Headline Hockey Recruiting Sports Agents

Rookie Duties: Adjusting My Initial Plans

This is the second post in Scott Deady’s new column: Rookie Duties.  The aim is to provide a glimpse into the day-to-day life of an agent breaking into the industry.  Enjoy this week’s entry.  To read last week’s post, click here.

For the first time since I was 5 years old, I’m not enrolled in school for this Fall. I thought that by getting a job before graduation, I’d be avoiding the anxiety that comes with not knowing where my life is headed. For most people that start the “real world” in a standard 9-5 desk job that might be the case – you still have a supervisor handing you assignments, the only difference is that this person now signs your paycheck instead of your grade report. But where you’re your own boss, things become a little more difficult. Besides the fact that I don’t have any prescribed deadlines to meet, my current profession won’t be adding any funds to my checking account anytime soon.  At my firm, we don’t charge any commissions up front – instead we bill our clients at the end of the playing season. So even if I were to sign an athlete to a contract for this upcoming season, which isn’t likely to happen, I wouldn’t see any income until the Spring of 2010. I should note that while our Hockey Division does currently have a client, who I’ll discuss in more detail below, my partners and I decided to waive our commission for the upcoming playing season mainly because the low average salary at the particular playing level would provide negligible income to the firm. While this obviously won’t be standard practice with the firm, my partners and I also recognized the fact that my first client will actually provide me with some additional value in the form of experience.

Although my good fortune in securing my position certainly makes the financial sacrifice worth it, the reality is that with loan payments beginning in December I’m going to need to find income somewhere. My partners understand the situation and have allowed me to work outside of my normal duties in order to generate some cash to pay the bills. Luckily, I have a law J.D. to fall back on and my plan is to work independently as an immigration attorney until the hockey division starts generating some real revenue. However, with my results for the Ohio Bar Exam not being released until October 30, my law degree is basically useless for now. Thus, until I receive my license to practice law, I’ll be working nights at two separate hockey training facilities in the Chicagoland area while I spend my days putting the hockey division together. Wondering what my hockey division playbook looks like? Well here you go…

As I mentioned in my first entry, while participating in international tournaments in high school, I befriended numerous players from the Moscow area. I’ve kept in contact with them throughout the years and several of them are currently playing in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) – Russia’s “equivalent” to our NHL. Although the salaries might not be as high, and while the stability of the league still remains in question, the average KHL player still earns around $600,000 – tax free. My original strategy was to travel to Moscow immediately following the Bar Exam to begin recruiting clients throughout Russia. This way I could establish a respectable client base from my friends that are already playing professionally and build from there. Similar to my stateside operations, however, I’ve run into a few speed bumps across seas.

Years of the NHL “stealing” talent from the Russian clubs that have spent thousands of dollars developing it, needless to say, has not improved the less than favorable impression that Russian hockey officials already had of Americans – especially American sports agents. Up until 2005, the Russian Ice Hockey Federation and the NHL were both parties to an international transfer agreement. Under the pact, if the NHL wanted the rights to a player currently under contract with a foreign club, the NHL team could draft the player and then buyout the existing contract by providing a one-time, set compensation amount of $200,000 USD. When the previous agreement expired, most of the participating countries signed onto the new, similar contract – however Russia has refused to participate. With players like Ovechkin, Malkin, and Semin making millions for their current NHL teams, the Russians want the compensation amount to be negotiated between the individual Russian and NHL clubs on a player-by-player basis.  The NHL, however, feels as though this would only create a situation where the NHL clubs might never meet exorbitant demands made by the Russian teams. Last summer a truce was reached where the NHL and KHL agreed to refrain from targeting players in each other’s leagues that were still under contract with their respective clubs. However, the tension between the leagues certainly remains intact.

As a result of this ongoing battle between the NHL and KHL, and also due to the close ties between the KHL officials and the Russian government itself, an American sports agent wanting to recruit talent in Moscow and negotiate contracts with KHL clubs needs to be very careful of who he deals with. Unlike in the United States, the Russian government itself is responsible for regulating sports within its borders, including the accreditation of agents. Since I would also need the Russian government’s permission to simply enter the country, broadcasting myself as an American agent coming to Russia might not be the best idea. Thus, throughout the immigration process, I’ve tried to be very careful and stress the fact that I intend to work with Russian teams – not simply ship their best athletes off to North American clubs. Once I finally receive my visa from the Russian Federation, I’ll be able to plan the first of my semi-annual trips to Moscow to recruit clients and negotiate their contracts with either a Russian or North American club. However, my caution throughout this process has slowed the immigration process and pushed back my original timeline a bit, so I’ll have to adjust accordingly. While I initially wanted to hold off on my work in the United States until I return from Russia with a more impressive client roster and the credibility that follows it, I don’t want to waste any time. So until I get my visa, it’s time to start developing the hockey division on the home front.

As of August 1, our firm has one official hockey client named Matt (in order to preserve client confidentiality, throughout this column I’ll simply refer to clients by their first name only). Matt is another Chicago native who I grew up playing club hockey with. After spending two years playing junior hockey in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) and four seasons competing at the NCAA DIII level, Matt wants to continue his career, and my job is to find him a spot on a minor pro team somewhere in the United States.

While I was studying for the Bar, Matt was doing all of his own promotion. He had contacted numerous teams in the International Hockey League (IHL), the Central Hockey League (CHL), the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL), and others. After I sat for the Bar, Matt forwarded me all of his correspondence, and I basically ran with it. Many of the teams at these levels have both open free agent camps followed by a main camp, which is invite only. Seeing as fees for the free agent camps average around $200 per camp, my job is to try to get Matt an invite to a main camp without attending the open tryout. So far this has been fairly difficult. Since Matt hasn’t proved himself at the pro level yet, GMs are much more inclined to have him pay the fees in order to get his look. If I can’t get Matt directly into a main camp, I have to work with Matt to decide which camps of those available are worth it. His chances of making a team as well as the overall camp experience are the top two factors we consider in our evaluation.

One thing I’ve learned so far is that while there are some really good guys running these teams, just like almost every other walk of life there are still people who refuse to return calls and emails. Maybe it’s just because some teams are already set, but you’d think that when an agent calls you’d want to get back to him. I mean, who knows what players the agent might be representing down the road. Unfortunately, many clubs I’ve tried to contact simply don’t understand this concept.

But like I said, not all of the front office officials I’ve dealt with are like this. In contrast, two coaches in particular have been more than willing to sit on the phone with me and discuss Matt’s abilities. For example, while one CHL coach explained that he was looking for a defenseman that could really move the puck and direct a power play (Matt is more of a stay-at-home defenseman), he still acknowledged that things happen and maybe he’d be calling me about Matt down the road. I explained that we expect Matt to sign with a CHL team for this season and that he’d probably get a good look at him in the near future. I also made a point to let him know that if he ever needed anything, he should feel free to give me a call. While I might not have gotten Matt on the team now, it’s a good step letting them know who Matt is. And not only that – I now have another coach who understands I’m a good guy who’s easy to deal with. Maybe next time I come calling on his club, the coach is in a better position to help. It all comes down to establishing solid relationships with people that can help you succeed.

When I was working at IMG, I recall being told that networking is about adding value to another. You don’t make meaningful contacts by asking for favors, you show that by knowing you it benefits them. I’ve tried to keep that idea close to heart whenever dealing with a person who could potentially help me in my career and I think it’s something important that you should keep in mind no matter what industry you find yourself working in.

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