for 12 seasons and a former president of the NFLPA) is the football guy and can carry on the conversation from the football standpoint. Ben is the numbers guy and…without question has a memory like a steel trap.” And Howard Nuchow, co-head of CAA Sports, reiterated the same premise: “They are definitely different and combined they can take care of anything. Tom seems to be way instinctive and his instincts are off the charts. And Ben is really cerebral and thinks about things a lot before deciding what to do.”
Born in New Delhi, but raised predominately in northern Virginia from age six on, Dogra yearned for “an NFL career.” But due to his size and lack of skill, he quickly settled on another route into the league. After graduating from George Mason, he started law school in St. Louis, due primarily to its proximity to two sports agencies. One of said agencies was Steiner’s and SMG, which rejected Dogra at first but later took him on after much pleading. Dogra worked his way from the bottom up, quickly earning a reputation as an above average recruiter who connected well with his players and especially with their families. Will he ever eclipse Condon as #1? With Condon’s name being tossed around on the shortlist of those who might replace the late Gene Upshaw as NFLPA executive director, it is not inconceivable. But Dogra has prided himself on flying under the radar, so to speak, leaving the limelight and chest pounding to flashier personalities. If he is indeed “the best football agent attracting the least attention” and wants to keep it that way, then he is indeed in quite a dilemma. A dilemma he probably dreamt about as an intern.