Are you tuning in to the 3 full days of 2018 NFL Draft coverage? Perhaps you are watching on TV and thinking about how the players picked will instantly walk into new riches, some of whom will be earning in the realm of 7-figures per season, and wondering how nice it would be to earn even a mere fraction of the money they will receive from their lucrative deals.
Breaking into the sports agency industry, particularly as an NFL agent, is extremely tough and ultra-competitive. More than 800 agents are certified to conduct business by the NFL Players Association and there are only a total of 1,590 players on active rosters throughout the league.
Take into consideration that there are 92 agents with at least 10 NFL clients, including the top 5 agents representing a whopping 307 NFL players and you can quickly come to the conclusion that there is very little room for competition. If you want to reach for the stars and represent players in the more marketable positions such as quarterback and running back, then you will be even further limiting your possibility for success.
So what can you do if you want to break in to this ultra-competitive environment or within any other industry that has a high barrier to entry?
1. Develop personal relationships with your potential clients.
Start as early as possible, before you even attempt to break into a business, by engaging in dialogue with people who can either become your clients or referral sources. Take for instance super agent Drew Rosenhaus, who represents more NFL players than any other agent. Before he became an agent, he was hanging out with football players at his parents' house and then socializing with them at the University of Miami, relating to athletes on a more personal level. Those friendships were later parlayed into business relationships.
2. Don't spend too much time focusing on your competitors.
Spend as much time as possible in making yourself better at your trade and persuading potential clients of your abilities as opposed to highlighting why your competitors are not a good fit. In an industry like representing NFL players, you would have over 800 competitors to attack; in other industries, the competition can be even larger.
As NFL agent Leigh Steinberg said to me many years ago, "One of the real flaws of traditional agentry is that there is no collegiality to it. Agents are so hyper-critical of each other that they don't advance it as a profession, because they are so competitive that they are unable to acknowledge that other agents negotiate well or do a good job. They rejoice in the failure or difficulties of each other, and without understanding that it is a profession and the more successful every agent is, the better it is."
3. Don't overpromise, but over-deliver.
Like many industries, the representation of professional athletes is rife with agents promising potential clients certain results that they largely have no control over. Sometimes these agents are able to convince clients to sign with them, but the agents that have had continued success over a long term are those who under-promise and over-deliver.
"A huge part of my job is to accurately manage the players and their expectations," says one of the top NFL agents Joel Segal. He provides his players a "ceiling" and "basement" going into the NFL Draft so that there are hopefully no surprises. It is also a hedge on his exposure in an environment where there is a lot of agent changes per year. In any industry, getting the client is only half the battle. Keeping the client is often even more important.