Ryan W. Morgan, president and CEO of Morgan Advisory Group (MAG), first experienced the sports business while working with the law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP. He was on a team of attorneys that represented the investor group that purchased the San Jose Sharks. Feeling a need to move away from corporate law, Ryan founded MAG and has been building the agency ever since. He represents Olympic beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh and has a quickly rising NFL division, along with many other clients in a variety of sports.
Richard Kimsey: What career path did you take to where you are today?
Ryan Morgan: I attended Boston College, where I studied classical political theory and 17th century British Literature. I then taught Civics and Spanish at Redemptorist High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, prior to attending law school at the University of California Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall), where I focused on contract and corporate law. After graduation, I worked at the law firm of Morrison & Foerster LLP in the Palo Alto office where I practiced corporate law in Silicon Valley. My first exposure to the Sports Industry was when I worked on the team of attorneys representing the investor group that purchased the San Jose Sharks – and continued to represent the Sharks after the transaction. My first individual athlete client was two time US Olympic Gold Medalist Kerri Walsh, who is a fantastic person that I have worked with for her whole career. I left Morrison to start MAG, and we have grown to represent numerous high profile athletes. Last summer in Beijing, MAG represented six athletes, three of whom were Gold medalists (approximately 10% of the US Gold Medals won in Beijing), we have a fast-growing NFL practice, and strength in action and extreme sports as well.
Richard: Why did you want to become a sports agent and why did you choose to found your own agency?
Ryan: I quickly realized that I preferred the one-on-one interaction with individual clients to the more impersonal world of corporate law. I am very competitive and I enjoy closing great deals for MAG athletes. Part of the challenge to doing a great job representing athletes is coming up with a good result even when the circumstances are not favorable – my ability to do that consistently made me realize that this was a good fit for my particular skill set. Further, the competition involved in recruiting is enjoyable – you have to put everything on the table and earn the respect and trust of athletes in a short time. I enjoy the esprit de corps that we have built among the team at MAG over the years and with our athletes, who are world class athletes and first rate people. I founded my own agency because I had a vision to do things a certain way – and founding my own agency was one way to guarantee that I could execute on that vision. It was an attempt to control my own destiny, career wise.
Richard: What is a typical day for you, if there is one?
Ryan: A lot of phone calls & e-mails. Document review and negotiation. And, I usually have several in person meetings a week, either with clients, business partners, potential clients, potential endorsement partners for clients, or third party service providers for MAG clients (such as financial advisors). Every day is different, because the set of circumstances for every athlete and every deal and the negotiation involved is different.
Richard: What’s the hardest part of starting an agency?
Ryan: Overall, it wasn’t very difficult for me because I had the skill set, the credentials, and numerous athletes who wanted me to represent their interests for their employment contracts and their endorsement & marketing relationships. So, I would say the hardest part is finding additional members of the team who are willing to fully commit to the hard work that working as an athlete representative require, and also commit to the team environment and the high levels of cooperation that MAG demands of its team. I have been fortunate to assemble a great team at MAG over the years.
Richard: In your opinion, what sets Morgan Advisory Group apart from other agencies?
Ryan: First of all, I would say that there are several other excellent agencies out there. We have a tremendous amount of respect for certain of our competitors and we love to see it when other representatives do a great job for their athletes. Sometimes lost in the competitive nature of this business is what I call the “rising tide” theory: when good things happen for one athlete from a contract, community and public relations standpoints, that benefits all athletes. The converse is also true – when athletes or their representatives make big mistakes, that is bad for all athletes and agencies. So, we love to see great reps among our competition and great things happen for non-MAG athletes. To the extent something sets us apart from most agencies, I believe it is our ingenuity, determination, and foresight – we rely only on our own preparation, experience, thought and action to get great results for our clients. Our successful track record as an independent firm and growth trajectory bears that out.
Richard: How do you hope to grow the company and what do you feel lies ahead for MAG?
Ryan: I always prefer to grow naturally – through word of mouth based on reputation. When there is a good opportunity to work with a talented athlete that is a fit for MAG, we will take that opportunity and run with it (as we have in the past). That said, the “planned growth” component is to continue to grow our NFL practice by 4-6 athletes a year. That is a number that we are comfortable that we can provide best-in-class service to, so that is our sweet spot in terms of getting out and recruiting a draft class each year. I think what lies ahead in the next several years is that we will continue to get great results for our athletes – and as a result will continue to grow at a fast pace and provide great opportunities for our athletes.
Richard: What strategies do you employ when recruiting a client? How about when negotiating contracts?
Ryan: In terms of recruiting, we feel that it is important to get our information in front of the athlete and the athlete’s support structure (preferably parent or parents). We have strong credentials and a track record that stack up well within the industry – so the main goal of our recruiting process is to communicate the strengths and vision of the company.
In terms of negotiating contracts, every circumstance is different. The thing that is consistent in terms of MAGs approach is that we will always prepare thoroughly before negotiating any deal. I place a tremendous amount of importance on understanding and analyzing all data and information that is available and relevant to any particular deal prior to moving forward with the process of finalizing the deal.
Richard: Aside from your football clients, how did your relationships with your volleyball, extreme sports, and paintball clients start?
Ryan: The volleyball practice was born when I worked with Kerri on the marketing side to sign with Speedo, Gatorade, Visa and others years ago, and grew from there. The paintball guys at Team Dynasty (www.DynastyPaintball.com) – who are an awesome group and tremendous athletes and paintball players – walked into my office based on a referral. I did not have exposure to the sport before but quickly learned that it offers a great demographic for sponsors – and Dynasty has an incredible winning track record. As a result, we have done some great things over the years including ground breaking deals with Smart Parts, Empire, NXe, Rockstar Energy Drink, Intel and others. The action / extreme projects have mostly come through referrals and word of mouth & Eric Crandall of MAG has done a great job working in a direct capacity on all things Dynasty.
Richard: What are the differences of representing a football client as opposed to a volleyball, extreme sports, or paintball client?
Ryan: A deal is a deal, and my philosophy is that once you have put in the groundwork to gather and analyze all the relevant data, the best plan for representing athletes in his or her particular circumstance should be apparent to an experienced and talented athlete rep. That said, the main difference is that the collectively-bargained environment that we encounter in the NFL often times causes creativity to be less of a factor than it is in the action / extreme sports environment – deals are simply less “standardized” in the other sports. And there are less people following, analyzing, tracking, researching and reporting on the deals.
Richard: How have you built your football relationships?
Ryan: One at a time. The plan that Wynn and I put in place was to take on our first NFL client, fully commit to doing a great job for him – then repeat. We have done that and our NFL guys are among our strongest advocates. They are not afraid to contact us at any time or for any reason (or no reason), and I think that is a testament to what has been built.
Richard: What do you do for your clients before the NFL draft?
Ryan: We focus on putting our athletes in the best possible position. The most immediate need is on the training side, and we pride ourselves with having a network of trainers and training facility that can be specifically tailored to each players’ needs. In addition, there are a bunch of needs that are met over time, endorsement relationships are started in many cases – and we talk our athletes through the process in conjunction with our advisory board and our NFL veterans. Additionally, conversations with scouting departments and front offices occur regarding our guys on a regular basis.
Richard: MAG has a pretty impressive advisory board, what is their role and how do you feel they give your company an edge?
Ryan: Wynn Silberman, MAG’s Director of Football Operations, has done a fantastic job of building, expanding, and maintaining MAG’s advisory board and their commitment to work with MAG and our athletes. Wynn has taken the lead in building each relationship – and Guy (McIntyre), D’Wayne (Bates) and Jack (Tatum) have been tremendous about communicating with our athletes to make sure that they are getting not only the best business and career advice from the team at MAG – but that they can have unlimited access to guys who have an incredible amount of experience in the league. I would venture to say that there is almost nothing related to football or the NFL that those guys haven’t experienced first hand – offering that access to our guys is huge. And one of Guy’s main roles is to dominate Wynn in basketball so we can minimize Wynn’s trash-talking about how he played “pro” ball in Sweden years ago.
Richard: What is your view of the sports agent industry at this time?
Ryan: I think it is a great industry for those who are adaptable, relentless and have the ability to navigate a highly competitive, pressure-packed environment. I wouldn’t want to be in any other industry.
Richard: What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the industry?
Ryan: The best advice I can give is, as a student at the high school, collegiate and graduate level, one should work hard to be a generalist and to develop your skills as an advocate and an analyst of circumstances and opportunities. Read a lot. Learn as much as you can in as many areas as possible. Learn to analyze issues deeply, thoughtfully and carefully. If you want to work on the contract negotiation side of the professional athletics, you need to develop skills in understanding, manipulating and negotiating contract language. You will need to present strong advocacy with respect to different aspects of value, both from a “market” and an individualized perspective. And, toughen up — you will need it, or you will get run over.
Richard: Do you offer internships and how would someone apply?
Ryan: We do have an internship program, but in order to assure that it is beneficial for the student and MAG we have kept it as a very limited plan. We typically would have one or two interns a year, for varying times – and we evaluate internship possibilities on a case-by-case basis. Potential interns can apply by emailing email@example.com, but please note that due to the volume of requests we can’t guarantee that every email will get a response.