Sports Agents

Interview With The Agents: Matthew Leist And Eric Dounn

LAA Sports is a team and a family.  Matthew Leist, CFO for LAA Sports is an NFLPA Certified Contract Advisor originally from New York.  He and Zac Hiller, Founder and CEO of LAA Sports, grew up together.  Their prior relationship was built on trustworthiness and hard work, which made him an excellent fit for the agency.  Eric Dounn is from South Florida and is the Director of Marketing for LAA.  Eric caught the eye of Hiller when Hiller saw Dounn’s passion and ability to maximize the memorabilia space for his clients, making sure they are capitalizing on their earning potential.

Zac Hiller and Matthew Leist

The first thing that strikes you when speaking to Matthew and Eric is their unbridled passion for their clients. They want to build more than an agency; they want to build a brand known for loyalty and integrity.  One this is clear with this team; their impressive roster of clients will always come first. Sports Agent Blog sat down with Matthew and Eric to discuss their path, their bond, and what kind of representation clients can expect when joining their agency.

SAB: What do you think defines the best agents and agencies?  What is the “it” factor that LAA Sports possesses?     

ML: I believe the best agents and agencies are the people who stick by their client every step of the way, no matter what. The agent a client knows they can lean on and turn to any time, sport or otherwise.  The “it” factor that LAA sports possesses is these qualities more surmised as “loyalty.” Loyalty is the most important part of any relationship and more specifically the agent-client relationship, which is why we are “LAA.”

ED:  I think the term “best agent” is subjective. I think there are agencies that have been in the business for 40 or 50+ years and have built a solid foundation while representing big names but that does not mean they are the “best agents”. That just means they represent famous people. To me this business is all about personal relationships and the best agent would be the one a client can know is always in their corner even outside of sports. That is the main thing we focus on with our clients: having and building that long-term relationship with their best interest always first.

SAB: You both seemed to take a methodical approach to how you developed your mastery of football and becoming agents.  What drew you both to this career path?

ML:  What drove me to become a sports agent was seeing Zac making moves in the industry. Zac and I started a nightlife business when we were teens that went global. While that was going on, Zac had met an agent that opened his eyes to the sports representation world. Zac signed the NFL’s best running back, Dalvin Cook, and asked if I wanted to get involved. He knew we worked very well together from our prior company and thought it would be an easy transition for me to apply the skills I had learned. Right then, and there I knew I wanted to fulfill a childhood dream of becoming the best agent in the world.   

Zay Flowers and Eric Dounn

ED: Odd for me being that I played basketball my entire life, but always enjoyed watching football. I knew from an early age I wanted to work in sports. Growing up, I used to collect autographs.  As I got older, I started building relationships with the players I was receiving autographs from, which then turned into doing business with them. It came full circle for me when I took the next step in representing them. It is truly a blessing when I see little kids ask my clients for autographs and I always encourage them to sign for the young fans, because that used to be me.

SAB: I listened to an interview Zac Hiller gave with “Beyond the Helmet,” and the one thing that struck me as I listened was the “leave it all out on the field” approach.  Do you both think it is difficult to navigate this current social media/publicity culture with quietly making moves for the client behind the scenes?  

ED:  Today’s generation is all about perception. What we see on social media and not what’s actually real. The power of social media can hurt you just as much as it can help. One thing we teach our guys is to use it wisely. Every athlete is different but we will always stress to our clients that they are their own corporations and they must treat every tweet, post or story like a business because the public is always watching.

SAB: You both have recruited some impressive names recently.  Tell me about your college recruits.

ML: A few of the top guys I recruited are now national champions. James Cook and Kearis Jackson of the Georgia Bulldogs. When I look to recruit a player, we want not only a great football player but also a good person off the field. They are a great talent on the field, but an even better person off the field.

James Cook is an extremely fast and versatile running back who has a skill set that cannot be taught.  Cook has the ability to make defenders miss and stop on a dime.  He is one of the best pass-catching running backs coming out of college in recent years.  Scouts love him, and he will be amazing to watch grow into a pro and play on Sundays.  James is one of seven siblings.

Growing up, Kearis was always outside running around with a football in his hands. He was never the type to be in the house playing video games, which seems boring to him. He was known for being one of the fastest kids in the nation at the age of 9 years old, and had broken multiple records playing little league football. He was always active and wanted to be around some type of sport whether it is track or football. Everyone looked at him as one of the top athletes in my county and nation at such a young age.  Once he reached high school, everyone was wondering what He will go to college for, whether it’ll be football or track. He kept everyone guessing because He did both sports all the way until it was time for him to graduate. He had become a state champion in both sports. When it came to signing day, He chose football over track and ended up at the University of Georgia after holding 34 Division 1 offers. 

ED: To give you an idea of one of the top guys I have recruited and signed for NIL would be Boston college wide receiver Zay Flowers. When I look to recruit a player, we want not only a great football player but also a good person off the field. This guy definitely fits that mold.  He is a great talent on and off the field, but an even better person off the field.

Zay Flowers played travel and high school basketball. He is an extremely fast and versatile wide receiver who has a skill set that cannot be taught. He has the ability to make defenders miss and stop on a dime. Scouts love him and it will be amazing to watch him grow into a pro and play on Sundays. Zay is one of 14 brothers and sisters. 

SAB: I can see the past connections between the members of the LAA Sports team, so it makes sense that there was a foundation of trust when bringing people onto the squad.  Moving forward, what is the aspect of client representation that you want LAA Sports to be known for?  

ML: LAA sports is a boutique agency. The members of the team all have a past connection. Zac and I go all the way back to our sleep away camp days at the age of seven. Zac knew that he could always rely on me no matter what or when something needed to get done. Moving forward, we are looking for people just like us. Someone that will put their client’s best interest first, with honesty, Loyalty and integrity. LAA is all about Loyalty!

ED:  We have a management internship program that was created to find certain types of individuals who we think can add value to our team. Not everyone is built to be in this business, but everyone wants to be involved. This program allows us to decipher who has what it takes to be part of LAA. We stand for loyalty and over time trust can be built. This is a tough business which takes countless hours and can get very stressful if you can’t handle the pressure. We don’t allow anyone to be a part of the LAA brand, but when we find the right people, we are going to expand when the time is right. Remember it is not about us, but solely about the clients and what is best for them.

SAB: The NIL space is constantly shifting.  Tell me about how LAA Sports is evolving with this ever-changing arena?

ED:  The new NIL rules that started this year we feel are great for college athletes. It was long overdue for these kids who generate so much revenue for their schools but really gain nothing monetarily to show for it. Yes, they are on full scholarship which is great, but it is nice for an athlete to get their Name, Image and Likeness out there to build their own brand and generate revenue for themselves. Also teaches them at a young age this is a business and to treat it as such, starting from the day they step foot on campus.

ML: With the NIL constantly shifting we still have the same approach. Players should emphasize being the best possible football player they can be, and the rest will come. Clients cannot lose focus on what is most important, which is football. Your client may get distracted and not worry about the bigger picture which is their lifelong dream of playing in the NFL.

SAB: Do you think relatability plays a role for clients when they decide to have your agency handle representation?

ED:  Yes. I couldn’t agree more that being a little younger gives us a better edge than most because of the fact that we can relate to college kids. We are all young and play a role of like the big brother to them. I strongly believe they feel the energy we have and what we bring to each one of our guys goes a long way. They know they can tell us everything and anything that is going on whether it is on or off the field.

ML: I believe relatability plays a massive role for clients when they decide to have LAA represent them because without being able to relate to your person, there is no trust or common ground. My clients are my family for life, not just during the life of their contract so I want them to feel the brotherhood and trust LAA.