The art of working with athletes
One thing you won’t learn in college, law school or grad school is how to work and interact with professional athletes. However, I will provide some tips that might help.
In my previous posts, I offered advice on how to land internships, create a sports resume and even parlay your passion into a career. However, what nobody can really teach you is how to interact directly with athletes. Some have the gift and others don’t. And believe me, an athlete has a sixth sense about who has it and who doesn’t.
To be successful in working with athletes, they must like you, respect you or even fear you. Most importantly, they must feel comfortable with you, either in person or on the phone. Ironically, there are many athletes doing business with agents and service professionals whom they don’t necessarily trust but who provide them with some sort of superior value.
The agents and service people I’ve encountered in my career have a few character traits that make them successful in working with and procuring athletes as clients.
The Constant Concierge: Do you remember the HBO show “Arliss”? Arliss was great at boosting the egos of his clients. He always had a catchy name for them like “Baker the Touchdown Maker” or “The Prince of the Paint” when he greeted them. Arliss also did just about anything the players needed or wanted done, ethical or not. There are a lot of successful agents, financial advisers and marketers in the sports business who make a lot of money being bag-shuffling valets who cater to an athlete’s every need. This individual will have a lot of high-profile, high-maintenance and demanding clients whom he or she will be on call for 24/7.
If you have a subservient type of personality to be a major kiss-ass, you can find success in the sports business. This athlete may not respect you, but he or she will be addicted to your service and availability. Some of the largest agents and sports marketers in the industry fit this description and have large clienteles. They rarely ever sleep and are prisoners of their own success.
The Wise Sage: This is a polished professional who is sought out for his wisdom, experience and calm demeanor. Age isn’t necessarily a requirement here. When Leigh Steinberg was in his mid 20s, he pulled this off. Marvin Demoff was the true sage of the football industry, as players, GMs and coaches sought his counsel and advice on contracts and other major career decisions. Ideally, you want your financial people to have this personality trait. This individual focuses on the big picture and takes care of the most important details of a pro athlete’s career.
Unfortunately, a lot of athletes who are looking for more sizzle in their careers aren’t attracted to this type and may not always recognize their value. More cerebral athletes will seek and maintain this type of professional beyond their playing days.
The Power Broker: The power broker is an established figure who relies on his profile and power ranking within the industry. Agents like Scott Boras fit this description. Players are usually attracted to this type simply because of the association of their clientele and/or the power or alleged power they possess within the industry. One observation I’ve had over the years is that athletes may be fearful of firing this type. The power broker convinces the client that they have the ultimate leverage in making or breaking his career. I know several NFL players who don’t care much for their agent or marketing representative, but they stay with them out of fear they’ll lose some of their star power if they move on.
If you possess a strong personality backed by a healthy ego and are willing to work hard building your image, you too can be successful in the sports business. You might not be well liked, but you can make a lot of money.
What you can’t be: star struck, a jock sniffer, annoying, overly talkative, inaccessible, unavailable, shy, unassertive, and/or overbearing. The athletes won’t tolerate it.
Your personality can be the deciding “X factor” whether you make it in the sports industry or not. There are many stories of top athletes like LeBron James and Michael Jordan who have hand-selected some young people to be their right-hand marketing person or agent just because they clicked with them. So sometimes, it pays to know your strengths and weakness and don’t treat athletes any differently than you would another professional or even a family member.
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