The Background…

Agents are employed to represent the best interest of their clients in business matters. Anyone can hire an agent but most fields don’t require 3rd party representation and are unable to validate the cost associated with hiring them. But many jobs in the entertainment industry, including sports, have complex contracts with high dollars tied to them. They require often intense negotiation and detailed review of contractual legalese. Usually those who fulfill the contracts aren’t the best people to negotiate them. Professional athletes, entertainers, and writers are experts in their own craft but defer to agents who help guide the financial aspects of their lives. In the sports industry, agents most commonly represent athletes and coaches because those are the highest paid positions and have fixed contract lengths with complex pay structures. Coaches and, more commonly players, are offered endorsement deals for specific products or services which require additional contractual agreements. Player representatives can also act as a mouthpiece for their clients. Off-the-court verbal outbursts, arrests and other negative incidents often require explanation or “spin” through the media.

Agents act as an extension of their clients. Making their clients happy is priority number one so, in addition to managing financial decisions, being a cheerleader is often part of the job. Fans root for their teams while agents root for their clients.

The Path…

Successful sports agents are most often lawyers with experience in contract law and the business side of sports. Though responsibilities of the job are wide spread, the crux of it comes down to negotiating the best financial deals for your clients. Understanding the law, contracts and how to negotiate them is essential so earning your Juris Doctor will be of much use, especially if it has a sports-industry focus. A degree in sports management is also beneficial. You’ll be educated on the business side of sports including its financial structure, marketing and sports ethics. The North American Society for Sport Management has a consolidated list of colleges and universities offering Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral sports management degrees.

Internships or other positions working within the sports industry will help round out your resume. Working with teams, individual players or interning at an established sports agency will give you the credibility to sign your own clients in the future.

Once you have the right education and experiences to begin selling yourself to clients you must get certified with the league(s) you wish to be involved with. The certification requirements vary by league but generally require potential agents to prove their knowledge of league policies, document their education history, establish liability insurance and pay a membership fee. You can review the full requirements and fill out an application by visiting the league-specific player’s associate websites.

The Money …

Becoming an agent is essentially starting your own business which can produce wide-ranging financial results. You must plan for this as you transition into the role. Player representatives can expect to receive between 3 and 10% of their representative’s playing contract. Some leagues have established maximums agents are allowed to collect which are called contingency fee limits. While MLB and NHL have no restrictions, NFL agents are bound by a 3% limit and NBA agents a 4% limit. Additionally, they can expect to receive 10 to 20% of negotiated endorsement contracts. 20% seems exorbitant but endorsement deals are much harder to secure since only a small percentage of athletes get them.

When you’re negotiating team and endorsement contracts for several high profile free agents you’re making an excellent living. But excessively rich, well-known sports agents are as rare as hall of fame athletes. Most agents earn less than $100,000 annually. Some agents have the education and resume to hire on with an established corporate agency like Creative Artists Agency, International Management Group or Rosenhaus Sports. The top-end salary may not be as high if you go this route but you’ll have the sense of security that comes with working in a bigger business. But, as a whole, the position is considered entrepreneurial and many agents enter the business part time while maintaining a different primary source of income. Once an agent’s client base is established it should become a full time job as it requires time and travel to make it a successful endeavor. Like most enterprising roles, there are financial risks involved but talent and a lot of hard work will allow you into the business side of the sporting universe.

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