We Should Not Be In The Business Of Empty Promises
Henry Abbott of ESPN’s TrueHoop recently wrote a piece concerning how sports agents promise the world to athletes in order to give them a fighting chance at being hired for representation purposes. He draws interesting comparisons to the medical and real estate worlds, where many doctors and real estate brokers will over-promise and under-deliver. Alonzo Mourning’s doctor who helped Zo recover from kidney disease never promised anything except his best effort, and nothing more. I find that honorable; most patients would despise the lack of a promise of permanent health. Abbott also speaks of how real estate brokers often promise the seller of a house that his/her house will be sold above what was originally paid by the owner. That often doesn’t work out as planned. Who ends up losing? Definitely the owner of the house, and most likely the agent. Is that the same result with sports agents? It should be.
I make it a point in every initial conversation with a potential client, to tell them that I am not in the business of making promises. When a current client asks me what the entity on the opposite side of the bargaining table will come back with as an offer, or if he will come to us with an offer at all, I always tell him that I am not a fortune teller. I will do all the work necessary to put my clients in the best situations possible, but I cannot predict the future, nor can I ultimately guarantee success. There are too many factors out of my control, including the objective talent of the athlete and subjective wants, needs, and thoughts of scouts, coaches, and executives, that making predictions or guarantees is downright stupid and unethical.
But agents do it…over and over again. Because my profession is so competitive and cutthroat, agents, especially newcomers, find that they have to make promises to athletes just so that they can be considered in the running as someone who may be hired. There are two major problems with this tactic: 1) The agent does not have the player’s best interests in mind. By promising the world to a player when the world is not really available, the agent is not fulfilling his fiduciary duty to be honest to his client. 2) Short-sidedness.
In any Sport Marketing class, students will be taught the value of Relationship Marketing over Database Marketing. Database Marketing is concerned with the simple one-time transaction while there is short-term interest in the consumer. Relationship Marketing refers to a long-term and mutually beneficial arrangement wherein both the seller and consumer focus on value enhancement with the goal of providing a more satisfying exchange. This approach attempts to transcend the simple purchase-exchange process with the customer to make more meaningful and richer contact by providing a more holistic, personalized purchase, and use the consumption experience to create stronger ties. It is about personal, long-term relationships.
How do those marketing terms apply? While there is not technically a buyer and seller in the principal/agent relationship between a sports agent and an athlete, upon the agent’s recruitment of an athlete, it really does seem like the agent is selling his product (services) to the athlete (eventual buyer). Many agents do not think long-term and will do whatever is necessary (including making promises) in order to get that one big client. If that agent happens to follow through on those promises (often by chance), then congratulations to him. If he doesn’t, that short-sidedness should lead him right out of the industry. If it doesn’t, then the competition is losing out on an opportunity to hold something against another agent in the future recruitment of athletes.
Instead of that approach, agents should focus on the relationship building, which means that false promises and short-sidedness must be thrown out of the window. With the ultimate concern being the well-being of the player and the personal relationship created, agents would focus on creating value to the player instead of primarily value to himself.
I like this particular paragraph by Abbott:
Anyone who claims to know now what will happen then is lying. An honest agent will promise to try. An honest agent will show you what they have done in the past. But an honest agent will not promise ideal results, because that’s impossible.