03/17/2013 06:20 pm ET Updated May 17, 2013

How to Be a Great Sports Agent

Traditional agentry has too often been lampoonish, cartoonish, greedy,
and destructive to clients and sports itself. Some of the basic
concepts which are slavishly adhered to are just wrong. The battle in
sports ought not be labor versus management. The critical challenge
for the NFL is Major League Baseball, the NBA, Home Box Office, Walt
Disney World, and every other form of discretionary entertainment
spending. Sports are not like the need for food on the table or
transportation to work. They require fans to invest time, emotion, and
money on viewership, attendance, and purchase of related products. The
job of representing athletes doesn't work unless agents see
themselves as stewards of the Sport. The focus needs to be on building
brand, raising popularity and interests and creatively exploring every
ancillary revenue stream and possibility.

Viewed this way, any individual player negotiation which turns
acrimonious and hostile in the press is self-destructive. With the
country in its' worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, fans
will not empathize with an athlete angry because he's "ONLY" being
offered $10 million instead of the $15 million he believes he
deserves. Depending on method of calculation, the median family income
in this nation is $51,143.00, which means any offer more than several
hundred thousand dollars seems enormous. Worse is the spectre of
millionaires fighting billionaires in collective bargaining. Missing
any games due to labor impasse hurts sports and brand. As P.T. Barnum
said "the show must go on."

At the point where my practice had superstars for many teams
throughout a league like the NFL I approached owners and said that we
need to be partners in building the brand. To truly compensate
players the economics of the pie need to be as large as possible. With
enough economic largesse, contract negotiations could be smooth and
private bringing value to both sides. The task became one of exploding
the television contracts, imagining every revenue flow that could come
from a stadium, every way that merchandising and use of social media
could be enlarged. By putting yourself in the position of seeing the
world the way an owner sees it, it becomes possible to contribute
possibilities towards enhancing the bottom line.

619 players have entered the free agency process in the NFL. The A+
superstars in football generally never become free agents.
Irreplaceable players have their contracts redone by teams before the
final year so as to not risk losing them. In those few cases where
team and player have such different perspectives as to what is fair, a
team will use a franchise tag to stop the player from entering free
agency. It is only those players A- and below in value who are allowed
to enter free agency. They are lucky and may get better contracts than
more proven, productive stars. The auction bargaining mentality which
gives players the only true leverage they will experience turns B+
players into A+ contracts.

The role of the agent in this process is profound. The first job is to
contemplate the prospect of free agency in the negotiation of a prior
contract. The goal is to time a player's maximum arc in respect to
achievement and future promise at the point of complete contractual
freedom. Knowing free agency is coming gives an agent ample time to
research and anticipate who the most interested parties will be.
Injuries and other signings can alter the possibilities. Research into
the coach, general manager, pay structure, and modus operandi of each
team is vital.

Long before the process begins the agent needs to focus a player on an
introspective thought process designed to explore a player's deepest
hopes and aspirations. They key is to have the player clear on what
his own top values and priorities are. This is not generic, what
fulfills one person may be different from another and what another
player values is irrelevant in this discussion. It is all about
pleasing a client. I ask them to prioritize the following values and
considerations: 1) Short term financial gain 2) Long term economic
security 3) Family 4) Geographical
considerations -- weather, lifestyle, proximity to home
5) Profile 6) Endorsements 7) Legacy -- charity and community 8) Second
career, and then the football issues 1 ) Starting 2) Winning 3) Quality of
Coaching 4) System the team plays 5) Facilities 6) Teammates. Usually
players are motivated by a combination of these factors but some
things must be more important than others. It is only by listing the
values that it is possible to evaluate the possibilities. Otherwise
cognitive dissonance may take over, swinging from option to option
back and forth -- this creates stress. An athlete could make any
decision to relieve the stress.

Free agency in its early days allowed players a leisurely time to
move from team to team and create leverage. The Jacksonville Jaguars
and their executive Michael Hyguhe changed that dynamic. They realized
they could be shut out of signing any of the players they coveted at a
position by player indecisiveness and travel. They created a new
process -- they targeted the few most critical players, invited them in
on Day One of the process, offered a premium deal, and made it
contingent on the player accepting it on that visit. Their offer was
good enough that most players signed. The premiere money is available
in the first few weeks and after that it dries up.