"Show me the money!" Who doesn't recognize that line from the movie Jerry McGuire? It brings to mind a vision of Tom Cruise, as a sports agent, listening to his one and only client, a football player, gleefully demand big bucks. Is the lifestyle of a sports agent really as exciting as it is for Cruise's character? And, for all you sports-crazed attorneys and future attorneys, does it offer the best of both worlds - law and sports?
To find out, I spent a little time with Joe Kehoskie, president and CEO of Joe Kehoskie Baseball. The picture Joe paints is significantly different from the one put forth in Jerry McGuire, but no less interesting.
Kehoskie's path to sports agency is not one he necessarily would recommend: he grew up playing baseball and basketball, but his focus soon turned from playing sports to working in baseball. At age 11, he was a batboy for the Single-A Auburn Astros (now the Doubledays). He remained affiliated with minor league baseball in one way or another for the next 11 years. Finally, in 1995, he launched Joe Kehoskie Baseball. Graduating from high school in three years, Joe put college on hold while he worked for a Triple-A baseball team; he plans to finish his degree over the next couple of years.
Many of the top sports agents, however, went from law school or practicing law to sports agency. Legal education is very much a part of being a sports agent - drawing and interpreting contracts, protecting the client in tax considerations, to mention a few things. There was a time in the 1990s when the sports agent generalized to some extent and sought NFL, MLB, and NBA clients simultaneously. Not today. The high level of competition, coupled with overlapping sports seasons, has caused a return to specializing in one sport.
Kehoskie's baseball background provided the expertise to open his agency, and he had two important qualities for a successful sports agent: adequate capital and an ability to spot and evaluate talent. His work focuses primarily on players from Latin America, where an increasing percentage of young talent is first spotted not by baseball scouts, but by agents.
Kehoskie's highest profile client is Felix Hernandez, a right-handed pitcher for the Seattle Mariners who was, at age 19, the youngest pitcher to start in the Majors since Dwight Gooden and Jose Rijo in 1984. Herndandez went 4-4 in 2005 with an E.R.A. of 2.67 and 77 strikeouts. In recent years, Joe has further narrowed his focus to Cuba. He is only the third agent, and the first non-Cuban, to represent Cuban defectors. His highest profile Cuban client is Rolando Viera; their relationship was highlighted in a 2001 episode of ESPN's Outside the Lines.
Kehoskie explains that in addition to sniffing out talent, there are the start-up and maintenance costs associated with any business, but the primary expense an agent will face are the costs of travel. In nine years, Kehoskie has never had a client step foot in his office. He's on the road - multiple trips to Florida or the Caribbean, plus food and lodging, are standard operating procedure for a baseball agent.
Even when an agent signs a new client, it could be months or even years before the agent sees that first commission check. It takes time to cultivate the necessary relationships and to develop clients. Worse yet, client-poaching is an unfortunate reality for sports agents. An agent might work with a client for months only to have another agent swoop in at the last minute, steal the client, and reap the benefits of the first agent's work.
Still want to be an agent? You're probably wondering, then, what the market is like for sports agents. Kehoskie estimates that for each Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez, there are dozens of agents waiting to represent him. Specialization, experience, and capitalization are the keys to success. There isn't any on-the-job training available, and the big agencies generally don't hire inexperienced agents. The budding sports agent must be committed to working independently. But don't despair - if you have the ambition and can sustain yourself, perhaps as an associate in a firm, you can gain access to future clients. Possibilities include working with collegiate athletes as their attorney or in another representational capacity, networking with your alumni association or hot-stove league, and volunteering for a charitable function or agency where you know athletes will be invited or will congregate.
Or you may end up scouring Latin America for the next top prospect. Kehoskie estimates that as many as 95 percent of premium amateur baseball players are relatively unknown, so to find them, an agent has to get out to the sandlots, the semi-pros or the minor leagues. The talent is there, and you (as the budding agent) just need to have access to it, the eye to spot it, and the knowledge about what to do when the moment arrives.
Familiarize yourself with the techniques and methods of well known agents, prepare a good sales pitch - selling yourself - and read as much as you can about successful agents from the wealth of material available in magazines, libraries and online. If you have the determination, you can take yourself from the bullpen and develop a pitch that will be a winner.