The following interview contains the transcript of Darren Heitner’s interview with a Sports Management Degree website.
1. When you were evaluating schools for your business degree, what factors did you value as most important?
First of all, I did not receive a business degree. I was actually a Political Science Major with Minors in Mass Communication and Geography at the University of Florida. Political Science classes taught me how to think outside of the box and argue my point when there was no true right or wrong answer. Mass Communication allowed me to understand the value and best techniques of advertising, public relations, cyberspace marketing, etc. Geography made me worldlier. Each has helped out in its own unique way.
When I was evaluating schools to attend, there were a few factors that weighed heavily on my impending decision. One of the biggest concerns was money. My mother is a private school teacher and my father is a real estate agent; needless to say, I was not going to have my way paid for me if I picked Northwestern. As a Florida resident, I was benefited by a state government that was very interested in keeping its citizens in state. I had my schooling purchased for me when I was a toddler through a program called “Florida Prepaid”, which went into my pocket after I became eligible for Florida’s “Bright Futures Program”, which paid for my 4 years of schooling. On top of that, as a National Merit Finalists, the University of Florida put an additional $20,000 in my pocket. While my friends were piling on debt, I had the opportunity to actually make money by attending classes. This obviously was a big first plus for UF.
I had to go to a school with prestige and solid alumni. While a school’s U.S. News and World Report rankings should not be over-emphasized, it does have value in the minds of others. With networking being extremely important in my life, I wanted alumni that I could count on in the future.
Growing up in Florida, I would not have been able to survive in the north, even though at the time, I thought that I was made for the snow.
Last, family is extremely important to me. I consider all of my clients to be a part of my family because I want them to know that I care for them and will do anything ethical and legal for them. My true family has been there for me my entire life and is my best friends. I wanted to do anything in my power to prevent having distance separate us for a long period of time.
After earning my Bachelors degree, I had to make a decision on school all over again. This time it concerned which law school I would attend. I went back to the same factors, and decided to stay at the University of Florida to attain my Juris Doctor degree.
2. How did you get your start in sports management and player representation?
At the University of Florida, I quickly realized that the world of politics might not be in my immediate future. I was turned off by the amount of unfair dealings that I found in the politics that existed on campus, alone. Little did I know that the industry I would eventually choose tends to be just as dirty.
I knew that I was interested in the law, and I always had a fascination for the business of sports, so I applied for an internship during my Sophomore year of college and performed as an intern at Career Sports Entertainment in Atlanta, Georgia during the Summer between my Sophomore and Junior years. Upon completion of the internship, I returned to the University of Florida and my Political Science curriculum. I then started Sports Agent Blog a few months later as a way to stay in touch with what was going on in the sports agent profession and possibly gain a connection or two in the industry. The site grew like wildfire. One of my first contributors suggested we wait no longer and just start an agency right then and there. I researched how to file for a Limited Liability Company and filed the requisite paperwork. In April 2007, before I had even met the other Managing Member of the LLC, Dynasty Athlete Representation was born.
3. What are some of the biggest challenges you face day-to-day in the sports management industry?
The competition. There are so many people who dream of having my job. That is partially why Sports Agent Blog has survived, and actually thrived. With an abundance of agents, and a minority of players making really huge sums of money, the competition is heavy, and it sometimes leads to agents breaking the laws and various NCAA rules to do whatever possible to land a big client.
Another challenge is resources. There are very large agencies with vast funds, which can spend thousands of dollars recruiting a player and not worry about it. For a smaller company, it is tough to justify such an expense, especially knowing that athletes fire their agents all the time. There are no guarantees in this business.
4. What skills do you consider to be essential for success as a sports agent?
As with any profession, I think that time management, passion, and drive are essential. This profession in particular requires knowledge of legal concepts and the mastering of the art of negotiation. That is why I suggest, but stress that it is not required, that people who want to become agents go to law school. While the NFL Players Association, in particular, only requires a post graduate degree and does not specify what type of degree that is, the three extra years of law school will do wonders when you are working on behalf of clients, and should theoretically help with recruiting.
5. What do you think are the most common factors athletes are considering when they decide on representation?
It should be level of education, history of success, experience in the field and in other business pursuits, and what the agent’s current and former clients have to say about him. Unfortunately, all too often the player is looking for other things such as ‘how much money will the agent spot me up front?’
6. Technology and social media have changed sports media; how has technology affected the field of sports management and player representation?
There are more opportunities for companies to get creative with the athletes they work with, and athletes are empowered to connect with their fans and speak directly to the ears of others instead of having to go through traditional media. Agents have the capacity to license their clients’ likeness online and get creative with promotion and marketing of their clients on cyberspace. Agents also have to monitor their clients’ behavior, since a bad tweet or Facebook post could devalue a player tremendously.
7. How do you recruit new players?
A variety of ways. There is nothing more valuable than meeting the potential client and his family in person. A lot of research is done by speaking to scouts, searching clippings, and using scouting services. Contact information is key, and websites such as Facebook, often come in handy.
8. How do you decide on a strategy when entering contract negotiations?
Strategy must vary based on the negotiation. It is important to understand the other party in the negotiation, his tactics and strategy, and his style of negotiating. I always try to use a cooperative style and aim to find value for both sides of the negotiation table. Nothing beats both sides leaving the discussion thinking that they have won.
9. Once recruited how do you prepare players for their respective drafts and professional careers?
Athletes often need to be coached. They need to train to get ready for tryouts or combines, learn best practices of interviewing, and perhaps even get ready to take a test like the Wonderlic.
10. What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone deciding to start a career in sports management?
It is an area of work that many people would gladly work in for free. Make sure to work hard, put in countless hours of work, and think outside of the box to add value for the people that surround you.