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How to Become a Sports Agent – The Definitive Playbook

how to become a sports agent

Professional athletes are the superstars of the physical sports world. But although they make miracles happen on the field, they don’t create and run brands independently. Most professional athletes don’t even negotiate their salaries. Instead, those and other responsibilities are dedicated to professionals called sports agents. Sports agents are marketing, legal, and business professionals who support client athletes in various ways. Learn what you need to know how to become a sports agent. Let’s take a look at how you can do just that step-by-step.

What Are Sports Agents?

Sports agents, in a nutshell, are career managers for athletes. In other words, agents represent clients in a variety of legal and public-facing ways.

Sports agents help athletes grow their careers through communication, marketing strategy, and other methods. They do this so that athletes can earn more money for as long as they play their chosen sports. These professionals are very similar to the talent agents for actors or other performers.

For example, imagine a scenario in which a college-age athlete is offered entrance into the NBA. The college athlete has no idea what constitutes a good contract. They might not know how to market themselves, how to start building a brand for product deals, and so on.

A sports agent can assist with all of that. They will help athletes negotiate a fair salary for their skill level in popularity. These professionals also represent the athlete if they want to build a brand for products like sneakers. Overall, they are essential partners for professional athletes in more ways than one.

Sports Agent Responsibilities

Read on to learn the specific responsibilities that sports agents have to their clients:

Negotiating salaries for their clients

Salary negotiation is a significant sticking point for many professional athletes. For example, if they are paid too little, they might not feel worthwhile compared to other players. Therefore sports agents negotiate as much money for their clients as possible given their relative popularity, time in the industry, etc.

Striking deals with product brands

For example, an NFL player might agree to show up in a commercial for a coffee shop. The NFL player didn’t set up the deal. Their sports agent did instead. The sports agent also helps negotiate how much money the athlete makes and how marketing will portray the athlete.

Performing public relations services

If the athlete does something inappropriate in the eyes of the public, the sports agent may draw up a response. They may also coach their athlete client, so they know what to say. The reverse is also true for positive press releases. The sports agent tells the athlete what to say, how to look humble, etc.

Promoting their athlete clients to sponsors, especially advertisers

This job becomes much more important as the athlete becomes more popular and skilled.

Networking for their athletes

A professional network is absolutely vital for building one’s brand and for increasing their athlete’s polarity.

Accumulating and analyzing data for their clients’ professional careers

Sports agents can provide critical insights to their athletes. They can help determine how they should grow their brands or evolve their careers.

Maintaining financial health for athletes

Athletes make a ton of money, so accounting skills to manage costs are crucial. Sports agents can do that for their clients.

Depending on the experience and importance of a given sports agent, they may work alone or with a team. Also, experienced sports agents can work for agencies or run their own agencies. In this case, they may manage one athlete at a time or several.

Ideal Skills for Sports Agents

Successful sports agents must have many skills to succeed for themselves and their clients. These skills include:

  • A professional attitude no matter what. Like other performers, many athletes have distinct personalities. Sports agents have to be able to stay professional even if their clients aren’t the most respectful.
  • Charisma. These professionals network easily and get along with most individuals.
  • A willingness to travel. Sports agents must always be on the go and willing to meet others to network or promote their clients effectively.
  • Good communication skills. Naturally, these individuals need to be able to work with many different people and reach agreements. Communication is essential during salary negotiations.
  • Good negotiation skills. Similarly, sports agents need to go to bat for their clients. They need to know how to push for high salaries and other benefits without pushing too far.
  • Strong knowledge of marketing principles, sports business principles, and the law. These professionals have to read through complex contracts all the time. These contracts are usually chock-full of legalese. Thus, sports agents need to know how to review those contracts and determine whether they are beneficial for their clients.

In addition to all of these skills, the best sports agents love sports. Whether they prefer football, basketball, baseball, or something else, agents know their games. The more a sports agent knows, the better a job they can do.

How to Become a Sports Agent Step-by-Step

This article showcases how to become a sports agent. The steps can be time-consuming, but it’s worth it for a dynamic, high-paying career:

Step 1 – Get a Bachelor’s Degree

Firstly, aspiring sports agents must get a bachelor’s degree in an appropriate field. Many have additional degrees or certifications to prove their skills and experience.

One can pursue different degrees based on individual interests, industry trends, and more.

Types of Degrees

Depending on the university, students may or may not be able to choose distinct sports agent degrees. In fact, most universities instead offer degrees such as:

  • Sports management degrees
  • Business degrees with concentrations in sports management
  • Sports business degrees
  • Business administration degrees with an emphasis on sports management
  • Kinesiology degrees with concentrations in sports management

Most students will need a bachelor's degree in sports management to become sports agents. Because a sports agent is essentially a businessperson, this makes sense. However, the degree type influences their ultimate career trajectory.

For example, a sports management degree limits a graduate to sports management and sports business fields. The hard line can be good or bad depending on how confident you are about staying in that industry forever.

In contrast, a business degree with a concentration in sports management is more flexible and versatile. That degree allows graduates positions and opportunities in a variety of fields. Therefore, students should consider how they imagine their careers evolving before settling on any specific major.

Classes in Sports Agent Programs

Naturally, different sports agent degree programs will include a variety of classes and topics. Some of the most common courses are:

  • Facility management
  • Risk management
  • Corporate sales
  • Sponsorships
  • Advertising
  • Broadcasting principles
  • Fundraising for athletes and sports organizations
  • How financial operations work for sports organizations

A curriculum may include more core business topics depending on the degree. Core topics might include accounting, recruitment, personnel management, and communication. Before signing on the dotted line, students should review the required classes for any degree program.

Online vs. In-Person Degrees

Of course, students should also consider whether their chosen program is available online or in person. Online programs have several advantages over their in-person counterparts.

  • Online degrees are frequently more flexible. Courses can be asynchronous so students can complete a program on their schedules. The flexibility can be good for those who work while completing their education.
  • Distance programs can sometimes be more affordable, depending on whether the student is in-state or out-of-state.
  • Students can pursue online degrees on a part-time basis. Again, this is helpful for students who have to maintain other responsibilities while attending school.

That said, in-person degrees can still be excellent choices depending on the student’s needs. In-person degrees offer more access to university resources, such as labs or libraries. They also allow students to meet with their professors in person. Some students, furthermore, benefit more from attending lectures in the real world.

Bottom line: all sports agent students should consider whether a degree program is available online or in person. Then they should choose the version of the program that best fits their needs and learning styles.

Step 2 – Earn Your License

After acquiring a bachelor’s degree, an aspiring sports agent must earn a license to be registered. Licensure is on a state-by-state basis. Some states do not require licensure whatsoever, but most do.

Therefore, students should check out their state’s regulations regarding sports agent registration. Acquiring licensure usually involves:

  • Agreeing to a background check
  • Filling out a registration application
  • Paying a nominal fee

Depending on the state, some licensure processes may require the sports agent to take an exam. The exam should cover materials included in any relevant degree program. Most of these exams are also multiple-choice.

In addition, some states require sports agents to sign certifications representing specific athletes in certain sports. They then need to maintain certification for their business relationships with those athletes.

Therefore, aspiring sports agents need in-depth knowledge of the sports they want to represent. Knowing specific protocols and rules for any sport is included in this. The more knowledge an individual has, the more flexible and adaptable they can be regarding certification.

Do You Always Need a License?

No. But it’s a good idea to acquire licensure if at all possible. If one’s state requires licensure for a sports agent to operate, any employing sports organization will also require it. Note this precedent during your degree program. Some sports management programs may allow students to complete the licensure exam at their conclusions.

Step 3 – Earn a Professional/Master’s Degree

While earning a bachelor’s degree is always necessary, many sports agents also decide to earn a professional or master's degree. Graduate degrees can be highly advantageous for a variety of reasons:

  • The more education one has, the better-equipped one will be to handle business or legal problems in the sports industry.
  • A higher degree usually translates to a higher salary regardless of industry. It’s certainly true for sports agents and managers. So students with a master’s degree in a related field could earn more money overall.
  • A master’s degree allows one to expand their professional horizons and career opportunities. For example, earning an MBA after acquiring a sports management degree ensures that the graduate will have many job opportunities.

That said, a professional or master’s degree is not strictly necessary. Most employing sports organizations do not require such credentials. However, new sports agents may need entry-level jobs to gain experience before getting high-quality positions.

What Kinds of Degrees Are Worthwhile?

Students can pursue a wide range of master’s or professional degrees if they want to earn extra education. Some of the best master’s or professional degrees to pursue include:

  • Law degrees. Law school provides technical knowledge so agents can read through the legalese of any contract. This enables them to better represent their athlete clients in negotiations. So while a law degree isn’t mandatory, it is fantastic for giving graduates extra helpful skills.
  • MBA with an emphasis in sports management. Some MBA programs offer courses that provide trading in sports management, so they learn much more about the sports industry. Such programs are phenomenal for teaching graduates how to establish player brands, negotiate salary caps, and more.

However, any master’s program in a related field can be advantageous for one’s career prospects and salary negotiations. Overall, the more skills one knows, the better one will operate as a sports agent for their clients.

There’s also a secondary benefit to attending graduate school: networking opportunities. As a sports agent, one has to network aggressively for their athlete—meaning meeting and working with other individuals in the same industry. Attending a graduate degree program in the field could allow students to forge meaningful business relationships. This may pay dividends in the future, particularly after the student has a few high-value clients.

Step 4 – Get a Job

After acquiring a degree and any necessary licensure, the aspiring sports agent can then pursue job opportunities. As noted above, those with bachelor’s degrees may need to settle for entry-level positions at first. They may work on teams with several other sports agents to negotiate on behalf of one or more players.

Those with graduate degrees could easily step into higher-paying jobs right off the bat. Regardless, it’s vital to network aggressively and pursue all available job opportunities. Graduates are largely responsible for fostering their own client relationships. That means reaching out to athletes needing representation and proving that they can get the job done.

Some agencies and marketing firms hire new sports agents right out of school. The longer a sports agent works in the field, the better the odds that they’ll get a higher-paying position in the future.

Do You Need an Internship?

No, but it always helps. Some sports management and MBA programs offer internship opportunities for new sports agents. These internships are excellent for bolstering career prospects in the long run. However, students should remember that they don’t usually pay any money.

Still, internships are valuable because:

  • They teach future graduates valuable skills in the sports agency and representation industry
  • Networking opportunities (similar to going to grad school)
  • Students can transition into a paid position right out of college

All of these benefits make internships excellent opportunities. Students should research their chosen programs and see if internship options are available.

Average Salaries for Sports Agents

According to the BLS, the national mean wage for agents of athletes, artists, and performers is $116,410. That’s quite an impressive salary, especially compared to managers in other industries.

However, it’s important to note that sports agent salaries vary wildly. Salaries are determined by seniority, quality of work, and clientele. For example, the same resource indicates that the lowest-paid 10% only receive over $47,000 per year. The reverse is also true. The highest-paid 25% earn nearly $163,000 per year.

Basically, sports agents can earn a lot of money if they have worthwhile clients. But it can be tough to acquire that clientele in the beginning. Especially since many athletes get their sports agents by recommendation.

The longer a sports agent works in the field, the greater the chances they’ll have to acquire those high-value clients. These professionals get their salaries from agencies they work for or commissions from the athletes themselves. For example, a sports agent for a major athlete might do all that athlete’s work for 2% of their yearly earnings.

On top of that, a sports agent’s state of residence can impact their expected salary. States such as New York, California, Texas, Florida, and Massachusetts have higher wages than states like Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Career Prospects for Sports Agents

Sports agents don’t have to stay in the same position forever. Most begin by working for agencies. They eventually strike out on their own and acquire clients as independent agents.

Overall, sports agents have dynamic career prospects if they know where to look and get the right degree. As noted earlier, a more versatile degree opens up more doors later in their careers.

Sports agents can, for example, become:

  • Team scouts. These individuals scout new talent for sports teams and leagues.
  • Business managers. These professionals run agencies rather than build relationships with clients individually; this is ideal for those with MBAs or similar degrees.
  • Sports analysts. These individuals may use their statistical and mathematical knowledge to analyze data and provide insights to athletes and sports agents.

Find a Sports Management Degree Online Today!

As you can see, becoming a sports agent can be time-intensive. But it shouldn’t take any longer to become a sports agent than it takes to earn any other worthwhile professional position. The rewards for becoming an agent for athletes can be high, especially if you double down on effective networking.

But don’t forget that you’ll need to get a quality degree before earning sports agent positions. You can check GetEducated.com’s list of online sports management degrees to do that. It includes a list of excellent online schools with sports management or business programs.

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