Darren Heitner: You have almost been in the business for 40 years. What more than anything else has allowed you to have long-term success in the sports agent industry?
David Sloane: From the start of my career I tried to imagine how I would want the relationship with my Agent to be if I was a Player. I’d want someone who would deal with me as a priority no matter where I was in the “food chain” that is MLB. I also wouldn’t want to have to go through layers of other people to get to the person who was handling my negotiations for me. Obviously, honesty, integrity and the ability to maximize my earnings while maintaining a good relationship with my team would also be very important to me if I was a Player, but the person-to-person relationship would be paramount. That’s the way I built my business & rebuilt it the first time when life threw me a nasty curveball with the death of my father, and it’s the way I’m rebuilding it for the second time after my divorce caused the latest bump in the road.
Heitner: How is your recruiting of athletes any different today than it was when you first entered the industry?
Sloane: I can’t overstate the effect that tech has had. From being able to stay in touch via email to the wealth of stat info available online as well as number crunching. That could never have been done as well before computers, and that is what has brought the biggest change. Having a web site, like mine (www.taurussports.net) also makes it much easier to convey information to prospective clients.
Cell phones have changed everything regarding recruiting. Before cell phones, Players could be reached simply by calling the team hotel when they were on the road. Sure, many Players had adopted the strategy of using fake names when they traveled, but for the most part, particularly in the minors, you could reach somebody at the team hotel. Now if you want to contact a Player and don’t have his cell phone number, you’re out of luck.
Another major difference is that today, seemingly every Player has an Agent. My first 1st Round Draft choice client, Sam Welborn, the Phillies 1st pick in 1975, was a member of a distinct minority in that he was represented by an Agent. Now, even Players that are not Prospects have Agents. I’m not sure if that’s an entirely positive development, but you can’t deny the reality.
The increase in the number of Players having Agents has led to more Agents, and further, to Mega Agencies who send out runners/recruiters to acquire hundreds of clients. I don’t really think this benefits the people who have the most at stake, the Players. A Player has but one career, so that career should be handled by someone who is as heavily invested in that Player’s career as possible. Often times, as shown below, these Agents and their minions from the huge companies turn out to be much better at recruiting Players than they are at representing them.
Heitner: What are your thoughts on the recent mass-trade of players between the Marlins and Blue Jays?
Sloane: Does it surprise me? Not at all. The Marlins methods are pretty transparent. I didn’t have to think about their “We don’t give No-Trade” position too long when I was negotiating Carlos Delgado’s deal to know my client needed some additional protection.
The only surprise is that the Agents who negotiated the deals for Buehrle, Reyes, Buck & Johnson didn’t require it for their clients to accept a multi year, backloaded contract considering the track record of the Marlins ownership. I don’t know if this sinks to the level of admitting to malpractice, but Reyes’ Agent astonishingly stated in print, “He (Reyes) didn’t see that one coming.” THAT’S WHAT HE HAS AN AGENT FOR!
If I were any of these Players, other than Bonifacio (the Marlins hadn’t signed him to a multi-year deal), unless my Agent warned me about the tax implications of a possible trade and I ignored that and signed with the Marlins anyway, I would deduct the amount I lost in taxes as a result of my Agent’s negligence (ignorance?) from whatever commission was owed. The whole purpose of signing a multi-year contract is to GUARANTEE income and these Players all took a substantial cut in pay when they were traded.
Heitner: One of your notable clients over the years is Carlos Delgado. What are some highlights concerning your representation of Delgado? Any negotiation stories that have not yet been leaked?
Sloane: Before the ’99 season, Toronto approached us about a multi-year deal. Carlos and I had a conference call with then GM Gord Ash & then Asst. GM Dave Stewart where they offered 4 years and approximately $30 million. Carlos basically said, as nicely as he could, “Thanks but no thanks”. Dave Stewart told him, “That’s a lot of money, you can get hurt and then where would you be?” Carlos calmly replied, “I can’t live my life in fear, let’s work out a 1 year deal.” Carlos took a 1 year deal for $6 million which at that time was pretty good money.
After the ’99 season we worked out a contract (3 years/$36 million) that for the first time in MLB history contained an agreement that gave a Player the right after year 1 to demand a trade, with the additional agreement that if he wasn’t traded by the following (I think) February 1, he would be a Free Agent. We knew that if all the other teams were aware of his impending Free Agency, they would be unlikely to make a deal effectively freeing Carlos to sign with whoever he wanted for as much as we could negotiate.
Carlos had a GREAT year in 2000 (he was denied the MVP by better living through chemistry), the sale of the Blue Jays to Rogers Communications closed and we parlayed his excellent season and new ownership’s desire to make a positive statement into a 4 year/$68 million deal that was the first contract in MLB history for more than $15 million per year. All in all, I’d say Carlos standing up to the scare tactics worked out pretty well.
In ’04 Carlos became a Free Agent and we met with several teams at the Winter Meetings in Anaheim that year. We eventually narrowed the field to 4 teams – the Rangers, Orioles, Mets and Marlins. Carlos was SERIOUSLY interested in Baltimore; he always liked hitting in that ballpark.
Despite our best efforts, we could not get the Orioles to make any kind of offer at that point. We met again a short while later in Puerto Rico with the Mets on a Thursday and Rangers on Friday. The Rangers made an offer at that meeting of 4 years/$48 million.
Unfortunately, they insisted on giving us less than 24 hours to accept the offer or they were going to pull it off the table. I explained that Carlos would not appreciate a deadline but the Rangers insisted on it. Practically the moment Tom Hicks’ Gulfstream hit the runway in Texas on Saturday afternoon they held a Press Conference announcing we had turned down their 4 years/$48 million offer before we had actually turned it down.
That story that Carlos turned down 4 years/$48 million subsequently appeared in virtually every Sunday Sports page from New York to Tokyo (a friend of mine emailed me the story from the Tokyo Shimbun). On Monday I got a call from then Orioles Co-GM Jim Beattie, who was going to finally make me an offer. It was the same 4 years/$48 million we just turned down from Texas, which oh by the way is a State with NO Income Tax, whereas Maryland would have hit Carlos with a bill for 6.75%. Apparently, they weren’t reading the papers or weren’t too serious about really trying to sign Carlos.
Carlos subsequently signed with the Marlins for 4 years/$52 million, with language in the contract that he would “be made whole” if traded to a team that resided in a State with an Income Tax. He played 1 year in FL and was traded to NY, which takes 8.9% in taxes with 3 years/$39 million and a $12 million option that was exercised remaining on his contract, so the agreement I negotiated with the Marlins netted him an additional approximately $2,269,500, which in today’s MLB dollars with inflation factored in would be the equivalent of a net to him of at least $4 million.
There are many stories from other negotiations, but I will have to withhold those unless I want to retire from the biz.
Heitner: While you have been in the business for quite some time, you seem to have purposefully limited the number of clients you represent at any given time. Why is this?
Sloane: This goes back to my preference to have my own business handled personally. I have a personal relationship with David Diaz, my Broker at Merrill Lynch for 20+ years. My Accountant, Ray Suplee who has taken care of me for 15 years, is the father of one of my former clients, Raymond Suplee. They couldn’t build those types of long lasting close relationships if they were working for hundreds of people. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. If those services shuffled me off to a secretary or assistant/junior member of the firm, I’d be out the door in a flash. If I demand that type of accountability AND accessibility from the people who take care of me, why should my clients demand any less of me?
Heitner: What drives you to continue to work in this profession?
Sloane: First of all, it’s something I do very well and it’s always going to be more enjoyable and productive doing something you are good at.
Second, it’s also enjoyable because it’s a very dynamic job despite the fact that you are doing the same thing over and over. The fact that you are doing the same thing but doing it for different people makes it very interesting.
Third, the relationships make it a very worthwhile endeavor. Most clients don’t treat me as just some guy who works for them. For example, I’m still friends with Dave Frost and John Verhoeven, two Players I began representing in 1977. I look forward to that type of thing happening with my current clients as well.
Also, being completely honest, the money doesn’t hurt either.
Heitner: Talk to me about the Winter Meetings. What are some of the things you like and dislike about the structure?
Sloane: I’m not a big Winter Meetings fan. It’s just not my style. The press there (no offense Darren) is particularly relentless and I prefer to negotiate without the constant scrutiny. Walking through the lobby next to a high profile client can be pretty close to a TSA pat down.
It’s essentially a Trade Show and MLB has certain meetings they require the teams to attend. I’d rather be able to talk to someone without the time constraints caused by trying to squeeze so much into 3 or 4 days.
I don’t need a team putting on a dog and pony show for my client, which tends to happen in that setting. I also am not going to give them a hundred page syllabus on why my client is the second coming of Honus Wagner to convince them to give him the contract we want.
Heitner: What advice do you have for individuals who hope to one day represent professional athletes?
Sloane: Learn how to manage a Hedge Fund. It can’t be any harder and it pays MUCH better.