The following interview was conducted by our Assistant Editor, Cameron Chung. Jason Belzer is the founder and president of GAME Inc which specializes in the management and marketing of coaches. Jason is also a sports business contributor to Forbes and an adjunct professor of Sports Management and Law at Rutgers University. You can follow Jason on Twitter @JasonBelzer.
(1) When did you realize that you wanted to pursue a career in the sports agency industry? What specifically interested you in the industry?
I pretty much knew early on in college that I wanted to work in sports representation in some capacity. I was taking a marketing course (similar to one of these Douglas James courses) to try and learn more about the industry and marketing in general. I learnt so much and I found it so helpful. Before doing the course, I didn’t know much about the internet or marketing, so it was a really useful thing for me to do. Since so much business is done online nowadays, I knew that I would have to focus on it. My professor then had a women’s basketball agent come in as a guest speaker in class one day and after listening to him, I was hooked. After researching the industry (which back then was not nearly as easy as it is today), I sent out resumes to as many agencies as possible. I got one reply from a broadcasting agency that worked with coaches and that was how my career began.
(2) Where did you go to college as an undergrad? Did you pursue any graduate degrees or any internships to further market yourself in the sports industry?
I have undergraduate degrees in both sports management and political science from Rutgers, and also received my Juris Doctorate from Rutgers Law School. I interned for the aforementioned broadcasting agency while in school and became exposed to the coaching representation business. I started GAME, Inc. after finishing my undergraduate degree, in large part because there weren’t any agencies offering someone my age the opportunity to represent people right out of the gate. I decided to go to law school to enhance my personal brand and build more credibility while running the agency.
(3) Why did you choose to work with coaches as opposed to players?
While I had some interest in representing players initially, I knew I wanted to work in college sports in some capacity. Since you couldn’t represent college athletes, working with coaches was the obvious choice. After getting a chance to work with athletes, I realized that not only was that side of the agency business far more cutthroat, but it was also much more like babysitting than actual representation. Coaches are usually much older and mature, and there is far more loyalty. Not to mention the barriers to entry were much lower for me, especially right out of college.
(4) When did you feel ready to start your own company? As a follow up, what has been the most surprising and/or challenging aspect of running your own business?
I don’t think I was ready. It was based on the limited opportunities for me to work in the agency business as many firms didn’t want to hire me at my age/experience. The only opportunities available after I graduated paid very little and were essentially assistant positions. I wanted to represent coaches and given there’s no licensing or requirements to do that, I decided to go for it and create my own company. The most difficult part is building my brand and getting people to actually trust I was capable of delivering on my promises. I focused (and still do) first and foremost on delivering value to people, without having the expectation of having some sort of financial benefit in return. The truth is that while you may not always be the smartest person in the room, it doesn’t mean you can’t work the hardest. There’s always a way to deliver value to someone, no matter what their stature of position in life. It’s your job to figure out how to do it.
(5) What are the similarities and differences in the recruitment process for you compared to a typical sports agent that works with players as opposed to coaches?
They are in many ways the same. That being said, many coaches have been in the business for a long time and use the same attorney or agent their entire career. Thus when you are breaking into the business you are more likely to have success recruiting young assistants who will have an opportunity to move up the ranks in a few years. For coaches, some of them will want you to get them opportunities before they sign. Of course, sometimes your relationships with athletic directors and general managers (the people doing the hiring) are more valuable than the clients you have.
(6) Similar to our founder, Darren Heitner, you write for Forbes and teach at a university while running your own company. How has your relationship with Darren impacted your career?
I met Darren when we were both still in college. We’ve pursued careers in the same industry, although we took different paths. Anyone that’s worked in sports will tell you that you tend to see the same people going up the ladder as you do going down, which is why it’s important to maintain (good) relationships with everyone you meet. Your success in the sports business will be dependent much more on who you know that what you know, and so becoming close with your peers is a necessity to making it. Darren has been invaluable to helping me get to where I am today, and I hope I’ve been able to do the same for him.
(7) What aspect of your career are you most proud of?
That I’ve been able to deliver great results for my clients so consistently. Many people didn’t give me a chance early on in the business, and those that did certainly took a risk. The fact that I’ve been able to prove again and again that I deliver on what I promise means that I can consider myself a success. I hope the work I’ve done at such a young age serves as an inspiration to people looking to make similar inroads in sports.
(8) What advice do you have for students and young professionals looking to enter the sports agency business?
The reality is, barrier to entry is extremely high in sports representation. The large agencies represent the majority of the worthwhile clients and have tons of resources. As such, if you stand a chance you have to find ways of differentiating yourself. More importantly, you should be flexible in the type of jobs your willing to do. Working with talent doesn’t always mean you have to be negotiating contracts. There are so many roles out there that can make you an integral part of someone’s team, so you should focus on figuring out how you can bring value to someone first and foremost.