A Real-Life ‘Jerry Maguire’: How You Can Become a Successful NFL Agent

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The fast-paced lifestyle of a sports agent today can involve working with some of the biggest names and brands in sports, traveling to the best sporting events, and investing in the lives of professional athletes.

While the image of life as “Jerry Maguire” can seem glamorous, building a career as an NFL agent and negotiating contracts for first-round draft picks doesn’t happen overnight.

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For example, there are about 840 agents certified by the NFL Players Association for approximately 1,800 players in the NFL. With approximately 75 percent of NFL players represented by just 17 percent of all certified agents, making a career out of this profession can be a challenge for many.

So, how exactly does one become an agent? Better yet, how does one remain an agent for the duration of their career?

Seek Formal and Informal Education

“You can never consume enough information. Our job is constant and a grind in every sense of the word,” said Chris Coy, an NFL agent who began his career by completing his law degree at Georgetown University and signing his first NFL player shortly afterward.

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Coy attributed his early success to what he described as “knocking on doors and flirting with annoyance.” His informal experience came through numerous networking and internship opportunities by making himself available to others in the industry like Andrew Goodman, a wealth manager and financial advisor who helped Coy gain practical experience in contract negotiation, recruiting new talent, and client promotion.

“Do as much research as you possibly can before you decide to get in. There is a myth of what agents really do, and I was able to get experience before investing a significant amount of money,” Coy said. “Look at the numbers of how many agents are certified, how many actually represent players, and how many have players on second contracts. That’s where the real benchmark is.”

While it never hurts to network and understand the industry, the NFL and other professional leagues do require a certification from their Players Associations. Studying the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement and having a postgraduate degree are some of the requirements for becoming a certified agent — not to mention, the NFLPA exam has just under a 40 percent passing rate.

Hone Your People Skills

Becoming a successful agent isn’t always about the hard skills; honing your people skills can make or break you in this profession.

“It’s one thing to understand business, contracts, and negotiation, but the true value is in connecting with people,” said Jack Mills of Capital Sports Advisors, who represents Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield. Mills has been in sports business for over 50 years and represented four first-round picks in the 1970 NFL draft alone.

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When Mills started his career, players were making $25,000 (and that was big money at the time). Much has changed since then, but Mills’ foundation for success hasn’t, thanks to having “a servant’s mentality.”

While that may sound counterintuitive, “the ability to recruit will determine your level of success in this business,” stated Mills. With the key being acquiring new clients, people skills are in high demand, and Mills hasn’t lost a step.

“It’s all about trust, getting to know people on the club side and becoming known as a trusted voice in the industry.”

Be Patient

“It can be hard to open the door,” said David Lisko, an NFL agent and attorney for Holland & Knight. “The reality of signing a first-round pick early in your career is slim. Make sure you’re building something outside of being an agent in case it doesn’t work out or if you don’t have a ton of capital to invest.”

A former college football player at Ohio State, Lisko has worked with Olympic athletes and conducted sponsorship deals and legal deals that allowed him to grow in the industry and work towards signing NFL players.

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Becoming a sports agent may be one of the most challenging roles within sports business, but also may be one of the most fulfilling. As Mills would say, “a plan is only as good as the people who execute it.” 

Seeking educational opportunities, both informal and formal, along with honing your people skills and patience just may open the door for you to begin your career as an NFL agent.

Seeking additional information on a sports law degree or potential sports agencies to contact? The University of Miami has a Sports & Entertainment Law Degree along with a host of other institutions that offer similar programs. Forbes Magazine released a list of the 2018 “Top Sports Agencies” that included the likes of Creative Artists Agency (CAA), Wasserman, Octagon, Independent Sports Entertainment (ISE), Roc Nation Sports and Athletes First.