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Steinberg: Being a sports agent today

March 22, 2013|By Leigh Steinberg

Traditional agentry has too often been lampoonish, cartoonish, greedy and destructive to clients and sports itself.

Some of the basic concepts, which are slavishly adhered to, are just wrong. The battle in sports ought not be labor versus management.

The critical challenge for the NFL is Major League Baseball, the NBA, HBO TV, Walt Disney World and every other form of discretionary entertainment spending. Sports are not like the need for food on the table or


transportation to work. They require fans to invest time, emotion and money on viewership, attendance and purchase of related products.

The job of representing athletes doesn't work maximally unless agents see themselves as stewards of the sport. The focus needs to be on building brand, raising popularity and interests and creatively exploring every ancillary revenue stream and possibility.

Viewed this way, any individual player negotiation which turns acrimonious and hostile in the press is self-destructive. With the country in its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, fans will not empathize with an athlete angry because he's "only" being offered $10 million dollars instead of the 15 he believes he deserves.

Depending on method of calculation, the median family income in this nation is $51,143, which means any offer more than several hundred thousand dollars seems enormous. Worse is the specter of millionaires fighting billionaires in collective bargaining.

Missing any games due to labor impasse hurts sports and brand. As P.T. Barnum said, "the show must go on."

At the point where my practice had superstars for many teams throughout a league like the NFL I approached owners and said that we need to be partners in building the brand.

To truly compensate players the economics of the pie need to be as large as possible. With enough economic largesse, contract negotiations could be smooth and private bringing value to both sides.

The task became one of exploding the television contracts, imagining every revenue flow that could come from a stadium, every way that merchandising and use of social media could be enlarged.

By putting yourself in the position of seeing the world the way an owner sees it, it becomes possible to contribute possibilities toward enhancing the bottom line.

There were 619 players who entered the free agency process in the NFL. The top-of-the-line superstars in football generally never become free agents.

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