Heather MacKenzie received her law degree from Duke University Law School and undergraduate degree from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. With over 15 years of legal experience in the US and in Germany, Ms. MacKenzie is well-qualified to represent athletes in the international sports market. She is a State of North Carolina certified sports agent. Heather is certified by the Committee on Agent Regulation of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) as a Certified Agent. In 1997, she founded The MacKenzie Law Firm, a law firm where she has handled immigration issues on behalf of foreign athletes including hockey players, basketball players, tennis players, and soccer players. Ms. MacKenzie is a member of the Sports Lawyers Association, Chair of the Carolinas Chapter of American Immigration Lawyers Association, and the American Bar Association. She is a Senior Lecturing Fellow at Duke University in immigration law. Ms. MacKenzie frequently speaks on the topic of immigration and issues relating to foreign athletes. She speaks French, German and conversational Spanish.
Darren Heitner: How did you get started in this industry?
Heather MacKenzie: My representation of foreign athletes through my immigration practice was what led me to the business of representing athletes. After working at several large, international firms, I left to start the MacKenzie Law Firm, a boutique immigration firm. I counseled foreign student athletes as well as foreign professional athletes on the issues of work visas and “green cards” (lawful permanent residency). When players started asking me to negotiate player contracts and contact teams on their behalf I realized that there was a market for someone with my skill set, especially in the representation of US and foreign players coming out of the collegiate system that wanted to play in Europe. I lived in Germany for four years and speak German, French and passable Spanish so this is a distinct advantage. In 2005 I started MLF Sports. Over the past three years I have represented a NASCAR driver, basketball players and soccer players. At the present time, MLF is concentrating on the core business of international soccer transfers.
Darren Heitner: You graduated from Duke Law school like fellow South Florida sports agent, Drew Rosenhaus. Do you have any relationship with Drew? Who left a bigger legacy behind at Duke’s campus?
Heather MacKenzie: After living four years in Frankfurt Germany I attended Duke Law School and was ironically in the same small section with Drew Rosenhaus, NFL Agent. After Duke, Drew went out on his own and as I understand doesn’t have much contact with Duke or the Alum.. As the Chair of our Ten Year Reunion, I tried to get him to come to our reunion but no luck. As for who left a bigger legacy I would have to give that to Drew. He was definitely a standout and I was a more traditional law student. Many of my classmates are surprised to know that I am an agent and deal with international soccer players but it was a fairly logical career progression for me.
Darren Heitner: How many employees do you manage in your sports agency? Do you have any plans to expand?
Heather MacKenzie: The challenge for me is to identify young talent and open doors at European clubs. Sometimes this requires co-brokering with European-based agents. MLF varies in size from 3-5 persons with the bulk of the work being done by myself and one assistant. I have a vision that would definately include expansion but that can only happen with strategic partnerships and smart hires. The challenge has been to find someone who is willing to put in the time and work that this field requires. Everyone thinks its an exciting, sexy job but like any other kind of work it is work and requires constant calling, emailing, meetings. It can take a toll on your personal life. At some point I am hoping to meet a like-minded agent/attorney who is as motivated as I am to grow the business. As a small agency with a select group of mainly national players we aim to be more responsive then some of the bigger agencies.
Darren Heitner: You are a woman in a male-dominated field. What are some of the positives and negatives of being a woman sports agent?
Heather MacKenzie: When I think about and describe the advantages and disadvantages of my gender it sounds a bit sexist, but I suppose my gender might be an advantage in the sense that as one of the few women in this industry, people remember me. While it may take a while for some men to warm up to me, once they realize that I am advocating for my players and trying to find win-win solutions, we are cool. I think any woman in this field has to realize that at the end of the day this is a sport and business run by men for men and any woman has to be sensitive to that dynamic. It is definitely not a field for anyone without a great sense of humor and a tireless work ethic. As for being a woman, I don’t place much emphasis on that. To the extent that it is an issue at all it may be with some of the older coaches and certain Europeans that are not accustomed to dealing with an American female attorney. The players are generally very open minded and are correctly results-oriented.
Darren Heitner: What would you lend as advice to college students looking to break into the industry? Anything special you would add to college female students?
Heather MacKenzie: As for my advice to college students I would say that they must develop their negotiating skills, writing skills, speaking skills and then be patient. I find that students could learn to be more patient and develop their skills. There is so much judgment and problem solving involved in this business that I would have to say I don’t think it is necessarily the best path to head on straight out of school, but rather develop a separate, discrete skill set such as marketing, accounting, anything that develops your verbal and writing skills (mine is law and specifically immigration law). As for specific advise to college female students, my advice would be no different. I would hope that the advice would be the same for men and women who want to be agents, there is no specific formula but I would study the career path, personality traits and work ethic of the success stories in the sports business. And then I would add “never give up”.