The following interview was conducted by Matthew Hochberg. The subject of the interview was Michael Lelchitski of Sports International Group, INC. (SIG). You can follow him on Twitter (@mike_sig).
Michael Lelchitski: I grew up in a basketball gym- always hanging around and associating with athletes. My father was a professional coach in Russia (then Soviet Union) before coming to the United States and eventually transitioning from coaching into the agent business. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be involved in basketball in some capacity. Obviously with my father being an agent himself, it was constantly something that was on my mind. However, I always wanted to have my own direction or niche within the company – something separate with which we could grow our brand. I’ve been fortunate to have that opportunity with helping found the NBA and now the NFL sides of SIG.
Matthew Hochberg: How instrumental has your father, the founder of SIG, Mr. Boris Lelchitski, been for you in becoming a successful sports agent?
Michael Lelchitski: Both of my parents have been an inspiration for me in more ways than I can say. My father has been extremely instrumental in my becoming a sports agent, obviously, since I followed in his professional footsteps. He is one of the premier agents in women’s basketball, representing the elite athletes in the sport. However, what a lot of people don’t know is that when he came to this country in 1990, he didn’t even know the English language and had to start as a volunteer basketball coach. It is beyond impressive what he has been able to accomplish, and I’ve had the amazing experience of witnessing it firsthand. So, not only have I been very fortunate to have his support and guidance in my personal and professional life, but he has also been a source of inspiration and motivation for me. The “American Dream” is somewhat a cliché expression, but in our case it is very accurate.
Matthew Hochberg: What impact did attending Sewanee: The University of the South have on you to become a sports agent?
Michael Lelchitski: Well, first and foremost, Sewanee provided me a tremendous education and a very unique all-around college experience. It is one of the top liberal arts schools in the country and I was very fortunate to be there with some incredible people who have become the closest individuals in my life. Also, I had the opportunity to play some football for Sewanee. As an agent, I think that experience benefited me a lot as far as being able to relate to athletes. Even though it was NCAA Division III level, that was still a great experience, even for a short time.
Matthew Hochberg: Who was your first client, and how did you recruit him?
Michael Lelchitski: My first client was a referral from one of our WNBA clients. His name is Greg Hendricks, and he became not only my first client but a very close friend. I think my recruiting pitch was based largely on how hungry I was to get started in this business and how hard I would work to get him some opportunities overseas. We actually recently had a discussion about that experience. I think at the time we were both in a position where we needed someone to take a chance on us. That developed into a great working relationship, and deep down I will always have a tremendous sense of gratitude towards Greg for being the first to entrust me as his agent.
Matthew Hochberg: How did you handle your first contract negotiation?
Michael Lelchitski: Haha, I was somewhat nervous. I wanted to get a good deal for my client. I remember having a long list of demands for the GM I was dealing with, but in the end it was pretty straightforward and easy. It helps when you’re representing a talented player that the team really likes and fits their needs.
Matthew Hochberg: You represent players from all over the world; how does your style of representation differ for clients from the United States compared to those of Europe?
Michael Lelchitski: It is a completely different approach for clients from Europe as opposed to clients from the United States. For Americans going overseas, the most important thing is getting into the right league or level where they can excel. The goal is a stable upward progression from season to season. Most European players are already signed with clubs at a very young age. So, there is not much flexibility with what you can do for them contractually. The goal with those clients is to get them as much as exposure as possible and try to put them in a situation where they can develop.
Matthew Hochberg: Do you continue to work on behalf of clients after their retirement from professional sports?
Michael Lelchitski: Absolutely. We put a lot of emphasis on treating our clients like family. Part of that is helping them with opportunities after they’re done playing. Some clients have transitioned into coaching, broadcasting, and owning their own small businesses. We have also helped clients start their own non-profit foundations and partake in other charitable endeavors. This is honestly one of my favorite parts of the job.
Matthew Hochberg: What has been your most embarrassing moment as a sports agent?
Michael Lelchitski: I had a very promising young player commit to signing with us and assure me that I was authorized to talk to teams on his behalf. I foolishly agreed to wait until we met in person the following week to sign the paperwork. In that week, I started having conversations on his behalf with teams, telling most everyone that I represented him and even engaged in contract talks. When it came time to sign the paperwork, a new “advisor” appeared in the picture. I’m sure you can guess what happened next… In the end, I looked like a fool. Very dumb rookie mistake on my part.
Matthew Hochberg: What are your future goals in life?
Michael Lelchitski: SIG being a family company, there is a tremendous sense of pride for me in building the company to an elite status. We are very excited about our recent expansion into the NFL market, and we have some more exciting things on the horizon. I personally am looking forward to seeing some of my current clients competing in the NBA in the next few years. As far as long term goals, I would love to continue carving out a unique niche for myself and SIG. We are unlike other agencies, and we want to keep it that way.
Matthew Hochberg: What advice do you have for those looking to break into the industry?
Michael Lelchitski: Professionally, you have to find a way to separate yourself from the pack, to offer something unique and different from others. Nothing is worse than recruiting a potential client who has already heard the same pitch from five other guys. In this competitive industry it is very difficult to succeed if you do not have anything unique to offer. Personally, be sure you have a very strong support system at home. This business can be very grueling and demanding, and extremely time consuming. I have been very fortunate to have such a supportive wife, who not only puts up with the hectic work schedule and 4am phone calls, but also believes in what I am doing.
Matthew Hochberg: Does your agency provide internships for those looking to break into the industry?
Michael Lelchitski: Currently we do not have any internship openings available. However, there will be a few opportunities starting next Winter. We will let Sports Agent Blog know about any openings.
Matthew Hochberg: On behalf of SportsAgentBlog.com, I would like to thank Mr. Lelchitski for taking the time to answer these questions and sharing his personal knowledge and experiences. You can check out his company’s website at http://www.sigsports.com/.