While in “the business” for only a short amount of time, I have become perplexed by the concept of the client recruiting process – the stories of true relationships, those that are fake, and some that end like bad marriages have given me an interest in why it is so tedious both from a compliance and an ethical standpoint.
It’s a business; we all get it (hopefully). However, what I think has been lost in the entire process from client acquisition to post-career advisement is the actual value of a great advisor or agent. I have heard so many twenty-something’s state that they want to become a “sports agent,” but do they actually realize what an agent does or even more importantly why they exist?
Congratulations! You have acquired your first client, now what? Exactly, you have no idea what to do now, just that you expect dollars from the contract, a possible marketing deal, or other opportunities, yet you have no idea or understanding of how to navigate these treacherous waters.
I am very critical about this, because so many people believe that it’s essentially a one night stand, draft day comes, the contract is signed, and its Entourage from there on out. The fact is, it couldn’t be further from the truth. I have heard former prominent agents tell me “for every one day of glamour, it was fifty days of hell,” so why so much hustle and bustle at the starting line for this career?
Further, it has almost become sickening to hear all of the dilemmas and anecdotes from sports professionals like Dave Telep (High school sports haunted by pay-play scandals), current players (Washington Post article), and former agents (including Josh Luchs). While these articles portray agents as the problem, it is my belief that it is more so runners, who for one reason or another see the opportunity to benefit from the likeliness of another’s success or the chance of becoming an agent themselves. To me, it is the lowest form of human and business interaction to date.
At the end of the day, if you aren’t transparent, and more importantly honest, with your current and future clients, then you are in fact a parasite to sports. In the coming years, I predict that university compliance departments will take on an even greater role with regard to not only reacting to issues, but also predicting and preventing them, through advisory and legal panels to actual employees navigating the new world of social media as well as attending to student-athlete concerns confidentially. How it could or would be done is beyond me, but what I do know is that working in the shadows is never the way to go; shady people should not be advising young men and women.
The Economic System to Prevent It
My colleagues and I discuss these issues all the time, but what it always seems to come down to is a policy issue (ethics aside) – where is the economic incentive to follow the rules? The answer is, there is none. However, even with state athlete-agent laws in place, enforcement is typically low. Some suggest federal legislation on this matter, but the economics must make sense. Either the penalty is so extreme a violator cannot afford to get in trouble, or some other type of program must be put in place.
One of my theories is that the NCAA, but more importantly university athletic associations, need to institute whistle-blower programs, because even from what I have heard as well as from personal run-ins, many of these ‘crimes’ occur within reach of the university community. It could be that cute, yet smart, girl on campus or the shady dude driving the rather overly luxurious car in a college town. In fact, it would even be in the booster program’s best interest to support such an effort due to possible sanctions for an entire athletic program. Even with such a policy or program, flaws may exist, but at some point all this nonsense must stop at the “honor code.”
Similar programs have been established within the SEC and the IRS for mitigating fraud among market participants and citizens. Even with these programs, criminal activity exists, but nonetheless is marginally deterred. The simple aspect of knowing someone could report you at their gain is enough to deter violations, especially if doing so requires a given level of evidence or proof. Perhaps I am way off or maybe I am right on, but as professional athlete salaries and endorsements continue to rise to astronomical levels, issues like these are becoming more aligned with the telltale stories of Wall Street greed and discreet tax avoidance schemes portrayed in mainstream media.
Let’s face it, anyone, I mean anyone, can start a sports agency or marketing company. A state filing and a website and it’s done. The reality is that for every potential client, there are about twenty agents and then runners in multiples of that (mathematical example – likely much, much higher), which are pursuing the same exact objective. How do you differentiate yourself as a young person? I believe that delivering on your claims and promises is critical, whether it’s a client looking at the ABA for basketball or a minor league baseball team in the Midwest – word of mouth is the single most effective marketing tool, and it goes both ways. With that said, don’t say something you can’t do. It is my belief that to truly represent the athlete you must also represent the sport and the integrity of those within it.