I first learned about Ken Staninger and Stinger Sports Group over 4 years ago, when I covered the NFL agent and his company in an Agent Spotlight piece on this website. The obvious thing that sticks out about Staninger is that he is based in Missoula, Montana, which is the 2nd largest city in Montana, but certainly not a hotbed for athletic talent. Yet even though Staninger is not surrounded by 5-star, blue chip athletes in his backyard, he has done a remarkable job attracting new clientele through decades of operating as a sports agent. The following is an interview that I recently conducted with Staninger.
Darren Heitner: What initially inspired you to create Stinger Sports Group?
Ken Staninger: I initially got interested in the sports representation business back in the 70’s when few NFL teams would scout or consider small college players. I felt there was a need to market and promote these athletes even though they were not playing at USC or Ohio State. Having a business degree motivated me to dive into this and see what I could accomplish.
Darren Heitner: What are the positives and negatives of operating a football agency out of Missoula, Montana?
Ken Staninger: There are many positives in working out of Missoula, Montana. The qualities of the people are unmatched for honesty and work ethic. Living in Montana keeps me centered. The foundation for my business has always been about trust, transparency, honesty, and integrity and that will never change. The negative part of living where I do is that I need to recruit harder then maybe some of the other agencies that have a blue chip I-A program or an NFL team in their back yard.
Darren Heitner: How much work do you do outside of the NFL? What are your thoughts on the current state of the UFL after the Hartford team recently folded?
Ken Staninger: I have for worked 25 years with the CFL and currently have 5 clients playing in that league. I have also worked with the USFL, World FB League, Arena 1 and 2, XFL, NFL Europe as well.
I am not sure what to think about the current situation regarding the UFL. It is very good football and is watched closely by the NFL personal. I do think they will play even with only 4 teams. It is unfortunate that Hartford has backed out.
Darren Heitner: What is your schedule like during the NFL season? Do you make it a point to visit all of your clients during at least 1 regular season game?
Ken Staninger: My schedule changes from year to year. I try to see all of my active players during the season, however some years scheduling this is difficult. I watch most all of the games during the year. This keeps me up to date with players, teams and injuries.
Darren Heitner: I see that you represented one of my favorite players – Mark Rypien. Can you provide me with some stories about your relationship with Mark that I may not know? For instance, how did you go about recruiting him, and what was your most interesting contract negotiation involving Mark?
Ken Staninger: Mark and I remain very close friends. You might say he and I have been through almost everything together. It has been a relationship of peaks and valleys. I will always remember when I had to make the call to tell him his dad had died of a massive heart attack at the age of 54. I was involved in Mark and Annette’s wedding and I was there for them when they went thru the painful 2 years while their son Andrew suffered with brain cancer, who eventually passed away.
I recruited Mark out of Washington State University. He and I connected very quickly and I connected well with his mom and dad. That was an important factor to Mark as they were a close family unit. I won out over some very big names at the time and felt very fortunate to get the opportunity to work with Mark and his family. Mark liked to take chances so when the Redskins would not give us a long term deal after the 1990 season, we rolled the dice and did a one year deal going into the 1991 season. Needless to say that paid off big time as that was the year Mark led the Redskins to a Super Bowl victory and Mark was named MVP. The following spring year contract negotiations with Charley Casserly and Mr. Jack Kent Cook were interesting. At one point I took Annette, who is a fiery red head, to one of our meetings. She had the opportunity to speak her mind and Charley took note. Charley will always remember when Annette showed up at the meeting.
Darren Heitner: Where do you have your clients go through preparation for the NFL Draft? How involved are you in that preparation process?
Ken Staninger: Some of my clients decide to stay on campus and prepare for the combine. A good number have worked with Athletes Performance, Plex Performance, and Velocity Training. I make sure that the players are training hard and stress the importance of them being prepared. I help them focus on some of the different skill sets that will help them show themselves well. This time of the year I am doing a lot of pre-draft marketing, staying in close communication to the network of NFL personnel I have established over the past 30 years.
Darren Heitner: How many players do you currently have on NFL rosters? Which players are entering their final year before free agency?
Ken Staninger: I currently have 10 players on active rosters. I have three players who are entering their last year of their contracts. Jake Scott–OG–Tenn, Pat McQuistan–OT–Tenn., and Bear Pascoe–TE–NY Giants
Darren Heitner: What do you do for your clients in the area of Social Media Strategies? What kind of off-field opportunities have you been able to procure for your clients?
Ken Staninger: For Stinger Sports Group offering social media strategies to our clients is a new element of our overall marketing strategy for those players who wish to participate. Building social media strategies for athletes requires understanding your client’s personality and finding opportunities for them to connect with the online community as well as activating sponsors.
Darren Heitner: What suggestions would you give to those hoping to one day be successful NFL agents?
Ken Staninger: For anyone who wants to go into this business I recommend some formal training. Business, Marketing, Law, PR, and any sales training are all good foundations for the business. Then go to work for one of the respected agencies in the business to learn how it all works. Many of them offer internships prior to hiring. It is a relationship business. It takes time to learn the recruiting process and even more time to get to know the NFL personnel that you must deal with on a daily basis.
Darren Heitner: Do you currently offer any internship opportunities?
Ken Staninger: I have offered internships in the past, however, as of right now we currently do not have any internship opportunities.