'Show me the money!" For the 12 years since the movie,Jerry Maguire, came out, sports agents have been associated with these four words. But is the reality anything like as smooth-talking, back-stabbing and multi-million-dollar-dealing as the film? Well, this much is true: you need to be charismatic, quick to make friends and you need to know and love your sport.
As a sports agent, your job is to handle everything that could distract your client from the things that matter: practice, play, success and enjoying that success. An agent has to deal with contracts, media relations and travel arrangements, as well as oversee operations such as equipment deals, sponsorships and branding.
The unscrupulous double-dealer is still the popular image of many agents – particularly those who work with footballers, and seem to get the blame for most of the ills in the modern game. Leon Angel, one of the first agents in the UK to be licensed by the Football Association (FA), wants the industry to become more professional, so that the sportsmen get better advice. "These players are clients, not pieces of meat to make money out of," he says.
Angel looks after stars such as Aaron Lennon and Andy Johnson, and gets many young people saying they'd love to be an agent. His advice is that they should get some professional qualifications. "You need to get something behind you," he says. "I'm also a chartered accountant. Lots of people just think you need to love football but you have to make sure you have a qualification."
Guy Kinnings, managing director of golf for Europe, Asia and the Middle East at IMG, also comes from a professional background, having trained as a City lawyer. IMG is the biggest sports client management company in the world, with the likes of Tiger Woods and Roger Federer on its books. It is rumoured to be the firm that inspired Jerry Maguire's SMI (Sports Management International).
Legal and financial training, playing experience, and even marketing or sports management education can give you a good grounding for the work, according to Kinnings. And London Metropolitan University offers a unique MSc in international sports management. The course is taught with SUNY (the State University of New York), and gives you two Masters qualifications, a respected international education and a four-month internship.
But, most of all, it's what Kinnings calls core values that count. These are being able to listen, to have an eye for detail (vital for contractual negotiations), and to be available round the clock. Plus, you need patience and to be prepared to offer honest advice. "If what a client needs is objective advice, they're not looking for a yes man," says Kinnings.
It's possible to enter a company as a graduate – IMG has plenty of internships on offer, as does SFX, the football agency – then work your way up. Mark Steinberg, Tiger's agent, started off as an IMG intern.
Another successful graduate of the IMG golf internship scheme, Duncan Reid, says you need a further characteristic which is often underestimated. "A lot of it is about having a sense of humour," says Reid, 24, a Cambridge graduate who now works with 10 clients at IMG Golf.
"It's about getting these guys to trust you, and to like you. The players want someone who is going to be an agent, but also a friend." So, you need to be relaxed around the player, but leave them safe in the knowledge you're organising their life. "It's a quality of being quite laid-back, but hard-working at the same time," says Reid.
Reid's boss, Kinnings, is such a good friend to his client Colin Montgomerie, the golfer, that he will be his best man in April. "It's more than just transactional," says Kinnings. "We work closely with clients and get involved with their lives."
Contrary to popular opinion, most agents aren't in it for the money. However, FA guidelines encourage agents to take around three to six per cent of a player's salary – not bad if your client is netting £100,000 a week.
The real reward is seeing your client succeed. "You get to deal with some of the most incredibly impressive individuals who are wonderful at what they do; and you feel you're making a difference in some pretty exciting areas," says Kinnings. "To be there when a guy achieves his dream is pretty special."
* You need to be likeable, charismatic and quick to make friends
* Consider legal training or a sports management course
* Make sure you know your sport: you might have to scout for new talent
*Be prepared to offer strong advice
* Be available – you need to be there for a player 24/7
- More about:
- Aaron Lennon
- Higher Education
- London Metropolitan University
- University Of The Arts London