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Navigating the world of professional sports



Taking the next step into the world of professional sports can be a scary one. It’s no longer something you simply do for fun; it’s become a job that requires a lot more of your time and effort than you may have been used to before. There are plenty of questions surrounding what to do next. Luckily, there are people who have been there before and can help you navigate.

This article takes a look at some of the basic questions you need to answer in the very beginning in order to put yourself in the best position to be successful from day one. We give you three important perspectives from people heavily involved in the sports world. Casey Carr has most recently been the President and GM of Stumptown Athletic, which is a third division professional club that competes in the NISA league. Casey provides plenty of intriguing insight from the front office perspective which can help guide players in their decision-making process. From the player representation point of view, Sports Entertainment Group representative Jochen Graf chimed in to help steer young athletes through the process of adapting to their newly secured professional life.

As always, you get my perspective! Heading into my 10th year as a professional soccer player, I’ve experienced A TON. The uncertainty of free agency, the anxiety of contract negotiations, the headaches of trying to find an agent. This article will give players, of any sport, helpful advice to use when making the important decisions necessary to guide the beginning of your career.


 

Where to start?!

I remember that was the first question I had when I woke up the next day after my final college game. I knew I wanted to keep playing soccer but I didn’t really know what my professional prospects were. I didn’t have very many connections in the professional world so I had to lean on the people I knew could help me get to where I wanted to go. My college coach was a former MLS player and he was a massive help in getting me started. If you have a college coach or mentor who has the proper experience then I would highly suggest leaning on them.

There were still plenty of questions I had. Do I need an agent? How do I find an agent? Will that agent get me to where I want to go? There are a thousand questions running through your mind when you’re ready to make the transition. Just relax, use your resources, and trust your instincts. Let’s tackle the first part.

Finding an agent

It’s the age of social media. If your agent isn’t personally on one of the big platforms, at the very least, their agency most likely is. So how do you contact them? How do you know which agent is the right one for you? You have to be proactive (we’ve talked about this before) and trust your instincts.

In the age of social media, everyone is more or less available. Make yourself as visible as possible. Contact agencies and get your video and CV in front of as many people as you can. Some players are good enough to sit and wait for a big time organization to come to them, that happens. If you are one of those players, you’ll know. Never assume it’ll magically happen for you. It’s rare. Take every chance you can to be in front of decision makers or scouts. — Jochen Graf

Speaking of trust, it’s big in any relationship. You have to be able to trust that this person, your agent, has your best interest in mind at all times. You have to trust that this person has the resources and ability to get you the opportunities that you desire. How do you do that without actually knowing the person? Ask around. Do your due diligence to gather as much information as possible. Does this agency have a track record of success? Do they have the connections necessary to get you in the doors?


Talk to other players, coaches, or friends who have dealt with sports agents before. Figure out what to expect and find someone who aligns with your goals and values. The important thing to remember in regards to finding an agent is that, while you want someone who you can have a great relationship with, at the end of the day it’s business. At some point, you’re going to have to make tough decisions. Whether it’s signing the contract with your agent or, a few years down the line, deciding to move on from that relationship. Don’t make the decision-making process overly personal.

My biggest piece of advice is remember you are hiring the agent, not the other way around. Before you engage with anyone think about what it is you are hiring this person for. What is the job you are hiring them for? — Casey Carr

Know what you expect out of the relationship and find someone you feel can meet those expectations. It won’t be easy but having the right agent is definitely worth it.

Negotiating contracts

I’ve negotiated multiple contracts between myself and the agents I was working with. I’ve worked with multiple agents to negotiate various contracts with different teams. I’ve also negotiated contracts with teams on my own. I like to think I understand contract negotiations pretty well at this point. Sometimes they are easy and pretty straight forward. Other times, they can be extremely challenging and uncomfortable. I’m a big believer in the phrase “everything in life is negotiable”. That is especially true with sports contracts. If you aren’t comfortable with an agent taking 10–15% then negotiate. If you want the team to pay your agent’s fee, speak up. The biggest point for me, and I can’t emphasize it enough, is if you aren’t comfortable with the terms of a contract then DON’T SIGN IT.

This is true for a contract with an agent and even more true when pondering a contract with a team. Speaking from experience, it’s usually a lot easier to get out of a contract with an agent than it is a contract with a team. Being stressed about your contract throughout the season is not the best way to ensure top performance.

The thing with a player/agent agreement is that a good agent that believes in your long term success will look at you as an asset. If I sign you it’s because I believe we will have success together, you will get paid and so will I. Money comes for the agent after the player is a success. If an agent wants money up front, keep your eyes on them. Chances are you’re more about a quick payment then a long term investment. — Jochen Graf

Negotiating with an agent is one thing; starting contract talks with a team is a whole different beast. If you’ve decided to hire an agent then the process can be significantly less time consuming and stressful. You’ve hired the agent so let them do their job. There is always a bit of unease when you’re not involved with every conversation regarding your future but if you’ve done your due diligence and you trust your representative then be patient and let the process unfold. You’ve committed to giving this person a percentage of your wages, let them earn it.

Maybe you decide to go it alone. There are plenty of examples of athletes negotiating their own contracts. Before you go that route, understand this: most players who do this have experience at the professional level. They also tend to have leverage and understand their value. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable negotiating my own deal as a rookie. In fact, I had a lawyer look over the contract because I felt so ill-prepared. If you feel confident enough in your knowledge of contracts and everything they should entail, then by all means go for it. Taking on this role can have huge benefits for you in your career both short-term and long-term.

On the flip side of that, there can also be some unintended negative effects. Talking about money is never an easy subject and having those tough conversations with GMs and Presidents who you may interact with on a daily basis can be difficult. You don’t want to ruin relationships or burn bridges but you also don’t want to undervalue yourself and settle. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, IT’S ABOUT BUSINESS. Conduct your negotiations with the utmost integrity and there shouldn’t be any issues.

Clubs at lower levels don’t have a lot of money to waste so they typically don’t like paying agent fees, especially if they aren’t accustomed to working with the player/agent. Make sure you understand what you are getting yourself into, what it takes to get out, and have a clear understanding of what the expectations are from both parties. — Casey Carr

There’s no cookie-cutter answer for dealing with contracts, negotiations, etc. but you have to develop your own framework to help guide you through the process. Understand your value, be realistic, be firm, but in the end you simply have to be happy with what you’re getting. Don’t settle for less than you deserve from your agent or whatever team you negotiate with.

Terminating contracts

We all make mistakes. We get into situations that we wish we could get out of. Unfortunately, in the sports world, it isn’t always as easy as saying “please”. A contract is a legally binding agreement. Whether it’s a contract with an agent or a contract with a team, there is some type of investment that someone is agreeing to put into you. Time and energy with an agent. Financial compensation from a team. These aren’t decisions to be made lightly.

If you aren’t happy with your representation then you absolutely need to figure out how to remedy the situation. This is your career and you only have so many years to take advantage of the opportunities available. Having someone you’re unsure about is never a great recipe for success. If you and your agent aren’t on the same page then maybe it’s time to part ways. Hopefully, you’ve signed with someone who you’ve developed a good personal relationship with to be confident enough to have these difficult conversations. Breaking up isn’t easy but sometimes it’s best.

Important thing to remember is if you’re signing a contract with someone you can trust, then everything is workable. If you’re signing a deal with an agent or club that your concerned about getting out of later, chances are you shouldn’t be signing that deal anyways. — Jochen Graf

Some agents simply accept the decision and move on while others will do their best to hold you to your contract. Sometimes, that 10% means a lot more to them than maintaining a good relationship. For these situations, having someone experienced in your corner can be helpful.

Terminating a contract with a team can be a bit more contentious. Often times, teams invest significantly in players and want to see a return. Whether it’s short-term or long-term, money is the name of the game more times than not in the sports world. Getting out of a $50k contract is probably going to be a bit easier than getting out of a $400k contract. Situations vary by team.

What type of relationships do you have in the front office? Is this a team that typically takes good care of its players? Understanding this before signing anything can be beneficial down the line. Your agent should be able to walk you through the process and take care of the heavy lifting. If you don’t have an agent, then legal counsel would probably be best to assist if the situation isn’t as straight-forward as you would like.

Most contracts have some severability clauses, termination clauses etc. in them. Make sure you understand them both from a club standpoint and prior to signing anything with an agent. Make sure you are comfortable with the deal in the first place. Don’t assume you can get out easily or amicably later on. The devil is in the details as they say so make sure you pay attention, or pay someone (an attorney) to review your agent or player contract (assuming you don’t have an agent) with you. — Casey Carr

 

In the end, you have to be happy with the decisions you make. Trust yourself and your instincts. You didn’t get to where you are by being indecisive. Gather as much information as possible and pull the trigger. Make sure it’s someone that understands your vision and can represent you well in negotiations with teams and sponsors. Find someone who knows your value and is willing to fight for you. If you can’t find that person, then take the steps to navigate the professional world on your own. It won’t be easy. The learning curve will be steep. But you will get a crash course in business that many people many years older than you never got.

If you have any questions about the article or want to hear more in-depth responses to some of the questions please feel free to reach out to me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn!

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