The following “Six Questions” short interview with Ian Pulver, NHL Player Agent and Co-Founder of The Will Sports Group, was conducted by Belmont University Law School student and aspiring sports/entertainment agent Mark J. Burns. Connect with Ian on Twitter and Linkedin. Visit his website here.
1. When did you realize that you wanted to enter the sports industry, and more specifically, hockey?
Sports was all I ever knew. I grew up playing hockey and I was a sports enthusiast and loved the sports world. Through my undergraduate career at the University of Western Ontario, I worked at the local radio station, CHRW, covering sports. I like to say that the legendary broadcaster Dan Shulman from ESPN, who is from Toronto, followed in my footsteps at CHRW. I covered the Western Mustangs football and hockey teams and sports radio updates. I spent a summer with TSN as a script writer under the tutelage of Michael Landsberg. At University of British Columbia law school I studied under the direction of Professor Joe Weiler who started a sports law program in my second year. Brian Burke (President Hockey Operations Calgary Flames) lectured at the school. In my third year at UBC, I found myself writing about the collective bargaining dynamic between the NHL and the NHL Players Association. It was eventually published. I met the newly named Executive Director Bob Goodenow in Vancouver at the 1990 NHL Entry Draft and went on to spend the next 15 years with the NHLPA.
2. How did your role/position change over the course of your time with the NHL Players Association.
During my 15 years at the NHLPA my position evolved. I was one of Bob Goodenow’s first hires in 1990. At that time, the staff was less than five people. By the time I left (in 2006), it was a major operation. My role increased every year through my work in labor relations, collective bargaining (‘92 Strike, ‘94 Lockout and ‘04 Lockout) interest and grievance arbitrations, and player relations.
3. What motivated you to transition into athlete representation?
After the 2004 Lockout, it was time to move on. I did not want to be associated with the ongoing turmoil at the NHLPA. I left the NHLPA in February 2006 and decided to start my own agency in September 2006. Since I had spent my working life both protecting and advancing the rights and benefits of players, I thought the next best step was representing players.
4. You recently merged your agency with NHL legend, Igor Larionov. What was that process like, and how did that come to fruition?
I knew Igor for the better part of 15 years while I was working at the NHL Players Association. With my labor background and Igor’s hockey background, including being a member of the NHL Hockey Hall of Fame, we felt that it would be a tremendous match. We have a general respect and admiration for each other. In recent years our team has represented the first, second and third overall picks in the NHL entry draft and we have many more top players coming along the way.
5. What has been the biggest challenge you have found with being a NHL Player Agent?
People underestimate the role that a “good” agent performs in professional sports. I don’t think the general population understands and appreciates the intense pressure and scrutiny that athletes face on a daily basis. To provide proper support from a sociological/psychological stand point, to help the players accomplish their respective individual and team goals that’s what we do every day. It’s helping, assisting, it’s enabling an athlete to have the “will” to accomplish his/her goal. The general population thinks it is easy to wake up and be a professional athlete. They think, ‘I can do that. I can perform at those high levels under the scrutiny of everybody watching them on the internet, Facebook, Twitter, wherever it may be’. It’s not a challenge, but it’s what we do.
6. What advice would you give to aspiring sports/entertainment business professionals who want to work in the agency world?
It’s not good enough just to love sports. You need to bring something to the table to be able to differentiate yourself from the group. To be able to offer something to existing agencies, teams, companies, leagues and unions. You need try and carve out a niche, develop an expertise in something, and present it. All the aforementioned entities/groups so to speak are looking for “value add”. People fall short when they say, ‘I love the game. I will do whatever I can to work for you’.