Sports Law Blog
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Wednesday, May 09, 2007
What does it take to be a sports agent?
Jeff Rabjohns and Mark Alesia of the Indianapolis Star have an interesting piece today evaluating Greg Oden's announcement yesterday that he hired Mike Conley, Sr. as his agent to represent him in contract negotiations ("Transition game: Oden's mentor becomes partner").
So who is Mike Conley, Sr. (pictured at right)?
The answer to the question of what it takes to be a sports agent is simply to be certified as an agent with the players association and to have a client. The more difficult question to answer is, how does a player entering the draft make a properly informed decision in selecting an agent? I discuss this issue in depth in my law review article, Solving Problems in the Player Representation Business: Unions Should Be the Exclusive Representatives of the Players. When you think about it, you have an amateur player who is below the legal drinking age, but he's expected to make one of the most important decisions of his life in selecting a fiduciary to look after his best interests in a multi-million dollar enterprise based solely upon interviews with people he has never been associated with or even met before. An interesting tidbit of information is that, if Oden was a football player, Conley would probably not be certified by the NFLPA because Conley has not received a post-graduate degree (as required by the NFLPA agent regulations).
A player in Oden's position is heavily solicited by dozens of agents influenced by dollar signs and is offered all sorts of promises and inducements. The concern is that the player is being unduly influenced by agents in the selection process. Conley is actually serving as a "buffer" in alleviating that concern. While players tend to make their decision based upon such factors as the agent's experience and who the agent represents, these definitely should not be the only factors. Oden chose somebody he has known for years and obviously trusts a great deal, both important factors. As I told Alesia, I think the fact that Oden decided not to just go with a high profile agency with a "show me the money" attitude reflects favorably upon his character.
The fact of the matter is that Oden is most likely the number one or two pick in the draft (I'm "projecting" number one). He probably feels, and rightfully so, that whoever represents him as his agent is not going to impact which team selects him in the June 28 draft. Also, with rookie scale contracts in the NBA, there is not a whole lot of room for negotiation. Is the agent worth the standard 4% commission under these circumstances? In my law review article, I mention how these factors have decreased the utility of an agent in contract negotiations. Conley's new agency, MAC Management Group, will become partners with BDA Sports Management, an experienced agency that represents NBA players. Conley's company will handle Oden's NBA contract and turn to BDA for help on endorsements and marketing.
Oden has chosen a similar model used by LeBron James, which seems to have worked for LeBron, in which Conley will essentially outsource the endorsement and financial planning services needed by Oden. In my law review article, this is the model I advocate for unions to adopt by which players would have the option to have a union-employed person handle the individual contract negotiations and oversee the outsourcing of other services to third parties. Obviously, the third-party agents currently advising all of these players have no interest in that happening whatsoever, so I'm sure agents will not be discussing such a possibility with their players anytime soon.