The following “Six Questions” short interview with Jordan Woy, NFLPA Contract Advisor/Owner of Willis & Woy Sports Group, was conducted by Belmont University Law School student and aspiring sports/entertainment agent Mark J. Burns. Connect with Jordan on Twitter and Linkedin.
1. You have had your own sports agency (Willis & Woy Sports Group), for 25-plus years. What motivated you to start your own agency? As a follow-up, how has the agency industry evolved during that time period?
I started the agency in 1987, the year I completed law school. My father, Bucky Woy, had been in the agent business representing athletes such at Lee Trevino, Jack Lambert, Pete Incaviglia and Bob Horner. I worked with him while I was in law school working for Pete and Bob so I knew what I wanted to do when I got out of law school. I have primarily focused on the NFL over the past 20 years although I did a lot of baseball early in my career.
There are many changes from the early days in the NFL agent business. Most have to do with recruiting players. In the old days, players did not sign contracts with an agent right when they finished their college bowl games. Many signed as late as the NFL Combine. The players trained at their schools for all star games and the Combine so they took their time. That has all changed. Now agents sign players the moment their college careers end and put them into training facilities that agents pay for. There are per diems and marketing bonuses that agents use now as well. It is much more costly to be in the business today. Agents as a whole are good salespeople but not good business people and have added a lot of expenses to get a recruiting advantage and many don’t really help the player. You now also have to be registered to do business in practically every state as well as with the NFLPA.
2. How has your law degree helped with being an agent?
I think being an attorney helps you when you are negotiating any contracts on behalf of a player. Obviously in negotiating player contracts it can be a big help. Some contracts are fairly simple but some can be very complex. There are also many off the field issues that come up when you are an agent for a professional athlete and having a legal background is certainly an advantage.
3. What is the toughest aspect of being a sports agent?
Most agents will tell you that recruiting players is the most difficult part of the business. The players are young and all agents start to sound alike to them as they are going through the process. Top players may hear from 30 to 40 agents/agencies so it is hard for them to really decipher who is for real and what to really look for in a qualified agent. You have to build trust and a bond with a player and his family and sometimes you only have a meeting or two to accomplish that.
4. What are 3 to 5 essential and tangible skills necessary to work in the sports agency industry and talent representation?
Like most businesses, it all starts with hard work. I think you also have to be smart, honest, tenacious and a good negotiator. Negotiating can be improved over time but it is a skill someone either has or does not.
5. With the tough competition in the agency business, how do you differentiate yourself from other agencies/agents? As a follow-up, is there any way you can prevent a client from leaving your agency for another?
I believe there is a big difference between an agent who is a great recruiter/salesperson and an agent who is a great contract advisor. Most people in the business are great at the first part. The second part takes years of experience. I am also one of the few agents who has created multi-million dollars businesses outside of the agent business. One of my key goals is to help players prepare for life after professional sports as well. Most agents make their sole income off of representing players. I don’t, so I can work with players who I truly like and want to help years after they are done playing. Players retire in their young 30’s if they are lucky. I am one of the few who has the experience to actually help them in their business careers if that is something that interests them.
All agents will lose players as clients if they have been in the business for years. It is a service business, so keeping in good communication with them and responding to their needs is the first step to keeping a client happy. Becoming a team with your client and making them part of your family is very important. I have started to work with retired clients’ children and nephews so I am happy about that.
6. What advice would you give to aspiring sports/entertainment business professionals who want to work in the agency world?
Don’t, unless you have thick skin & a love for hard work because it is a customer service business. If you are mart you can make more money doing other things so you better love it.