Safarrah Lawson – CEO and President STL Sports Group
Safarrah Lawson has been in the agency business for over 20 years. Learning under Michael Jordan’s agent David Falk, to then partnering to start So So Def Sports Management with entertainer Jermaine Dupri and agent Hadley Engelhard, to starting up his own agency STL Sports Management, Safarrah has asserted himself as a seasoned veteran in the business. STL Sports Management stands by its slogan, “Service That Lasts.” You can read the transcript of Lawson’s interview with SAB contributor Josh Goldberg below:
What made you pursue a career as a sports agent? Why football?
Lawson: One of my closest friends growing up, Takeo Spikes, was getting ready to enter the NFL Draft and he asked me to help him meet with agents. Through witnessesing his process, I became interested in becoming an agent.
How did you get started in the industry?
Lawson: I interned for David Falk at FAME, which then became SFX Sports Group. After interning there, Falk then gave me a job my first year out of college. I worked on Juwan Howard and Maurice Taylor and many of the other NBA guys marketing deals. I started in the marketing department under Falk early in my career.
Take us through working at So So Def Sports Management in the early 2000s with Jermaine Dupri.
Lawson: I left SFX Sports Group and went and worked for a new company that agent Hadley Engelhard and entertainer Jermaine Dupre had started. At So So Def Sports, I recruited and signed two top-10 picks back-to-back. I had the 6th overall pick in the 2002 draft [Ryan Sims] and 4th overall pick [Dewayne Robertson] in the 2003 draft.
What led you to transition from the marketing department to the agent and player-contract side?
Lawson: I wanted to be more fully involved in the representation picture. I had been on the marketing side, but I wanted to work more directly on the other side of the business with the teams and the players. I wanted to be able to be a full advocate for my clients instead of just specializing in one area.
After working at So So Def Sports Management, what led you to starting STL Sports Group?
Lawson: I started STL Sports Management in 2003 and ran the company until 2010. I then partnered with Peter Schaffer and worked with him when he started Authentic Athletix. After working there for a few years, I decided to restart my own agency and go back out on my own with STL Sports Group in 2013.
As more of a boutique agency, what sets you apart from other agencies?
Lawson: The main way we try to set ourselves apart is by guaranteeing a lot of the individual services. We emphasize the individual services and cater to each of our client’s needs. With our small numbers, we are able to give a lot of time and attention to each client. We are big with our clients’ families. I don’t just represent the kid; I represent the families as well. We feel better at meeting our clients’ everyday needs as compared to a company with 90-100 clients.
Take us through the process of recruiting a player and managing an athlete.
Lawson: Most of the guys that we recruit we have some type of prior relationship with, such as through other players who went to that school. During the college season, we try to develop a relationship and lay out a clear plan of what we can do for the kid and what differentiates us from other firms. We try to build a strong bond with the player and his family. Once we’re chosen, our job is then to advocate for our clients so that they can go higher in the draft. We set them up with training, nutritionists, public speaking skills, interview skills, and social media training so that we can best prepare our guys for the draft.
With some college football players opting out or having their season canceled, how has it affected a smaller agency like yours when recruiting players?
Lawson: We’ve had to make some hard decisions with the timeline shifting. With the timeline shifting, it changes the economics of the whole situation. You go from taking care of a guy for four months to now eight to nine months until the draft. We have decided that we’re probably going to wait to sign guys until the normal signing period unless it’s a case where a kid that has already decided to sign with us and he just wants to get started. But we’re going to try and wait and go with the same schedule if possible.
With all of the social justice movements going on right now, how have you been supporting your players through these times?
Lawson: STL Sports Group is 100% minority owned company, so we understand the plight of our players because we deal with and we live with it. I’ve encouraged our guys to do what is true to their beliefs and not to do anything that’s not in their character. If speaking out and being vocal about their feelings is not comfortable to them, don’t feel pressured to do it. But if it is comfortable, don’t feel pressured not speak up. I’ve told guys to be true to themselves in whatever way is true to them. My job is to advocate for the guys and to make sure if they do decide to speak out that there is no blowback and that they are protected and feel supportive.
What advice do you have for young people trying to break into the industry?
Lawson: My main advice is to get into the business for the right reasons. There is some glory and notoriety to it but most of it is a lot of thankless deeds. You should be getting into the business to advocate for your clients and to be a helpmate. You want to help them become the best professionals they can be. Breaking into this business is not easy. I would tell most people to work under someone and learn the business first. It’s important to learn what you don’t know about the business before you try and go out on your own and start your own company. It’s good to learn the business under someone and gain the knowledge because you don’t want to be making a mistake that could cost one of your clients dearly.
Over 20 years, I’ve seen the business change a lot. I’ve seen the big companies come, go away, and come back again. You have to be true to yourself and stay the path and continue to fight the good fight.
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