There is no debate. You are an excellent athlete. You have soared at every level of competition, and your name appears on the leader board more often than not. You were All-State, All-Conference, and maybe All-American. Your success continues to trend upward as your times continue to trend downward. Your age is also starting to rise. You have been given the “gift,” and you want to see how far it will take you. The time is now to work with an agent. Here are 5 reasons why.
- You don’t know everything there is to know. You’re stubborn. I get it. You’ve spent countless hours and miles honing your craft on the roads or track. Most of these miles have been logged on your own in obscurity with only the encouragement of friends or family and maybe the guidance of a coach. Running gives you a sense of freedom over your pace, your mileage, and your body. You are in control. Having an agent cedes that control to someone else. Right? Wrong. Under USATF Regulation #25 and IAAF Rule 7, the role of an athlete representative (a/k/a agent manager) is “to assist athletes in planning, arranging, and negotiating their competition programs,” endorsements, and contracts. The key word here is “assist.” A good agent is not going to take over your life. A good agent is going to help you achieve your personal best, both on and off the track. If asked, I will give my athlete my opinion about coaches, race schedules, sponsors, vitamin supplements, and endorsements, but the ultimate decision on any of these issues is still in the hands of my athlete. Since I have a fiduciary obligation to act in my athlete’s best interests, one of my primary duties is to protect my athletes — from unscrupulous people, companies, or endorsers who are trying to take advantage of their youth, inexperience, or naiveté. It’s been my experience that a bad contract is worse than none at all. Since all agent-athlete contracts expire by their terms on December 31st of each year if not renewed, there is very little risk (and a whole lot to gain) in partnering with an agent to “assist” you in making the decisions that will define your career. Caveat: Make sure the prospective agent has been certified by USATF and IAAF. We are licensed, bonded, attend annual continuing education seminars, and carry professional liability insurance to protect you if we screw up.
- You need someone who understands the business. Unlike professional football, baseball, or basketball, Track & Field is a niche sport. Like the NFL, MLB, and NBA, Track & Field is part, albeit a very small part, of the entertainment business. Emphasis on the word “business.” Sponsors need to sell shoes, watches, gear, and product to show profit to their owners, investors, and shareholders. Race directors need to increase the buzz and drum up interest to increase race sponsorships, registrations, and ever-rising race entry fees. Businesses fail unless they show a profit. One of the biggest mistakes professional athletes make is to view Track & Field as a charity or something other than a business. A good agent is one with experience, knowledge, negotiating skills, contacts, and who understands the realities of the marketplace. A good agent is indispensable in proving your value to these businesses and why they should partner with you and offer you a contract. Considering I’m a licensed attorney who has been negotiating contracts and business deals longer than most of my athletes have been alive, as an agent I believe my assistance to be invaluable. And a bit of advice from one of my best and most experienced athletes. “Don’t be cheap. Paying an agent 15% of a positive number beats you keeping 100% of $0.” Bottom line: To build your career, you need someone with the training, experience and education to help you navigate the shoals of the business of your sport. It’s difficult on your own.
- You need to be taken seriously. Let’s face it. Whether on the oval or roads and, almost without exception, the best track and field athletes have agents. Even athletes who are members of highly reputable teams or clubs (like my athlete Luke Humphrey who is with Hansons-Brooks ODP or my now-retired athlete Jonathan Peterson of Team USA Minnesota), have them. Why? It adds to the athlete’s credibility. It sets the athlete apart from the pack. Sponsors, race directors, and elite athlete coordinators (EACs) know immediately that athletes who have agents are not only talented, but are serious and sincere about pursuing their craft. No good agent would agree to represent an average or mediocre athlete. Why should they? As a financial matter, an agent can’t pay the bills with an athlete who doesn’t perform well and/or is not marketable. Everyone in the industry knows this. More importantly, when I vouch for the skill of one of my athletes with someone in the sport, my agency’s credibility and reputation is on the line. I take my reputation seriously. I am not about to shill mediocrity. I am vouching for the best.
- You need someone to “chat you up.” Unless you are like my athlete Patrick Rizzo (who has no shame), most normal people find it hard to tell someone how great they are and why they deserve an endorsement or race invite. It’s off-putting to many people, particularly sponsors, race directors and EACs. At best, you come off as cocky. At worst, you come off as a conceited, self-centered blowhard. Truth be told, we are rarely as good as we think we are. A good agent knows his athlete’s strengths and weaknesses. He knows how to exploit those strengths, minimize those weakness, and convince others how great you really are and how much better you are going to be. You have value. A good agent has a strong and sincere belief in your talent and knows how to exploit that value to prove your worth to those who control your future.
- You need time to train. To be great, you need time to train. A lot of time. You need time not only to run 70 to 120 miles a week, but to stretch, massage, do core strengthening, post on social media to your growing number of followers, and rest. Your time is valuable. You also need time to have some fun away from the track and to develop relationships, hobbies, and interests. You must allow your mind as well as your body time for the 3R’s: to rest, to relax, and to recover. All the little things that differentiate the very good athlete from the great athlete (even the fun part) take time. It’s stressful. Why add to the stress? Why not have someone you trust and collaborate with spend that valuable time dealing with race directors, EACs, sponsors, airlines, and hotel operators on your behalf? It’s one less thing you have to worry about and it allows you to concentrate on what you do best — run.