SPORTS AGENTS: As a professional athlete, choosing your sports agent is an important decision. A good agent can make a player’s career. A bad agent can break a player’s spirit by putting him or her in bad jobs earning little or no money. It is important to understand what to look for when deciding what agent to choose.
This article focuses on the majority of players who come out of large schools with mediocre stats or small schools with decent stats to provide you with tips on how to choose a sports agent. These players typically do not start out at high levels in professional basketball and must develop their careers over the course of several seasons. What follows are my observations from playing professionally for eight seasons in Europe and working with agents and mentoring players over the past 6-7 years.
1) Experience Placing Players like You
First and foremost, an agent needs to have experience placing players like you. If you’re from a large D-1 with good stats––a 10-year-old can find a team to hire you. If you have bad stats from a good school, or decent stats from a small school, you need to look for an agent with experience placing and developing other players like you.
2) Ask the Agent for his Player List
An agent’s player list tells you more about an agent than any other source (especially the agent’s own mouth). A good agent should be eager to give you a list of his current and past players. Bad agents will try to hide their player list. Either way, check the list given to you against the agent’s FIBA list.
FIBA provides a search tool for looking up all FIBA-registered agents. FIBA regulations require agents to keep their FIBA pages up to date with all of their current players. Checking an agent’s player list given to you against that which he provides to FIBA can verify the agent’s truthfulness.
An agent who is not FIBA-registered and does not show up on FIBA’s website should raise a red flag.
3) Look for Player Development
A good agent develops players from lower levels and takes them to higher levels over the course of a few seasons. A good agent’s player list will have young players and veterans playing at several different levels––from mediocre leagues to top leagues. These agents find quality players, place them in good jobs where they can succeed, and incrementally moves players up to top professional leagues. These agents earn the trust of their players and the players reward the agents by sticking with them for several years.
If an agent only has young players, this indicates the agent struggles to keep players for multiple years. He is either not placing players in good jobs or not able to recruit players good enough to play for multiple years. Either way, this should indicate that this agent may not be the one for you.
An agent with only veterans is likely poaching players and is unable or unwilling to recruit young players. Poaching players means the agent steals players from other agents. He looks for players that are already developed with other agents and tries to convince them to leave that agent and sign with him. Not all of these agents are bad. In fact, many of them have great connections with teams that allow them to place players in high paying jobs. But don’t expect this agent to develop you from a low level to a high level.
4) Look for Players in Quality Leagues
A good agent will place his players in good quality leagues as opposed to trash leagues. Not all leagues are the same. Top leagues only respect certain other leagues and will only hire players with good stats from what they consider quality leagues.
The problem for many players is that some of the leagues respected by top leagues pay less than trash leagues. For example, players can make more money in leagues like Qatar or Angola than in Pro-B France or LNP Gold (second division Italy). But top leagues do not care if you score 30 a game in Qatar or Angola but do care if you score 18 a game on a good team in Pro-B or LNP Gold.
A good agent understands this and will try to place his players in the quality leagues respected by top leagues over getting their players a one-time payout from a trash league. Trash leagues are used for veterans to cash-in at the end of their career. These are not leagues for young guys to develop.
Going to a trash league means you’re stuck there for the remainder of your career.
5) Ask the Agent for his Greatest Success Story
If an agent’s greatest success story is finding a second round NBA draft pick, signing him to a rookie contract, and then getting fired the following year, this agent likely does not develop players and is not likely to help you much in your career. The agent is trolling colleges and camps looking for his next big break so he can ride that player into the NBA.
If you don’t sign with a big team or make very much money your first season with this agent, he will likely not care too much about you in the future. This agent certainly will not put much thought into how to develop your career. The agent will look for the biggest possible contract, collect his agent fee, and move on. Remember, agents receive their fee in full within the first few months of a player’s contract. After bad agents receive their fee, they stop caring and don’t want to do anymore work for you.
However, if an agent’s success story involves finding an NAIA rookie and developing him into a top player in Turkey or Russia over the course of 4-5 seasons, this may be the agent for you. This agent thinks long-term. He wants to place his players in situations where they can succeed for the future, not just cash in for one season.
6) Size Doesn’t Matter!
Don’t worry about the size of an agent’s player list. Many players get concerned when an agent has 30-40 players because they believe this means the agent can’t give them personalized service. They think the agent won’t care about one individual player––he’s only in it for the money. But here’s a shocking revelation––all agents are in it for the money!
The number of players an agent has on his player list should not be a large factor in determining the quality of an agent. If anything, you should be concerned if an agent only has 5-10 players. These agents typically have another job and only act as sports agents on the side. They likely have limited connections and don’t have enough pull in the profession to make teams respect them.
The more players an agent has, the more power he has to leverage teams into doing what he wants. For example, an American Agent I work closely with placed a player on a team in South America in the center position. His player was the only player he represented in the entire league. Another Foreign Agent represented 5 other players on the same team–– including the other center on the team––and several other players throughout the league. When the team lost a few games in a row during the season it fired the American Agent’s center despite him leading the league in rebounding. The team knew that if it fired the Foreign Agent’s center, the Foreign Agent could cause problems for the team by not offering the team top quality players in the future. The team didn’t care at all about the American Agent because they likely would never sign another of his players. The team had to fire someone to save face for the sponsors and fans and, in the end, the player got punished because his agent was too small.
Another example of this occurs when an agent places one player on a team and then makes a deal to place another of his players on the same team. The agent will typically say, “if you sign my player X to $150,000, I’ll give you my other player Y for $75,000.” The team may only have wanted to sign player X to $135,000 or $140,000 and had probably never heard of player Y. Both players benefit from the agent having more options to offer the team.
7) Don’t be afraid to ask Questions
In the end, asking questions and doing some research can benefit you greatly. I have mentored several players over the years since I stopped playing basketball, and I always give them one piece of advice––go with substance over flash. An agent who seems slick, wears flashy suits and jewelry, and makes promises that seem too good to be true is likely not a good agent for you. There are around 430 players in the NBA each season, and 1/3 of those or more are from outside the United States. Only 60 players get drafted each year. An agent who promises that he can get you drafted or get you on an NBA team is just telling you what you want to hear.