Sports Agent Interview:
with Matthew Vuckovich
Steve Kauffman is a 58 year-old sports agent and he runs Kauffman Sports Management Group (www.kauffmansports.com) in Malibu, California. Mr. Kauffman has been in the business for a long time and has extreme amount of knowledge to share about the sports agent industry. Mr. Kauffman’s educational background includes a CPA and a J.D. He started out doing tax returns in the 1970’s and has worked with some legendary athletes such as Muhammad Ali and basketball Hall-of-Famer, Julius Erving. Kauffman specializes in representing high-profile athletes in the NBA (Ben Wallace and Dominique Wilkins are among his former clients). Executives and team officials recognize him as one of the top agents in the industry. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to chat with Mr. Kauffman and learn from one of the top agents in this business. This is what he had to say:
Matthew Vuckovich: How did you get started in this industry?
Steve Kauffman: When I got out of law school I began to work for an international accounting firm. I worked under a supervisor with about 15 guys on the same level as myself. The firm got some NBA players as tax clients. My supervisor chose me and I began to do work for those players. Soon after, some of these players asked me to become their agent. Around the same time period a friend of mine, who was an extremely well-known high school coach asked me to take over as Commissioner of what was then known as the Eastern League. I reformed the league into the Continental Basketball Association (CBA). I served as Commissioner, while working full-time at a law firm and starting my sports agency work. I met tons of people through my endeavors in the new league. There was a man who I became friends with, Marty Blackman. He was the first guy ever to market athletes in a big time manner. He said, sometimes players change agents like they change their underwear. I basically helped co-rep a player by the name of Harvey Catchings. Catchings became a real good friend of mine. I was asked by Harvey‘s teammate Julius Erving to do some local legal work for him as well. Next thing you know one guy changes his agent and then things started to take off. I began doing tax returns around 26 and I started to represent players around 27.
Matthew Vuckovich: Did you attend law school or grad school? If so, which law school or grad school?
Steve Kauffman: Yes, I attended law school at the University of Pennsylvania Law School (http://www.law.upenn.edu/).
Matthew Vuckovich: Who was your first client (year, sport), and how did you recruit him?
Steve Kauffman: It was a basketball player named Harvey Catchings mentioned above. I was doing tax returns for about 10 to 11 players in the beginning. After meeting Mark Blackman, I co-represented Harvey with him. Blackman had some small connections with Catchings and gave me his phone numbers.
Matthew Vuckovich: How did you handle your first contract negotiation?
Steve Kauffman: My first contract was for Harvey and it was very straight forward. The negotiation was with Pat Williams who later on became a good friend of mine. I was also able to learn a lot from Pat when I was just getting started in the business. There was no Collective Bargaining Agreement back then so everything and anything was negotiable.
Matthew Vuckovich: What is the most important aspect of being a sports agent?
Steve Kauffman: INTEGRITY! I feel that as long as you keep your word that you will succeed in the long run. It’s all about caring about your clients and wanting to see them succeed in their careers. You should care about your clients in their professional lives as well as their personal lives. I’ve seen too many agents not care about the sport and the kids that play it. I am personally motivated by doing the best job that I can do.
Matthew Vuckovich: At what age do you feel an agent will hit his prime/glory years? Why?
Steve Kauffman: I think around 30-32 because that’s when your mental skills should be at a high level. At this age you are also old enough to manage your clients and help them with the rough lives that professionally athletes live. You will also have more wisdom but you are still young enough to hangout and relate to them.
Matthew Vuckovich: What is your opinion of larger agencies with less attention to their clients compared to smaller agencies who counsel more with their clients?
Steve Kauffman: You can be an agent in a big firm and still develop the same rapport with an athlete. Agents in bigger firms sometimes leave the firm because of what they see in their work surroundings and may want to do their business a different way.
Matthew Vuckovich: Where do you see the athlete representation industry going in 10 years?
Steve Kauffman: Unfortunately I think that you may start to see some larger full service firms emerge. You may start to see more firms like CAA and IMG where you have talent agents as well as athlete agents under the same roof. If things really start to take off and these full service agencies really start to develop, you might see them gaining more money and power then before and running the industry. If this were to happen then I would be concerned for the guys out there that represent players on their own because they would get taken out of the picture.
Matthew Vuckovich: Take our readers through a typical day in your life?
Steve Kauffman: There is really no such thing as a typical day in my life. It depends greatly on which sports you work and the time of year.
For example, in basketball you conduct most of your negotiations between July 1st and early September. During that period you are in constant touch with teams, your players, media, and even occasionally other agents. Clients that are temporarily without a job usually like to hear from you very often, whether they come out and say it or not. Except for the stars, professional sports breed much insecurity for the players. I love this time of the year because it can be exciting and intense.
During the season itself you will do a lot of scouting, both live tape and television. (TiVo has been a great blessing to agents). I am usually looking at my own clients and players that may compete with them. Occasionally my scouting can be part of a recruiting process; but mostly my clients these days are direct referrals.
Also pre-July I of course prepare for upcoming negotiations. I apply my own statistical formula which is slightly different from the stat analysis you see on-line.
I am also frequently involved in marketing deals; but the timing, except for shoe endorsement contracts, is unpredictable.
Additionally, during the season, I try to watch every single game my clients play (again thanks to TiVo). You will always see things that are not in the box scores.
Matthew Vuckovich: What advice do you have for people looking to break into the industry?
Steve Kauffman: The athlete representation industry is extremely hard to break into. I truly feel that being an attorney helps in this industry. If you are an attorney, at least you know that you can keep your day job. Actually making it as an agent is just as hard as breaking into it. Unless you hit the lottery and land a major client, you are going to have a rough time starting out. I know several agents that started out as assistants and made their way up the ladder to become agents. The best way is probably to somehow obtain a big client and you then have some credibility to perhaps hookup with an experienced agent.
Matthew Vuckovich: Does your agency provide internships for people looking to break into the industry?
Steve Kauffman: I am a firm believer in having interns for my agency. I have interns year around and normally have about 2 interns a year. I like having them around and I enjoy mentoring them during the year. I feel that this industry has given me so much that the least I can do is help out an aspiring young individual. We also pay our interns for their hard work because I just do not like using unpaid labor even if a kid does get college credit.
Matthew Vuckovich: If you could do one thing to renovate the Sports Agent industry, what would it be and how would you go about accomplishing that goal?
Steve Kauffman: I would like to see the qualifications to become a certified agent become more difficult. I would make the test to become an agent more intensive so that it would be harder to pass. I would also like to see a more in-depth background check in the very beginning for all prospective agents and much stronger enforcement of agent regulations by certain unions.
Matthew Vuckovich: What are some of the things an agent can offer their clients besides the negotiation of contracts, getting endorsements, and others along those lines?
Steve Kauffman: In the past, agents were doing almost everything for their clients. We have done everything from arranging flights to funerals. I think that the agent should oversee everything their client does from playing in the game to investing money. Somebody needs to be in control at all times and always looking out for the betterment of their client. Someone (and most business managers are remiss at this or have conflicts of interest) needs to check/audit their investments. My brother and I have unique backgrounds and can do this part of the job easily.
Matthew Vuckovich: What drives you to represent professional basketball players?
Steve Kauffman: The fact that I could never be one, so I wanted to represent them. I really got into it because I loved sports growing up. My goal in my earlier years was to become an announcer or a writer in the sports industry. I happened to be in some good places at the right time and I LOVE what I do!
Matthew Vuckovich: You have an extremely strong background accompanied with a CPA and a J.D. How has your background helped you with recruiting clients and negotiating contracts?
Steve Kauffman: Having my CPA helped me when I was negotiating contracts and doing my numbers. I think the CPA actually helps me more then my JD. With the added education of the law it helps me when reviewing contracts and going over any legal matters that may arise with my clients. It also stands me in good stead if I want to look into CPA firms for sale in case of buying and adding to my business portfolio for the future.
Matthew Vuckovich: You are recognized as a top agent in the NBA. How were you able to form these strong relationships with executives and team officials within the industry?
Steve Kauffman: With anything in this world, it really takes time to develop any kind of relationship. When you first break into this industry people treat you ok, but you still are the new kid on the block so people want to feel you out. I have always been myself to everyone that I have ever met. I come in with a lot of integrity and I know the game very well which helps me when evaluating situations. It was a very slow process but I think the biggest thing is just being a professional in all matters of life.
Matthew Vuckovich: On behalf of SportsAgentBlog.com and all of our readers, I would like to thank Steve Kauffman for sharing his knowledge and experiences with us today. You can check out his website at Kauffmansports.com. Till next time, be safe and act ethically in the business that you love.