A year after founding his agency, Zeidel is poised for a big 2018.
About a year ago, Ronnie Zeidel sat down with Front Office Sports to talk about his transition into the athlete representation side of basketball with his founding of RZA Sports.
With a resume full of accomplishments that run deep in the basketball space, Zeidel has worked in marketing, collegiate scouting, sponsorship sales, media and more. His unique blend of experience, including working for the Knicks, the NBA, and SLAM Magazine, gave Zeidel a great foundation to take a confident, yet risky leap into the sports agency world.
One year later, Zeidel can already see his new venture is paying off.
“Year one was certainly a handful, but it wasn’t more than I anticipated,” said Zeidel. “I was eager to establish an identity by getting my website and branding created quickly. I also had to study for the NBPA and FIBA agent exams, begin recruiting and networking, develop strong and reliable relationships overseas and solidify my great contacts at the NBA. It was a lot to take on, especially since I don’t cut corners.”
He must have done something right, as year one saw RZA Sports sign a handful of impressive players to contracts in prestigious European leagues, such as Spain’s ACB and Germany’s BBL. From Tim Kempton and Reggie Upshaw to Marquis Wright, Eric Fanning and others, Zeidel is seeing success with his guys overseas.
He has also had some difficult choices to make in recruiting players. He was hesitant at first to sign Jaylen Morris, a division 2 player, because he knew that reputable European teams were unlikely to take a chance on a D2 kid. But Zeidel really believed in Jaylen, and decided to sign him, knowing he would have to work much harder to help guide this young prospect.
“I took Jaylen out to Vegas to showcase his game, and he played great, but we had no takers in Europe,” explained Zeidel. “I was able to secure five G League workouts, and he was drafted in the 2nd round by the Erie Bayhawks. His stat that makes me the proudest is that he is leading the team in minutes. Now, a D2 kid with no prospects is proving to the industry that he can play at a high level, and he is not even close to his ceiling. I doubt I’ll ever take on another D2 kid, but I guess never say never.”
With year two of RZA Sports off and running, Zeidel can focus more on his current and potential clients rather than the first-year startup hurdles.
“It was a great first year, but now I want to step things up a bit. I often refer to this year as RZA 2.0.” Zeidel explained. To that end, he’s been traveling, recruiting, building relationships and making sure his clients are happily situated with their teams.
“It is not always easy for an American player to acclimate to a new country and new culture,” said Zeidel. “It’s just not for everyone. They need their agent to be a mentor that cares enough to stay the course in order to help them adjust.”
Whether it’s a language barrier or even food barrier (one client lost 17 pounds), Zeidel does everything in his power to make his clients more comfortable without physically being there for them.
He can now look to market his current clients for better opportunities and other options around the world next year. He plans to use the relationships he built in year one and over his 27 years in the business to help navigate the collegiate recruiting landscape for Year 2.0. However, he’s very particular in the way he recruits.
“I’m a big believer that these student-athletes should not have distractions throughout the season, whether that’s from agents or anyone else,” explained Zeidel. “They should be focused on their team, their coaches, and their game. It doesn’t really help anyone if I bug them during the season. It’s just too disruptive and that’s not my style.”
With a better understanding of the representation landscape, and more time to focus on recruiting and building his client base, Zeidel can use his experience to go after NBA caliber talent.
“Obviously, only a select few college kids play in the NBA year one,” Zeidel added. “With Reggie and Tim as my first two building blocks, I hope to help lead them and my future partners to success at the NBA level. There are also many terrific opportunities overseas or at the G League for talented, hungry ball players. I want partners who are committed to making it as a pro in whatever league fits them best.”
If a player is talented but a handful to deal with, that relationship might not be right for Zeidel.
“Some of the kids I recruit are unrealistic about the NBA, so if we’re not on the same page, I will usually step aside and not pursue signing them.”
Zeidel understands the importance of relationships. He cares for his clients deeply, and wants to see them succeed. Zeidel can feel the stress of taking care of his clients.
“The one thing that keeps me up at night is the possibility of any of my guys not having a job,” Zeidel said. “You recruit these guys all year, sign them, and then work with the NBA teams to secure as many pre-draft workouts as possible. You hope they’re drafted but if not, and if they don’t have success in Vegas at Summer League, you market them to Europe.”
“We’re in a good situation with our guys right now, but I do have one incredibly talented player who wasn’t ready for Europe in August due to an injury, and didn’t get drafted by the G League. I am not kidding when I tell you that I lose sleep every night worrying about finding him the right job in Europe. I am hoping to get him settled ASAP.”
“As an agent, your job is to put the player in the best position to win and be happy,” added Zeidel. “As a player, their job is to work hard, be a good teammate, and do everything they can to win.”
Zeidel knows there is so much more that happens off the court for both the agent and the player. So, for Zeidel, it is about helping that player navigate his career both on and off the court, and reading and reacting to everything that comes their way.
With two kids of his own, Zeidel sees firsthand how different two people can be from one another. The same thing translates to his clients.
“They are all amazing people but no two are the same. It’s funny, they are truly like extended family.”
Zeidel will make a trip to Europe in January to see his clients and continue to build his relationships.
“The trip will give me a chance to spend time with my guys,” said Zeidel. “I can’t wait to see how they’re acclimating to the country, the league and their coaches.”
RZA 2.0 is accelerating quickly with no sign of stopping. Zeidel can now take more time to put his years of scouting to use by traveling around the country and finding the next best client. As for what Zeidel considers when deciding whether to recruit a player?
“I look for two things when I recruit: talent comes first but work ethic and hunger are next. I recruit ballers, young men that I believe in and guys that are as hungry on the court as I am off it. And they know I grind every day, so they believe in me too.”
Zeidel sums it up as follows: “There is never a dull day in this business and I love every minute of it.”
With an optimistic outlook, a year of representation under his belt, and a budding list of clients, RZA 2.0 should be an even greater success for Zeidel and his clients.
This piece has been presented to you by SMU’s Master of Science in Sport Management.
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