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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)?
  • He is the father of Oden's high school and college teammate, Mike Conley, Jr.
  • He is a three-time Olympian and former Olympic gold medalist in the triple jump
  • He has coached summer basketball teams to six AAU national titles
  • He is executive director of World Sport Chicago, a group aiming to land the 2016 Olympics for Chicago
  • He spent seven years as executive director of Elite Athlete Programs for USA Track & Field, where he oversaw the agent program and wrote the agent handbook
  • He established the Professional Athletics Association for track and field athletes.
And yesterday he became a partner with Oden in an eight figure business. But what Conley IS NOT, is an experienced agent. As noted in the story, "One of the most talked-about rookies in NBA history, represented by a rookie NBA agent." Mark Alesia interviewed me for the story, and we had a very interesting discussion about what it takes to be a sports agent.

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.





16 Comments:

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)

Is this a new rule?
How else did Percy Miller (Master P) become Ricky Williams's agent? Does the rapper/actor/agent have a post-graduate degree?

Was this rule created as a result of the terrible rookie contract Miller negotiated for Williams?

Anonymous Anonymous -- 5/09/2007 11:30 AM  


The post-grad degree requirement was added to the regulations within the past couple of years. I'm not sure exactly what prompted the creation of the rule.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 5/09/2007 3:48 PM  


The rule was primarily created to weed out many of the people who just register to be an agent as a hobby. Sure, the NFLPA makes money each time someone does this, but it does not look good for the league when there are more registered agents than there are players to represent.

They also want more accountability on behalf of their agents. There is a way around the post-grad degree, which is experience in contractual negotiations. It is very broad...I am not quite sure what the requirements turn out being.

Let's not forget that the NFLPA is also the only union that requires agents to take a test, allows registration only in the month of January, and makes it a long process before certification.

-Darren @ SportsAgentBlog.com

Blogger Darren Heitner -- 5/10/2007 2:48 PM  


Another great post, but the answer is not quite "simply to be certified as an agent with the players association and to have a client".

I know Rick knows there is more to it that just this, but unfortunately, most players and many agents don't.

The agent regulation process is complex and misleading (how uniform is the UAA in practice), under publicized and in some instances completely ignored.

I posted a more detailed response at http://athleteagent.blogspot.com

See everyone in Boston.

Blogger Joshua Golka -- 5/11/2007 11:57 AM  


Joshua,

Thanks for the comment and post that you did on your blog. First, it's not difficult to get certified in any state -- pay the fees, fill out an application and/or pass a relatively easy exam. So if you want to throw that in to the mix, it doesn't change my view that it's still "a simple answer". The hard part is getting the clients.

You're right that these laws (state and federal SPARTA) are often ignored, and they are rarely enforced -- which is not much of an incentive to get certified by the state nor a deterrent against agent misconduct.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 5/11/2007 12:51 PM  


Good point that the NFL is the only professional league to have a written exam and a requirement of a post-graduate degree. Also, as an indication of how difficult it is to secure a player as your client, the NFL allows a three-year time period for an agent to sign a player.

As far as the state by state requirements go, each state is completely different. Some states only require a short application and fee, and, of course, each state fee is different. Other states require a long and tedious application process that could include an examination.

Another interesting note is that the Canadian Football League requires a take home essay examination ranging from 10-15 essay questions. I find it hard to believe that the CFL would require such an exam while the NBA and MLB (which deal with much larger salaries) do not.

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