Are We Really Needed?
As somebody already in the sports agent profession or a student looking to one day get your big break, this story may not be something that pleases you. The title asks, Are We Really Needed? A couple of times in the past, I have disagreed with players dropping their agents in favor of self representation (Gilbert Arenas / Daunte Culpepper). And I stand by the statements made in those posts. I constantly look to a statement made by Doug Brown, a defensive lineman in the CFL, who gave 2 reasons for having an agent:
1) So that he and the general manager of his team does not enter a personal arena where playing on the team becomes uncomfortable.
2) Because he is “not trained in the language, rules or wording of legal documents.”
There are obviously many other legitimate reasons to employ an agent, but these two presented by Brown seem to be the most basic and traditional ones. Point #1 can never be substituted for, but can point #2? Seth Godin’s recent piece, Where have all the agents gone?, got me thinking a little bit about our profession.
Travel agents… gone.
Stock brokers… gone.
Real estate brokers… in trouble. Photographer’s agents, too.
I have one to add: Sports agents? Besides point #1, what makes us different than the other middle-men that have been forced out of their respective industries? The only other thing that separates us is that our clients are a lot busier than a majority of those that employ travel agents, stock brokers, real estate brokers, etc, and while it is a stereotype and definitely not one that can be applied across the line, athletes tend to be less educated than many who would employ the aforementioned middle-men. But that being said, can we be so confident that our profession will still exist five years from now? In ten years? If so, will there be a large downsizing due to a number of players deciding to go the route of self-representation?
Will someone or something come along that is cheaper, faster and more efficient? While 5% on an MLB contract, 4% on an NBA contract, and 3% on an NFL contract may not mean much for the agent representing his client, it is money out of that player’s pocket nonetheless. Is it money well spent? When will there be an alternative to the standard agent, what will that person/thing provide, and what will be the cost? It is a matter of time before someone steps into our profession with a new idea that changes the sports agent landscape forever. In travel, it was the creation of sites like Kayak.com. In stocks: ETrade, Scottrade, etc. Real estate has also gone online with the spread of easily obtainable information.
So will the internet revolutionize our profession? One thing is certain: athletes will soon be paying less for agents’ services, but that may not hurt agents’ bottom line. I think athletes will get smarter and sign with agents who are the best at their profession, not those who pay the most for some face-time. With lower recruiting costs, lower commissions are actually possible. Athletes no longer want a “traditional sports agent”, and I do not blame them. There is nothing “traditional” about the world we live in. Every day, a new web 2.0 platform is unveiled that can be of benefit to a player. How many players even know what web 2.0 is? Should agents?
Will athletes ask their agents for the material that the agents use to negotiate deals, but negotiate them on their own? Such a method takes care of Doug Brown’s second concern, but still does not get around point #1. High-demand athletes will also continue to need someone to manage their appearance, endorsement, autograph, etc. requests. Musicians have separate managers; athletes oftentimes do not.
Godin’s main point is that anonymous agents are unnecessary.
Middlemen add value when they bring taste or judgment or trust to bear on a transaction that isn’t transparent.
So maybe our job is safe afterall. We supposedly go through the training: law school (not mandatory), learning the collective bargaining agreements, studying various performance bonus clauses used in the past, etc. We bring a lot of qualities to the negotiating table that very few athletes can: a knowledge of the game outside of the game. No matter how much you tell a player about how he compares to players at his position, age, height/weight, etc, nothing can make up for 3 years of law school or countless hours of studying a CBA. So maybe Godin’s post does not apply to our industry. Perhaps sports agents are necessary middle-men that should not believe that their job will be threatened any time in the near future.
The best ones provide a differentiated service that is worth paying for. Instead of being middlemen, then, they are the front men, the attraction, a key asset…
I think that is actually the main point of Godin’s piece that should resonate in our minds. The best agents are the only ones that athletes will pay for. To succeed, you need to innovate and buck tradition. How can you use a site like Twitter to help your clients, how can you strengthen your firm’s online presence to help out your clients, are you connected to the new-age journalists who shape public opinion, are you busy trying to find new endorsement opportunities outside of traditional TV/print, etc.?
When markets change, agents can lead the way, not follow along grudgingly.
Call me whatever you want, but one thing I am not, is a follower. Be a leader. Show potential clients that you are willing and able to be innovative, which will only serve to better their careers. That’s our philosophy at Dynasty.