Becoming a Sports Agent: All You Need To Know

Written by – Michael Ede

Messi, Brady, LeBron – world-beating superstars. But talent on the field is not enough to build a sterling career. Star athletes need star agents behind them to act as promoters, negotiators, and advisors. While each competitor is a brand, each agent is a brand manager. But it is a tough job. This article will outline the nature of the sports agent’s career – what they do, what they earn, and how to become one.

Sports Agents Have Many Duties in Different Fields

Like many high-pressure jobs, being a sports agent comes with its share of perks, but it requires tremendous work. Agents perform various tasks to represent their clients in business, legal, and PR matters. Everything they do aims at helping the players in their charge advance their careers. Therefore, it is imperative that any aspiring agent fully understand what the profession entails.

Sports Agents Are Talent Scouts

Agents often act as scouts and travel to academies, high schools, and universities to find up-and-coming players. They need a sharp eye for talent and a thorough understanding of their sport to sign quality players.

Always Seeking New Opportunities

Opportunities live around every corner, and successful agents must seek them out. Even if your client is already at a club, it is your responsibility to find alternatives to help build their career and achieve their goals. Moreover, athletes don’t just earn money on the field, court, ice, or pitch. Lucrative endorsements await skilled players and the agents who know how to land them.

Marketing Manager and Press Director

The press can be challenging to manage, but great agents can market their clients well. Unfortunately, this requires fielding inquiries and arranging interviews. Depending on the client, some agents also monitor or manage social media accounts on behalf of their players.

Mediating Disputes

Agents advise, speak for, and negotiate on behalf of their clients whenever they are involved in a disagreement. These disputes can arise between players and the brands that endorse them or even their clubs. As a result, the best agents have strong negotiation skills and an understanding of contract law.

Hard-Nosed Negotiator

Contracts are legally binding documents; therefore, agents must understand how they work. While they do not need to be solicitors (lawyers in the US), they must ensure that contracts are appropriately formatted and meet all relevant legal guidelines. Furthermore, some sports leagues (e.g., NBA, NFL) require all agents to sit an exam on the collective bargaining contract with the players’ association.

Trusted Advisor and Listener

Athletes are human beings. Many people forget this, but agents must always see the person behind the stats and media portrayals. They need to listen to their clients and give the best, most thoughtful advice. Whether the athlete suffers from family issues, a loss of form, or disagreement with management, they need a confidant who will do their best to help.

Successful Sports Agents Can Earn Big

Sports is big money – especially for the star players. Agents generally work on commission, so the more their clients earn, the more they make. In most international sports, the agents and clients negotiate a rate between 1-10%.

Some sports associations cap the maximum rates agents can earn, while others do not. For example, FIFA plans to limit earnings to 3% of the player’s salary and 10% of the transfer fee starting in 2023. In the US, the NFL and NBA limit agent commissions to 3%, while MLB and the NHL have no regulations. Furthermore, salary caps on player earnings can further limit the amount an agent can make from a single player. Therefore, the highest-earning agents often manage several players.

High-performance athletes also land endorsements and receive paid invitations to engagements. As a result, agents often get 10-20% commission on endorsement deals and public or private appearances.

The average sports agent in the UK earns about £26k ($32k) per year, while the average agent in the US earns £53k ($65k). In 2020, MLB’s Scott Boras, the world’s biggest sports agent, earned £130 million ($160 million). In the same year, Jonathan Barnett, the world’s highest-earning football agent, earned £114 million ($140 million).

Orderliness and Extroversion Are Crucial Traits

The essential skill for a sports agent is communication. Without it, they would not be able to land clients, negotiate with clubs or brands, coordinate with other agents, or deal with the press. Furthermore, communication and networking can provide alternatives if additional skills are lacking.

Sports agents must be meticulous. They need to manage their clients’ finances, contracts, assets, and more. In the fast-paced world of sports, they may need to move quickly from one client’s need to another’s – an impossible task without organisation.

Finally, agents need to be good at sales. They promote their clients in the press, secure endorsements, arrange marketing campaigns, and negotiate with clubs. If they have a formal knowledge of sales and marketing to go with their silver tongue, so much the better.

Breadth and Depth: The 6 Steps to Becoming a Sports Agent

While the exact procedure for becoming an agent differs from one association to the next, the general process is relatively uniform worldwide. Aspiring agents will find that, even in associations that require no formal education, knowledge is key – and that takes hard work and dedication. Becoming a sports agent is difficult; therefore, knowing the process can help you make an informed decision.

Step 1 – Know the Sport, Inside and Out

In the abstract, an agent’s job is to place his clients at the clubs that will pay the most. To do this, you must know how to assess a team’s strategic outlook, their current roster’s skillset, and whether your client can fill an unmet need at the club. Therefore, you need to be a fan who knows the game before everything else.

In addition, you need to know how to put a reasonable price tag on the relationship between your client’s skills and the club’s desire to improve. So intimate knowledge of the market is vital to success – and that can take years of attention to transfer news or offseason trading to develop.

Step 2 – Consider Legal Experience

You don’t need a law degree (though many sports agents have them), but you do need to be conversant in all the appropriate terminology and conventions of sports contracts. If you’re not a solicitor or lawyer, you can’t give legal advice, so you’ll be working with qualified professionals during negotiations or in the event of allegations. Many sports agents have experience as paralegals or interns.

Step 3 – Get a Formal Education

Most sports associations require a bachelor’s degree. The typical undergraduate degrees for agents include business management and sports management. Even in associations that do not require formal education, many agents achieve graduate degrees before entering the profession. As with law, there is a heavy business element in the job – marketing and sales, among others.

Step 4 – Get Industry Experience

Beginning any career is difficult, and being a sports agent is no different. Most agents get their start as interns, either under an experienced independent agent or at an agency. Either option will provide you with opportunities to observe and learn all the little things that a formal education never includes. They are also great ways to start building your professional network, the lifeblood of every successful sports agent.

Step 5 – Obtain a License, Certification, or Registration

Each association has its own requirements for registration, and there is almost always a fee, an exam, and a criminal background check. For example, the FA charges £500 ($615) and requires you to pass a “test of good character and reputation.” MLB requires a £1600 ($2,000) fee and an exam on the league’s many rules and regulations, for which they offer a preparatory course.

In addition to the fees and exams, there are written applications. Furthermore, various jurisdictions may have their own requirements. For example, agents for combat sport athletes in the UFC and Bellator have specific licensure requirements in different US states due to the dangerous nature of their sport. The up-and-coming agent’s responsibility is to make sure they research all the requirements.

Step 6 – Get in the Game

Agents need clients. Your professional network can lead you to them. Whether you browse online job boards, talk to other agents, or send your resume to agencies, you need to get out there. Any lead on a good prospect can be valuable, so whatever you can do to extend your reach as a scout will help. Again, sports and countries differ, so whether you visit small-town high schools searching for the next great running back or chase down rumours of a pacy striker at a nearby youth academy – get in the game!

Sports Agents: The Talent Behind the Talent

A career as a sports agent is challenging, fast-paced, high-pressure, and immensely rewarding. You’ll need to be a scout, marketer, negotiator, counselor, and friend simultaneously – and that’s just for one client! However, you can start building the requisite skills early as a fan of the sport. Formal education in the business or legal requirements can help, but nothing can replace on-the-job training from seeing agents in action as an intern. Once you have sorted your licensure, you’re ready to join a prestigious agency or strike out on your own as a sports agent to the next generation of superstars.