Sports Agent Career Guide
If you are an energetic and personable individual who is eager to find a career that features the same kind of competitive rush that you’ve grown to love in sports, you should strongly consider a career as a sports agent. While it’s certainly not for everyone–and quite difficult to achieve top level success–for the right type of person, it could be your ticket to the upper echelon of the sports industry. While the top agents in the game have celebrity status on par with top athletes, there is more room in the industry for smaller players than most would think. By carving out a niche with middle class players and rookies hoping to get their big break, agents separate themselves with world-class customer service and attention to detail for athletes who can’t get similar attention from the firms at the top of the industry. Considering all of these possibilities–and the incredible upside potential for the right type of person–a career as a sports agent might deserve closer consideration than most candidates would think.
Being an agent on the level of Scott Boras is almost as hard as being a professional athlete, but agencies, like all organizations have entry level roles, and those who are hard-working, ambitious, and talented can move up the ranks. Once you break into the field the possibilities are endless. You can even get to the point where you pull a Jerry Maguire and start your own agency. Our advice to you is to make sure you have a solid book of business before you send your mission statement to your colleagues.
A full-service agency is going to help a professional athlete manage all aspects of their job and many of their off the field responsibilities. The athlete is their main client and responsibility, and generally speaking professional athletes tend to have relatively short yet lucrative careers. When the minimum wage is six figures–and the average career is less than ten years–it becomes crucial for the athlete to be well represented, both legally and financially.
The duties of a typical sports agent includes, but is not limited to…
- Helping athletes secure endorsement deals
- Helping promote a positive image of their client in a local market and national market
- Consulting clients to build their own brand and business
- Capital Management (managing savings, investments, and cash flow)
- Property Representation
- Contract Negotiation on behalf of clients
- Business Development (signing new players to an agency)
- Strategic Planning
Agencies range from being small 2-10 person operations while others like IMG have thousands of employees and even more clients. To be the one responsible for negotiating terms and finalizing contracts, one would likely need a law degree. However, there is a lot of opportunity for people with degrees in sports management or similar qualifications to be a valuable asset at an agency.
An agency requires employees who have an understanding of the world of sports, but more importantly knowing the lay of the land in the business world. It is the players job to avoid injury and perform well on the field, and the agent’s job to put their client in the best position possible, regardless of the athlete’s performance and health. When an athlete signs a multi-million dollar contract, there is a mountain of responsibility that is part of the deal. Whether it be coordinating the promotional and charity appearances, seeking out an insurance plan for the player and their family, or organizing a public image campaign, the agent is instrumental in performing all of these tasks, and allowing their client to be portrayed in the best light, and to be in the best possible financial position.
While this is a demanding job, it is also quite rewarding.
Perks of being a sports agent:
- The work you put in is directly resulted in your own compensation.
- If you negotiate a higher contract for your client, secure a sponsorship deal, or sign them to a campaign, you stand to benefit directly from these deals.
- Fast paced
- While the job may require long hours and being available to your client anytime, day or night, for many, this fast paced lifestyle suits them well. Think introspectively and see if you are able to sacrifice a 9-5 schedule and weekends off in return for a highly rewarding and lucrative career.
- Constant Learning and Development
- As you move up the ranks in an agency (or as you are helping your client explore new ventures, or solving new problems as they come up), you will attain new skills. Much of this is out of necessity, but a successful agent is a master networker, organizer, negotiator, and communicator. You can become these things too if you work you way up within an agency.
- With success comes even more perks.
- As you advance in the industry you will of course see an increase in salary and commission, but you may find yourself on the guest list to places you never thought you could get it, rubbing shoulders with celebrities, and living a life of luxury. But let’s be clear, to get to this point takes an incredible amount of hard work, determination, and probably some luck. That being said, this career rewards those with an entrepreneurial spirit and those willing to work hard.
There’s no set blueprint to becoming a sports agent. However, we can look at one potential path someone might take.
1. Sports Management Degree or Undergraduate Degree in a Related Field
This is crucial. It has become the benchmark that anyone working in a sports agency should have experience or a degree focusing on sports management. (However in most cases, to get the experience, you need the degree!). If you are pursuing a senior sports agent role that would be involved in contract negotiation and legal representation, then a law degree is highly recommended.
Like any industry, the more connections you have, the more beneficial it will be as you are entering the job market. However, this is especially true in a sports agency. The right program can get you on track with internships and an alumni network that help propel your career forward upon graduation.
In this field, getting your first job will be like cold-calling. You’ll be banging on doors either literally or metaphorically trying to get your foot in past that threshold that separates the unemployed and employed.
4. Licensing and Certification
All sports and states are different, but in order to have a seat at the table, some kind of certification is usually necessary. As an example, we can see that the NFLPA requires the following of their agents.
- $2,500 Application Fee
- Undergraduate & Postgraduate Degree from an accredited college or university
- Authorization to perform a background investigation
- Mandatory attendance at a two day seminar in Washington, D.C.
- Successful completion of a written, multiple choice, proctored exam.
- A valid email address
Skills and Traits required of a successful sports agent:
- Honesty: While some may think that it is an agent’s job to do the best for the client no matter the cost, many would disagree with that idea. If you talk to anyone in the world of sports agents, they will tell you that being trustworthy will get you further than cutting corners and deception. If they disagree with that statement, just wait for karma to realign their own success! It is crucial that your client trusts you 100%. If you lose your client’s trust, they can easily drop you and you are back to square one (except your reputation is tarnished). Also, your partners will only want to do business with you if you are a person of their word. Anything less and they may no longer be interested in working with your client.
- Resourceful: You may be in a position where it looks like all there are only dead ends around you, but it is your job to find a way out! Just imagine your client is committed to a charity dinner and a promotional shoot at the same time. It is up to you to find the best solution and keep all parties satisfied with the outcome.
- Social & Emotional Intelligence: You need to be able to read a room, read your client, present yourself as relatable, and know how to interpret body language. If you can do these things intuitively, you will have the tools to navigate tricky situations gracefully.
- Business Acumen: In addition to the soft skills and “street smarts” mentioned above, you need to have a solid foundation of basic business principles. Being able to read a balance sheet, income statement, cash flow report, legal contracts, sponsorship agreements, and any other documents that come across your desk is essential. You need to be able to understand, analyze, interpret and with that knowledge, make predictions and informed decisions to best serve your client. If this sounds daunting, just remember that it should be taken one step at a time. The right degree and certification will lay the groundwork and give you the ability to tackle all of these tasks.
- Passion: Especially passion for sports! It can be easy to get lost in the jargon and minutia of this field, but at the end of the day, in order for the athlete or the agent to be successful, it requires passion and determination. An agent will need to work odd hours, receive countless phone calls, reply to what may seem like an infinite amount of emails, and do so with a smile on their face.
Sports Agents by the Numbers…
- $102,300 – Average Annual Salary of Sports/Entertainment Agents [source]
- $49.18 – Median hourly wage [source]
- 3,500 – Amount of Sports Agents employed in the state of New York (more than 4 times any other state) [source]
- 2.8 % – Average Industry Growth (2015-2020) [source]
While New York has a higher cost of living compared to almost any other state, it is clearly the hub for sports agencies and agents alike. Larger agencies are more likely to have internship programs and entry level positions available. Once you secure your first job and break into this industry, it becomes easier to move around from agency to agency, and possibly even start your own firm. Do you think you have what it takes? Keep your head down, get your degree, and make the most out of your university network and all of its affiliations through internship (and even volunteering) opportunities. Remember that there is no substitute for real world experience, and if you are a proven professional in the right place at the right time, you might just catch your break sooner than you would imagine.