5 myths of the NFL agent business
Agents spend the majority of their time servicing, protecting, preparing, educating, and counseling their clients. They are also always prospecting for new clients and on alert making sure absolutely nothing slips through the cracks of the management of their clients’ careers. And for those clients who get cut or injured, agents have to find them the best medical care, protect their rights and/or find them another job.
What on the surface appears to be a sexy job is really very intense, competitive and holds little room for error. NFL players only have one short career and it’s the agent’s job to ensure that every opportunity is maximized and every decision is the right one.
The agent landscape: There are currently about 810 agents registered representing about 3,500 players. Only 2,880 (90 x 32) of those players will be invited to camp under contract. And of those 2880, only about 1,696 (53 x 32) will make a regular season roster and another 320 will make a practice squad.
1) You have to be an attorney: False, you don’t have to be an attorney to be an agent. Many agents have gone to law school but few actually have practiced law. The language of the NFL contract has evolved over the decades through collective bargaining within a vacuum. Matter of fact, all sports language is different. That’s why you see very few agents representing clients in multiple sports.
Very few agents jumped from being a full time attorney into the agent business. However, the NFL Players Association does require the following to be an agent: Undergraduate AND Post-Graduate Degree (Masters or Law) or in lieu of the degree sufficient evidence of at least 7 years negotiating experience. However, many agents who got in the business prior to this requirement simply had an undergraduate degree.
2) Agents don’t make 10% of a players contract: I’m still surprised by how many people think agents take a big cut of a players contract. The Players Association has capped what agents make at 3% max on contracts. 2% on first time franchise/transition tags (or RFA’s), 1.5 % on second time franchise/transition tags, and 1% on third time tags. Even in the 80’s I believe the cap was 5% then.
We can charge whatever we want on marketing deals but the industry average is probably about 10 to 15%. But only a handful of players are garnishing substantial marketing deals.
3) Agents are constantly dealing with cleaning up player’s messes: When I tell people what I do for a living the next statement usually is, “It must be tough dealing with players’ egos and constantly getting them out of trouble”. The truth is that 80% of NFL players are easy going, humble, hard working, and low maintenance. Of course there are some divas that demand more time and attention than others but it’s a small percentage.
Sure, there are a handful of DUIs, failed substance and or PED (performing enhancing drug) tests, social slip-ups and an occasional criminal arrest. However, these issues get a waterfall of media attention but only account for a small percentage of all players. My estimate is less than 5%.
4) Agents make a lot of money and are rich: See number 2. There are a few who do but the majority makes a very modest living. Many of the highest paid players are working off representation deals of 2% fees and the agent only gets paid when the player does, not on the entire value of the contract at once. And guess what? When the player gets cut with millions left on his contract that agent doesn’t collect on the unpaid balance of the contract.
Additionally agents have high overhead. I, for example employ a full time marketer and attorney to handle marketing and to just make sure nothing slips through the cracks. Agents also have to invest 15k to 25k on average to train and prepare rookie players. Very few agents if any charge their players for expenses. Travel, marketing, office space, and entertaining clients can be costly. I’d say NFL agents are at par with successful real estate agents and some attorneys. An agent representing about five new clients a year and managing about twenty clients overall has estimated expenses of about $200,000 to $250,000 per year. Some agents also have to share fees with partners and their agency.
Agents make a good living but only a handful make over $1 million per year.
5) Agents have a sexy lifestyle and party with the players: Yes, some do but the majority of established agents aren’t at the club or bar or on an exotic island with their clients. Sure, it’s fun to go to dinner or grab a drink with one of the clients like most people do in any business. And sure there are some agents who take their clients out a lot in the offseason, but they are a small minority and usually don’t last long in the business.
On the contrary, being an agent, day to day, can be a very lonely and isolated experience. We attend college (prospecting) and NFL games almost every weekend alone. We are on the road alone and spend many hours a day on the phone talking to NFL personnel execs, doctors, clients, their wives, prospects/parents, and the media. When we go to games, the Super Bowl, the Pro Bowl, a college bowl game, a golf tournament, the ESPYs, practices, etc., there is always a degree of work involved and the switch is in ON mode, not FUN mode. There are some agents who try to be “The Man” when they go out with their players and their ego may need the attention, but their players will most likely lose respect for them at some point and even fire them.