SPORTS AGENTS ARE PEOPLE TOO!
Sports agents are not known for the positive publicity they generate. They are not, for various reasons, the most admired and revered members of the sports community. Some, like Mark McCormack who founded IMG, brought respectability to the profession but the greed, precocious flamboyance, and questionable motives on the part of a small minority have given the profession as a whole an unenviable reputation. Agents, or more accurately football agents, are perceived as Porsche-driving, Armani suit-wearing, jewellery clad, shadowy figures that make their 10% commission from the sweat, toil and talent of their clients. Itís all rubbish, of course, but it makes for good press copy.
Agents provide an essential service to their clients. After all, put yourself in the position of a young, talented athlete who just wants to play his or her sport, and deserves to be properly rewarded for their services. It is the agentís job to negotiate fair terms for their employment, whether the clients be runners, footballers, golfers, rugby players, or whatever, and to squeeze the maximum cash from advertisers and sponsors for using the highest-profile competitors to endorse their products or attend their functions.
Often the deals struck are a win-win situation with the sportsmen and women reaping the financial rewards of their talent and commitment, and the paymasters generating more income, publicity, pr and silverware, or selling more product as a direct outcome. But like all business deals, there are occasions when things go wrong, when agreements made in good faith turn sour. When this happens, agents are fair game to receive the flack for doing the deal in the first place and are often lambasted as money-grabbing parasites.
Such instances, rare as they may be, have smeared the reputation of the good, hard working sports agents. In football, agents have been accused of single-handedly driving up players salaries to extortionate levels and personally destroying an endless number of ambitious organisations with insufficient money and savvy to live the dream. The club owners and executives often perceive that it is the slick, smooth talking agents that dupe them, out-manoeuvre them, cheat and shaft them and all to swell their own bank accounts rather than in the playerís best interests. After all, they are perceived to care nothing for their clientís interests and only for their own. Being on the make is rampant in sports, but there is the suggestion that football agents are in a class of their own. It is again a totally unfair allegation. It is the ambitious clubs that strike the deals and set the price. The agents are just doing their best for their clients, which is their job.
So, is the perception of agents fact or fiction? Well, the vilification of all agents is an absurd distortion of the truth. Agents provide a vital service to professional athletes from all sports. The good ones offer a comprehensive service covering all the sportspersons off-the-field activities - advertising, sponsorship, promotion, media appearances, speaking engagements, interviews, writing contracts and personal appearances. The idea is that the client is free to concentrate on training and competition workloads, and all other opportunities and enquiries for their services are developed, sifted and organised by their agent. The role is part personal advisor, part mentor, part confidante and friend, part counsellor, part lawyer, part salesman, part negotiator, and part general dogsbody.
So, who amongst us would want to take on these responsibilities and have to succumb to the accusations and abuse? Far too many, is the answer. Those with a strange penchant for masochism, is the alternative response, knowing all the flack that will inevitably be sent in their direction. So there must be a powerful motivation at play, some enormous incentive to persuade a growing number of lawyers, accountants, independent financial advisors, and Uncle Tom Cobleys to launch themselves as a playersí agent. I guess the potential rewards make all the negatives worthwhile. What other reason could there be?
But the reality of what the majority of agents actually make from their trade and the essential part they play in the world of professional sport and entertainment is rarely presented in an accurate or fair way. As in all things, it comes down to the professionalism and integrity of the particular agent in question and the circumstances in which an agent becomes involved in negotiating the terms of a playerís transfer, club move or new contract.
Perhaps the occasional abuse is the cross that agents have to bear for sitting on the other side of the negotiating table, representing the best interests of their players. Whatever the perception may be, the reality is that agents have a vital role to play in advising and mentoring players. This is a profession made up of qualified lawyers, financial advisors and insurance brokers, but more often they are sports fans who seek to be involved in helping professional sportsmen and women, and those that aspire to be so, make the most of their talent and money-making potential.