Mark Slough is a man who has achieved his dream of becoming a sports agent with persistence and hard work. He holds a connection with all his clients (which includes Patriots RB Sammy Morris and Cowboys DT Jay Ratliff) that goes beyond just paperwork. Slough formerly worked in real estate and corporate law, but left at first chance to follow his dream. He has built up a successful agency, Merge Sports and Entertainment, which started when Slough began recruiting and representing clients from his alma maters, Abilene Christian and Baylor, in 1999, and has grown ever since.
Richard Kimsey: Can you give me a bio and the career path you took to where you are today?
Mark Slough: http://www.mergegroup.net/ssp/about_us
RK: What is a typical day for you, if there is one?
MS: One thing I love about this job is that it is anything but typical.Each day brings its own unique challenges and assignments whether that might be responding to an interview request, discussing a potential marketing deal, or just engaging in conversations with clients that run the gamut in topics. I talk to my clients regularly…sometimes it’s football related but often times it’s not.
RK: You have a Twitter account, what made you decide to create one and do you feel it can help your business?
MS: Funny story – my wife was watching Oprah who decided to do an entire show on Twittering. I happened to catch the show and thought it might be fun. Now that I’m on I’m hooked. I think it’s a great way to stay on top of news about the NFL and get tidbits on information that might not be readily available elsewhere.
RK: Who was your first client and how did you come to work together?
MS: My first client was Justin Lucas, a safety out of Abilene Christian. He played several years with the Arizona Cardinals and is now out of the game. As you know it’s hard to break into this business so I went back to my alma mater to see if I could convince someone to give me a shot. Justin did and the first year he was able to land on the Cardinal’s practice squad.
The next year I was able to pick up Sammy Morris out of Texas Tech and he’s been with me his entire NFL career – about to enter season 10 with the New England Patriots
RK: How do you target and recruit potential clients?
MS: I am very intentional about how I recruit. I look for connections that provide me an opportunity to get to know a prospect in a way that might be difficult otherwise. For example, if he played at a school where I’ve represented some of his teammates, those guys can give me insight into that player that is priceless. Same goes for schools where I know coaches. In some cases, particularly as I get older, I am beginning to find that I may know or have a relationship with a prospect’s parent which can provide an immediate sense of comfort and trust.
RK: What do you do for clients pre-draft to try and improve their chances to get picked?
MS: Like everyone else, I provide combine training (at no expense to the player) to those guys headed to Indy for the combine. I will also set up interviews for the player when I believe there is something interesting or insightful that might be uncovered in an interview setting that might be useful information to NFL scouts and personnel staff. For example, Paul Smith, QB at Jacksonville was coming out of Tulsa a couple of years ago and was not considered to have protype NFL QB size. But I knew Paul had a passion and understanding of the game that would allow him to succeed regardless of how tall he was once given the opportunity to play. So we set up interviews which allowed him to talk about growing up as a coach’s son and how that has provided him with a keen insight into the position of QB. And I made sure that all the teams got copies or transcripts of the interviews.
RK: What do you do for a client when they do not get drafted?
MS: Lots and lots of phone calls and emails. If they are viewed as a priority free agent then it’s a bit easier because you’ll have numerous teams calling to convince you to sign with them. But if those calls aren’t coming then you have to work hard and fast to try to get them in a door. Sometimes all you can do is get them invited to the first mini-camp on a tryout basis. But for guys who aren’t getting calls as a free agent, those tryout camps are a great opportunity to catch a coaches eye and get signed.
RK: If one of your clients fails to make an NFL roster, what process ensues to find a team and league for them?
MS: I will immediately get film out to CFL teams and try to get those guys in for workouts. It’s much more difficult to find jobs now that the AFL has suspended play.
RK: What plans do you have for continuing to grow Merge Sports and Entertainment?
MS: I’m working on some things right now that I can’t really talk about but stay tuned.
RK: What do you think sets Merge Sports and Entertainment apart from other agencies?
MS: First it’s a commitment to personal attention and constant communication. The number one reason most guys fire their agent is because they never hear from the agent. It’s not because of a bad contract or the like. Players just want to know that you, the agent, are paying attention to them, watching their games, asking what you can do for them….just lending an ear. Secondly, we will never compromise on character – not from us nor from our clients. I don’t care how good a prospect one might be – if there are issues of character then it’s not for us. We are looking for fit and it all starts with character.
RK: As someone who has both, which degree would you say is better for a sports agent, a JD or MBA, and why?
MS: I think each provides certain advantages over the other, but I believe the better question is “what would you want to be doing if you weren’t a sports agent?” If you think you’d like to practice law, then go that route. If you see yourself flourishing in more of a business-oriented role then pursue the MBA.
RK: What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the industry?
MS: Don’t take no for an answer. You must be persistent and do whatever it takes to find your point of entry. Pour over every inch of the Sports Business Journal and write down the names of companies and executives in the industry. Start compiling a contact list. Get on LinkedIn and join sports marketing and sports business groups. Attend conferences. Do whatever you have to do to get in the door.
RK: Do you offer internships and how would someone apply?
MS: Not at this time.