The Business of Sports



Show Me The Money

When the infamous words “Show me the money!” in Tom Cruise’s blockbuster movie Jerry Maguire came out in 1996, Hollywood brought attention to the world of sports and entertainment agency. Since Cruise’s classic, Hollywood has highlighted the glitz and glam associated with that world – the big egos, flashy athletes and everything in between. America has seen Ari Gold in the HBO tv series, Entourage and most recently, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson in HBO’s comedy-drama series, Ballers.

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Tom Cruise (Jerry Maguire), Jeremy Piven as Ari Gold (Entourage) and Dwayne Johnson (Ballers), all portray the hustle behind the glitz and glam of sports agency. 


It sounds fun, doesn’t it? Scouting and identifying talent, working with professional athletes, and getting paid millions of dollars in commissions on big 7-figure contracts … who wouldn’t want to do it? Oh and you don’t necessarily have to have a JD, MBA or PHD from a top 10 school to be qualified to do it … if you have the rolodex of contacts, the savviness to build those relationships, and fortitude to build a reputation of trust, and maybe a little luck, you’re right there.

So let’s cross from Hollywood into what the sports agency landscape looks like in reality today.

To a large extent, Hollywood is not far from the truth. The spots agency business is booming. Media right deals, salary caps and the size of professional athletes’ contacts are bigger than ever. In Forbes’ 2017  ranking of the “World’s Most Valuable Sports Agencies,” the firms featured have negotiated a collective $43 billion in current professional athlete contracts, netting over $2.1 billion in commissions, nearly a 10% increase from 2016.

CAA, the number one sports agency in the world, lands 5 out of the 20 most successful individual sports agents. 

There is one agency that is head and shoulders above the rest. Creative Artists Agency (CAA). Their total in contracts managed is larger than the next three top agencies combined at $8.5 billion (equating to $318 million in commissions). CAA leads the way in football and hockey, and is only second behind to Excel Sports Management in basketball. CAA has 5 of the top 20 compensated sports agents:

  • #9, Pat Brisson – Hockey – $44.05m in commissions
  • #11 Tom Condon – Football – $42.17m in commissions
  • #16 Nez Balelo – Baseball – $28.92m in commissions
  • #17J.P. Barry – Hockey – $28.75m in commissions
  • #18 Todd France – Football – $27.95m in commissions

*Scott Boras (with Boras Corp) ranks #1, earning $108.33M in commissions via baseball.

The world’s most lucrative sports agent, Scott Boras (right), sitting side by side his client Max Scherzer. Boras negotiated Scherzer’s 7 year $210 million contract. 

CAA’s biggest contracts include Matthew Stafford’s 5 year $135 million deal with the Detroit Lions, Robinson Cano’s $240 million deal with the Seattle Mariners, and Patrick Kane’s 8 year, $84 million deal with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Right behind CAA is Jeff Schwartz’s Excel Sports Management who may be the quickest growing sports agency company, acquiring an increase of over $300 million in contracts last year. Managing a roster of over 60 NBA players, including Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, and Andre Drummond, Excel has dominated the basketball space.


Behind Excel, is LA based, Wasserman, with about $2.7 billion in contracts. Wasserman recently acquired European soccer agency Mondial Partners, which makes them  the No. 1 ranked agency in soccer combined with its domestic soccer division.

Rounding out the top 5 is Independent Sports & Entertainment at No. 4 and Octagon at No. 5.

The sports agency business has traditionally had several barriers to entry. In fact, the top 5 conglomerated sports agencies in the world represent over one third of all professional athletes. While the top 40 agencies representing 3,6000 clients, this equates to about 60% of pro athletes in the top 4 US sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA).

Today, a 24 and a 25 year-old out of New York City are dispelling that stigma. Two years ago, Andrew Hoenig and Daniel Hazan became the youngest agents with a player on a NBA roster with the New York City Knicks Jameel Artis. Today they have 20 clients and have negotiated 11 contracts. Neither of them were certified agents when they started, nor did they have many contacts, so they networked organically by adding athletes on Facebook while taking them to D-League open tryouts, paying for their travel and they learned the business instantaneously on their own. And while they still consistently loose guys they recruited (many of times starting at the beginning of an athletes’ 4 year high school career) to the big agencies like CAA, Excel and Wasserman who come in at the last minute and scoop up the highly talented.

Hazan and Hoenig are trying to develop their own niche specifically within the NBA. They are starting to get guys after they leave Wasserman, or CAA, who want more personal attention. For Artis, it was exactly that, “With me, it’s not about the age of the agent, not about how many people you are representing … They were all focused on me. They were all about Jame Artis getting in the right position.”

Andrew Hoenis (left) and Daniel Hazan (right) negotiated their first contract wiht the Knicks for client Jamel Artis (center). 

While the vast majority of agents’ income is made through commissions on their clients’ contracts, the other component to it is marketing and endorsement. Hazan owns his own marketing company called New Generation Management which promotes events and products for Jonathan Simmons, JR Smith and Charles Oakley. Agents typically earn 20-25% from marketing and endorsement contracts. Typically, however, these endorsement earnings just make up 1-2% of their overall player contract.

Needless to say, the sports agency landscape is an interesting one … filled with big egos and lots of money. Whether you’re a young entrepreneur, a seasoned sports marketer, or even an ex-professional athlete, there is opportunity.


Tampa Tilting the Trend in Home-Ice Advantage

Chicago Blackhawks fans caused a major stir this week because of the ticket policy the Tampa Bay Lightning has incorporated during their 2015 playoff run. The following disclaimer comes from the Tampa Bay Lightning Ticketmaster site:

Amalie Arena is located in Tampa, FL. Sales to this event will be restricted to

residents of Florida. Residency will be based on credit card billing address.

Orders by residents outside the selected area will be canceled without notice

and refunds given.


Furthermore, for the entirety of the 2015 NHL Playoffs, the Lightning fans sitting in the Chase Club and Lexus Lounge as well as the adjoining sections, are only permitted to wear Tampa Bay Lightning apparel (or neutral). Fans wearing opposing team apparels will be asked to remove them while in these seats.

Amalie Arena Amalie Arena 1

The Chase Club within Amalie Arena offers a luxury seating experience that will ban all opposing team apparel during 2015 NHL Playoffs.
The Chase Club within Amalie Arena offers a luxury seating experience that will ban all opposing team apparel during the 2015 Playoffs.

While these policies have seemed to disturb some Chicago fans, the Lightning organization is technically doing wrong, as ticket and seating policies (like this one) are left up to the individual teams rather than the National Hockey League. In fact, the Nashville Predators adopted this same strategy earlier in the playoffs in order to boost their “home-ice” advantage. This ticket policy is very quickly becoming a growing trend amongst small market NHL teams.

Time and time again we’ve seen professional teams get in trouble for enhanced crowd noise. The latest case we saw was the NFL fining the Atlanta Falcons 350k and a draft pick for playing “artificial” crowd noise throughout the 2013 season and into the 2014 season. There have been a number of other small market teams who have been investigated for enhanced crowd noise, including the Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions.

So the Tampa Bay Lightning are bending their rules on ticket sales, in order to “legally” get to this concept of “increasing home field advantage”. In hockey the concept of “home-ice advantage” has traditionally been less of a true advantage comparatively to other sports like football, baseball and basketball … where crowd noise can be more easily heard and thus used as an advantage. Yet as is the case in all sports in today’s day in age, any advantage whatsoever that can be achieved will be aggressively sought.

In larger sport market cities like Boston, New York, Chicago, and Los Angles, where the issue of visiting team fans’ outnumbering home team fans is never in question such policies don’t come up in discussion. However, in markets like Tampa Bay, a ticket policy like this one not only brings short term success with the crowd noise advantage, but it also incentives the surrounding Greater Tampa area to potentially become life-tie fans.

Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, is often very empty for most Rays home games.
Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, is often very empty for most Rays home games.

While the narcissist may argue that it’s times like these where the “bandwagoners” come out of the closest. In reality, the organization is reaching out to the local fan base and capitalizing on an opportunity to expand their fan base. Tampa Bay is the city whose baseball team’s (Tampa Bay Rays) attendance figures are traditionally 5,000 less than the next lowest MLB team’s. The football team (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) finished with the league’s worst record last year and has gone through trouble with TV blackouts. The Lightning organization saw an opportunity to capitalize on the team’s success, and the open market space, and has successfully implemented a ticket policy to encourage locals to come to the arena and potentially becomes lifetime fans. This Stanley Cup will be the first since the Lightning lifted the Cup in 2004.

It would not surprise to see this trend become more popularly implemented ticket policy, specifically during the playoff season across all major sports.

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