SBJ/19980525/This Week's Issue
Big contracts, big demands, big egos
Published May 25, 1998
Being a sports agent is about negotiating multimillion-dollar contracts and going to the hottest sporting events.
It's also about stroking huge egos, stalling other agents who try to steal your clients and soothing athletes who are facing the end of their careers. And it's about putting up with the petty whines of million-dollar men playing boys' games and hanging tough when negotiating with billion-dollar owners.
"Trying to glamorize it is misleading," said Robert Campbell, a lawyer with the Los Angeles firm of Thelen, Marrin, Johnson & Bridges. Campbell decided to become a sports agent because he loved sports and wanted to work with athletes.
"It's a lot of hard work," Campbell continued. "If agents were to be honest with you, they would tell you that the bulk of their time is spent not trying to represent the interests of the players, but it's really trying to recruit players."
Campbell said he spends more time on representation than recruiting. He estimated, however, that most sports agents spend more than 50 percent of their work hours finding and signing players.
That in itself can be difficult and can involve dealing with big egos and even bigger demands from young athletes, Campbell said.
"I have had players in college who have asked to use my credit card number," he said. "I had a kid from Fresno State calling to ask if I would guarantee a loan for him."
Campbell said he denies such requests, but "these are things that a lot of agents do."
Donovan Blythe, president of Blythe Sports Management, said the worst part of the job is other agents trying to steal your clients.
"There are a lot of snakes out there," he said. "Just because you have a player today doesn't mean you'll have them tomorrow."
Veteran agent Jack Mills said one of the most trying times in his career was several years ago when he lost NFL running back Eric Dickerson to former boxer Ken Norton, who had become an agent. Mills said it was tough both professionally and personally because he was close to Dickerson and "I had really done a good job for Eric."
Mills said another tough thing about being an agent is "trying to help people on the fringe" of a career in pro sports.
He is dealing with a situation now involving a college football player who did not get drafted.
"We have talked to every single NFL team and he still hasn't got anything," Mills said. "He is going to practice for a mini-camp and we are hoping [something works out]."
Drew Rosenhaus, an agent with almost 50 clients in the NFL, agreed that the hardest thing about being an agent is when players are at the end of their careers.
"I don't like it when I have a player that gets hurt or cut," he said.
But having a client who is extremely successful and at the peak of his career can be stressful too, agent Barry Axelrod pointed out.
"One of the most hectic or stressful situations is when you have a baseball client involved in free agency," he said.
Axelrod recalled that in the mid-1980s a client of his, Chicago Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, had just won the Cy Young Award, was a free agent and was being wooed by eight teams, including the Kansas City Royals. Axelrod, Sutcliffe and his wife all agreed to have dinner with the late Ewing Kauffman, then owner of the Royals, at an exclusive club in Kansas City.
The four of them were sitting in a private room at the club and, Alexrod said, "there is a knock on the door and in comes the mayor of Kansas City." The mayor pitched Sutcliffe on how great it would be for him to play for the Royals and then left the room.
"About five minutes later there was another knock on the door and in comes the governor and he says, 'We would love to have you here and we would take you to all the good fishing holes' and so on," Axelrod said. After five minutes, the governor leaves.
"I looked at Ewing and I said, 'If [President] Ronald Reagan walks in the door, you have yourself a deal.' "
In the end, Sutcliffe decided to stay with the Cubs.
"If there are six to eight [teams] after you, you have to say no to six or seven of them," Axelrod said. "When he had to say no to some of those people, it was just heartrending."