Ever since Jerry Maguire graced our screens over 20 years ago, people have been intrigued by and drawn to the idea of being a professional sports agent. Yet, if you are a shrewd negotiator, possess legal and/or commercial knowledge and are a natural at building networks, then you could be suited to pursuing this career path for real.
If you’re interested and working in the world of professional sport is a dream of yours, then read on. This is how to become a fully licensed sports agent…
1. Research the Profession
As with any potential career decision, you should always research the profession thoroughly. This will give you a clearer indication of what you’re letting yourself in for, including any downsides.
As a sports agent, you would recruit professional and semi-professional athletes and represent them in all matters concerning legal, business or commercial negotiation. You would also be responsible for promoting them and touting their abilities to potential employers. With high-profile athletes, it is likely that you would also work with third parties to secure sponsorship deals, image rights agreements and advertising endorsements.
Most agents get into sports management by joining an agency, although as you become more well-known and influential (or if you manage to recruit a particularly successful athlete), then you can branch out on your own.
Day to day, your role might include:
- attending matches or events – particularly at youth level – to scout for new and talented players/athletes
- engaging with them and attempting to sign them as a client
- establishing your client’s goals and needs, and acting on their behalf to achieve them during negotiations and/or disputes with their employer
- managing your client’s marketing, endorsement and/or business interests
- acting as a media spokesperson on your client’s behalf
- handling all contract and salary negotiations and securing the best possible deal for your client
- finding a new employer for your client if they are released or are seeking to move, taking into account their preferences
- providing sound career guidance and advice to athletes that is in their interest, not yours.
Essential Skills and Qualities
Professional sport can be an extremely competitive environment and not everybody is cut out for it. Therefore, to be a successful sports agent, you will need to possess a certain skillset, including:
- excellent negotiation skills (many athletes hire agents based on their reputation as ruthless negotiators)
- strong communication skills
- the ability to interact with a variety of parties from an array of backgrounds
- good self-promotion skills, both for yourself and for your client
- strong business and commercial awareness
- a basic knowledge of contract law
- the ability to network effectively and cultivate ongoing relationships.
Working Hours and Conditions
The working hours of an agent can be very long and unpredictable. Although you’ll be based out of an office, you will be required to attend many of your clients’ events, as well as those where you are seeking to attract new clients. As a result, there is a lot of travel involved, and due to the nature of the industry, you will be expected to field and make calls 24 hours a day, particularly during busy periods such as transfer windows and drafts.
There is no definitive guide to the kind of money you can make as a sports agent; it depends entirely upon your own success and, more importantly, the success of your clients. Take Dutch-Italian soccer agent Mino Raiola, for example, who spotted something he liked in an unknown Manchester United reserve-team player named Paul Pogba. After convincing him to sign, he transferred him to Italian giants Juventus, before brokering his return to Manchester four years later – a then-world record deal that personally pocketed him a staggering £41 million.
Of course, the reality is that most agents are preoccupied with simply landing their first client. If you are employed by a sports management agency, you may receive a base salary depending on their prestige and reputation. Otherwise, you will only receive a cut of your clients’ playing contracts and/or endorsement deals.
There are no definitive growth figures available for sports agents, but it’s clear that their prominence and influence in most of the world’s major sports is on the increase. Professional athletes – let alone elite, high-profile athletes – represent a miniscule proportion of the world’s working population, so opportunities are relatively scarce. If you can get your foot in the door, however, then there is the potential for plenty of money to be made.
2. Get the Qualifications
Technically, there are no formal education requirements to be an agent; the aforementioned Raiola ran the books in his father’s restaurant, before being hired as an interpreter for a Dutch sports management firm. That said, it can help your career prospects greatly if you possess an undergraduate degree in a relevant field such as business, law or finance, as well as a postgraduate sports management degree that offers internship opportunities. Some of the best courses are offered by:
- Troy University (USA)
- Wingate University (USA)
- AISTS (Switzerland)
- Universidad Europea de Madrid (Spain)
- Audencia Business School (France)
You will also need to be licensed by the relevant authority. All agents and agencies are regulated by and registered with the respective governing bodies of their sport, such as FIFA or the NFL. These regulations are so stringent in some US states (namely Texas) that there have been incidents where football agents have even been sent to prison. Therefore, depending on your chosen sport, you should find out what procedures you need to follow in order to stay within the rules.
3. Land Your First Job
Gaining employment as a sports agent will depend a lot on your background and your network. For instance, many ex-players and athletes become agents because they already have an existing wealth of contacts and have first-hand experience of the machinations of the industry.
If you don’t have either of these, then the most straightforward way into the industry is getting hired by a sports management agency. If you possess good qualifications (as detailed above) and a thriving knowledge of your chosen sport, then you’re far more likely to impress potential recruiters.
As Raiola shows, being multilingual is a huge benefit, too. The super-agent can speak seven languages, which allows him to negotiate and communicate directly with players and clubs all across Europe. If you are something of a polyglot, then make sure you advertise this on your application.
Alternatively, you can start from the bottom and try to build up your own company. This would involve trying to spot young talent that is unrepresented and then pitching your services to them and (usually) their family. This can be achieved by building relationships with ‘runners’, sports enthusiasts who watch matches and events and pass on talent tips to agents for a small commission. This is a far more difficult route into the profession, but with dedication, the right contacts and a lot of luck it’s not impossible.
4. Develop Your Career
Once you start to build up a reputation for yourself and gain the trust of clients, you can either decide to go it alone and start your own agency or rise up through the ranks of your existing employers. Most agents prefer the former, with the greater independence and higher commissions on offer a huge draw, although, of course, much of this again depends on how successful your clients are.
Agents can also move into backroom roles within sports organisations, although in most cases they are no longer allowed to continue their agent activities (rules around this become grey in different parts of the world). Where clarified as legal, this could involve working within recruitment or in an executive role aiding in the day-to-day running of the club or franchise.
As you can see, although becoming a sports agent is relatively straightforward, succeeding and forging a living out of it is not. With the large sums of money floating around in all the world’s various professional leagues, competition is high and it is very much an industry where who you know can be more important than what you know.
That said, though, it’s not an impossible dream. With commitment, dedication and a shrewd and creative mind, it only takes one promising client to succeed. If you’ve got what it takes and you’re willing to fight, then there’s no reason why a successful career as a professional sports agent can’t be yours.
Are you trying to break into sports management? What have been your experiences? Let us know in the comments below…