The following article is a guest contribution by Benjamin Haynes, Esq. Haynes is a former Division 1 Basketball Player at Oral Roberts University and currently practices law in the State of Florida.
Kelli Masters Management (KMM) is an Oklahoma based sports agency that was founded by Kelli Masters in 2005. Kelli is former Miss Oklahoma from 1997 and has since finished law school and been practicing law in Oklahoma since 2000. In fact, Masters recently received an award as one of the “Best Lawyers in America 2013.” Kelli has experience representing professional baseball, football, and Olympian athletes. Some of Kelli’s more recognizable athletes are NFL standouts Roy Williams and Gerald McCoy.
Sports Agent Blog recently reached out to Kelli in order to get to know her further:
Q: Kelli, what specifically interested you in becoming a sports agent?
Kelli: I didn’t discover my “calling” to be a sports agent until nearly five years into my law practice. When I started my law practice at Fellers Snider in Oklahoma City, my focus was litigation, with a side practice in non-profit organization law. It was actually my work with non-profits that led me back into sports. Professional athletes often want to give back, and in doing so seek to set up foundations. In assisting current and former athletes with their non-profit legal needs, I found myself in meetings with players and their families, who would often ask: “Why couldn’t you have been there in the beginning?” As I learned more and more about the legal and business management needs of professional athletes, I realized the need for quality advisors who genuinely cared about every aspect of their clients’ lives. The pressures and responsibilities that accompany a professional sports career can be overwhelming for a young man and his family, and many athletes do not have the support system or proper advisors to help them make the most of the opportunity. After a great deal of research (and prayer!) I knew it would be nearly impossible to break into the business. But I also knew, deep down in my heart, that it was what I was born to do. Sports agency (at least the way I approach it) fits my skill set and personality perfectly. It goes way beyond a love of sports. It’s a passion for serving others, and doing what’s right in order to help young adults make the most of their God-given potential, both on and off the field.
Q: Have you found that being a woman in a predominately male industry has demanded you to work harder than most?
Kelli: One of my mentors, a former Lieutenant Governor, is an amazing, strong woman who once told me “As a woman, you will have to work twice as hard to be thought half as good.” But I actually enjoy the challenge of it! One of the keys to success in this business is being unique, and differentiating yourself from the competition. I’m automatically different from the vast majority of agents, but it has been up to me to make sure that is a positive, not a negative. Certainly I’ve had to work hard at gaining credibility and acceptance. But in this business, everyone works hard. I just knew from the very beginning that I would have to carry myself professionally, outwork everyone, and diligently pursue the knowledge and wisdom I needed to be successful. I also knew that relationships would be key – as they are in any field of work – so I had to get out of my comfort zone and be proactive in meeting and getting to know everyone I needed to know. It takes time to develop a rapport with people, and to earn respect. But now, nearly eight years later, I’ve come a long way. And some of my dearest friends are in the industry.
Q: How does your faith direct your daily decisions with your clients?
Kelli: My faith impacts every aspect of my life, more than most people know. I’m not overly vocal about my faith, but at the same time most people – including all my clients – know that my faith is important to me. In fact, it is the reason why I do what I do. When my mind and my own understanding told me to run away from this business, my heart told me it was right where I was supposed to be. It was a conviction, a stirring in my spirit that I absolutely could not ignore. And my faith in God is what anchors me and gets me through even the most difficult days. I know I’m not alone, and that if I need wisdom on how to handle any situation, I can pray and He will lead me in the right direction. My ultimate goal is simply to become everything He created me to be, which requires a much higher standard than just being ethical or moral. Am I perfect? I wish. But that’s the beauty of His amazing grace.
My clients all know that if they need anything, they can reach out to me. It’s not uncommon for us to pray together and talk about life. I sincerely hope that I am a light and an encouragement to each of them. This off-season, I am taking all my players who want to go on a mission trip to Haiti, which I am beyond excited about. It will be a time of growth and bonding, as well as a time of serving others and seeing God at work. I cannot wait.
Q: Take our readers through a typical day in your life.
Kelli: Is there a typical day in the life of an agent? It really depends on the time of year. I get up fairly early every day for a run and/or workout and devotional time. I travel often, but when I’m home I go into the office and take care of whatever needs to be done. This is always a mix of regular legal work and work for my athletes. I may be speaking with numerous teams about a free agent. I may be drafting a motion for summary judgment, taking a deposition or attending a pre-trial conference. I may be looking for off-season condos for veteran players, studying a specific issue in the CBA or preparing for grievance proceedings on behalf of a player. It is my nature, as a litigator, to be very detailed and organized, so my office is full of lists, files and binders of information. I am constantly studying, and I tend to be a workaholic. I am also big on communication and relationships, so I am on my phone quite a bit. I rarely get through the day without 60-100 phone calls, and many more text messages and emails. As a night owl, I typically work late…until at least 11:00 or midnight. During football season, I travel to college games on Saturdays and my clients’ games on Sundays and Mondays. And when recruiting heats up I travel a great deal during the week as well. January through the draft is a blur, filled with travel and preparing clients not only for the Combine but for their new life. But through it all I am very blessed with incredible friends, a supportive family and an amazing staff that make it possible for me to be all I need to be. I could never do it alone. No one can.
Q: Do you believe a law degree has separated you from other agents who do not have such a degree?
Kelli: Most NFL agents now have a law degree, or at least a graduate degree, since it is required for certification (with limited exceptions). As I already mentioned, a major key to success is differentiating yourself in a way that appeals to the type of players you want to represent. For me, having a successful law practice was what initially set me apart. I became a partner in my law firm (only the 3rd women since the 1960’s to do so). I worked extremely hard to overcome obstacles and reach my goals as an attorney, which translates well into the uber-competative field of sports agency. Just because an agent has a law degree doesn’t mean he or she is experienced in complex legal matters or negotiations. So for me, that gave me an edge. On the flip side, just having experience as a practicing attorney does not necessarily qualify someone to be an effective agent. Therefore, I had to prove that my experience and credibility as an attorney was actually beneficial to my clients. And I believe it has been. While focusing on becoming a great agent, I’ve never lost my broader perspective as an attorney and advocate for my client on all fronts.
Just this year, I actually took an “of counsel” role in my firm so that I could focus more on my growing agency. But even though I am semi-retired from my law practice, it has been one of my most successful and exciting years to date. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court granted our Petition for Certiorari in one of my cases and summarily reversed a decision of the Oklahoma Supreme Court against a client. Though I had really hoped for the opportunity to argue the case before SCOTUS, the client was incredibly pleased with a per curium opinion. And I am honored to now be admitted before the U.S. Supreme Court. I also recently contributed to an e-book on nonprofit law published on Amazon.com, and continue to speak at conferences and universities on sports law and nonprofit law issues. Finally, I was appointed by the Oklahoma Bar President to serve on the Professional Responsibility Tribunal for the State of Oklahoma, and have served as presiding master in a number of disciplinary and reinstatement cases. It is an honor and a responsibility I take very seriously. Even as I continue to move further away from full-time law practice, I still believe that being an officer of the court only makes me a better agent.
Q: What advice do you have for other women who may be looking to break into the sports agency field?
Kelli: The advice I have for a woman getting into sports agency is virtually the same as my advice to anyone – male or female: know what you’re getting into, and know why you’re getting into it. It has to go beyond a love for sports or a desire to work with athletes. It must be a deep-rooted passion for serving, fighting for and protecting others. You must be willing to put in the hours, learn everything you need to learn (and never stop learning), and develop a strong network. Find great mentors and attach yourself at the hip to them. Funding is essential, as sports agency is a VERY expensive business. My specific advice to women: be on your game. Know what you need to know. Carry yourself with dignity, professionalism and grace. There will be players and families who reject you simply because you are a woman. But for the right players, you will be exactly what they and their families need. Be confident, be bold. And be determined to become exactly what it is you were destined to be.
Q: What are some of your personal goals/goals for KMM in the future?
Kelli: I am truly excited about where KMM is at this point. We have great clients, and I look forward to adding several clients, who are terrific players and people, yearly. The KMM group has definitely become a family, and a tight-knit one at that. We are growing our roster and expanding what we do for our clients in so many exciting ways. But I never, ever want to lose sight of the original goal: to serve each individual client fully, from the day he first says “yes” to his second career and retirement. I sincerely want each of our clients to look back when they are 35, 45, 55 years old and say: “Thank you for helping me become the man, the husband, the father, the businessman, and the community leader I am today.” Then, and only then, will I know I have done my job and fulfilled my calling.