In Australia, sports agents have recently been on the receiving end of some bad press. There have been stories of indiscretions in both AFL (Australian Rules Football), involving Ricky Nixon, and NRL (Rugby League), with Sam Ayoub. The reports have tainted both the respective sports as well as the reputation of sports agents. I won’t dwell on the alleged abuses of power, but will take this opportunity to explore some of the more ground breaking sports agent-player relationships.
Agents have played an increasingly prominent role in professional sport since the 1970s. In Australia, according to the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, the sports of Rugby Union, Rugby League and Australian Rules Football have 65, 89 and 61 agents, respectively, while soccer has 39. On a global scale, soccer has over 5,482 agents accredited by FIFA (the governing body). In America, football has almost 700 NFL accredited agents.
Sports agents are imperative to any athlete and their role is diverse and varied. A good sports agent will essentially manage any activity that boosts the value of the athlete’s career. The most important aspect is negotiating contracts, but agents will also handle public relations, legal issues, investments (creating an income stream for the athlete post-retirement) and public appearances.
In my opinion, the most significant agent-athlete relationships are as follows:
1. David Falk and Michael Jordan
David Falk is the agent who talked basketball legend Jordan out of signing for Adidas. At the time he was working at Washington based agency ProServ. Jordan had left the University of North Carolina in 1984 to embark upon on an NBA career. After becoming a sensation in the Los Angeles Olympic Games, Jordan wanted to sign with the German brand Adidas, which was his favorite shoe brand. Falk had other ideas for Jordan, and negotiated a deal with Nike that was worth $500,000. At the time this was an unheard of price for an endorsement deal. Jordan was also set to pocket a further slice of revenue for wearing the Swoosh brand. Given that Nike went on to sell $130 million worth of the Air Jordan shoes, Falk’s deal is surely one of the most lucrative sports deals ever. In 1997, Jordan signed a deal worth $30 million with Nike and, despite retiring, he is still tied to Nike, which still releases Air Jordan editions. Sales of the Jordan brand continue to grow. In 2007, the Jordan brand grossed about $800 million and today Brand Jordan sells about twice as much around the world as when Jordan was actually playing. As for Falk, he left ProServ after 17 years to start Falk Associates Management Enterprise (FAME), which he sold in 1998, to SFX Entertainment, for $100 million.
2. Scott Boras and Alex Rodriguez
In 2001, Boras negotiated what was then the largest ever sports contract. Baseball star Alex Rodriguez, who had been with Boras since his high school days in Miami, signed a 10 year deal with the Texas Rangers for a cool $252 million. Proving that was no fluke, Boras subsequently negotiated A-Rod’s move to the New York Yankees in 2007. That time round the contract was worth $275 million. There was no fairy-tale ending to that story, however, as Rodriguez parted company with Boras last September.
3. Paul Stretford and Wayne Rooney
For those of you unfamiliar with soccer and the English Premier League (EPL), this may be an interesting choice. Stretford is said to be the man behind the transfer request of Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney – one of the world’s highest paid players. Rooney was involved in a controversial power struggle with his employer back in October. After a tense 24 hour period, Rooney emerged the victor signing a new five year contract worth an additional £100,000 a week. His basic salary is thought to be more than £10million a year. Stretford, who has also brokered deals for Rooney with Nike, EA sports and Coca-Cola, is thought to take a 20% cut of Rooney’s earnings. Interestingly, he is a onetime vacuum cleaner salesman and has had to serve an 18-month ban imposed by the English Football Association for breaking regulations.
Image by Rubenstein