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A sports agent is a legal representative (hence agent) for professional sports figures such as athletes and coaches. They procure and negotiate employment and endorsement contracts for the athlete or coach whom they represent. Because of the unique characteristics of the sports industry, sports agents are responsible for communications with team owners, managers, and other individuals. Also, they are responsible for making recommendations in regard . In addition to finding income sources, agents often handle public relations matters for their clients. In some large sports agencies, such as IMG, Creative Artists Agency, Roc Nation Sports and Octagon, agents deal with all aspects of a client's finances, from investment to filing taxes.
Sports agents may be relied upon by their clients for guidance in all business aspects, and sometimes even more broadly. For example, hockey agents start recruiting clients as young as 15, allowing the agent to guide the athlete's career before the NHL draft, which happens usually at 18 years of age.
Due to the length and complexity of contracts, many sports agents are lawyers or have a background in contract law. Agents are expected to be knowledgeable about finance, business management, and financial and risk analysis, as well as sports. It is important for a sports agent to follow trends in sports. Other skills an agent must possess are excellent communication and negotiation skills. Agents must be highly motivated, willing to work long hours, and capable of multitasking. It is very common for agents to be in negotiations on behalf of several clients at one time.
Some agents are part of large companies, and some are on their own. The number of clients an individual agent can handle and how many clients his or her employing agency can handle in total are interdependent variables.
Before the 1990s, most soccer players did not use agents. In some cases, they used their fathers as agents. Because of most parents' naivete about the football business, these young footballers were often given less-than-stellar contracts by football clubs, which yielded lower salaries than they thought they deserved. In Sweden, there were only three licensed agents in 1995. As of 2002, there were 33. According to FIFA, there were 5,187 licensed association football agents worldwide, with 600 agents in Italy alone. Since 2001, agents have not been licensed by FIFA. Instead, agents are now licensed directly by each association.
Sports agents generally receive between 4 and 10% of the athlete's playing contract, and 10 to 20% of the athlete's endorsement contract, although these figures vary. NFL agents are not permitted to receive more than 3%, and NBA agents not more than 4%, of their client's playing contracts.
The popularity of television shows such as Entourage, which stars a talent agent named Ari Gold, and Arliss, have helped glamorize the profession. Prior to that, movies such as Jerry Maguire, Two for the Money, and Any Given Sunday depicted sports agents. In England, ITV's Footballers' Wives put a new spin on sports agents by casting a no-holds-barred female agent Hazel Bailey. The television show Ballers, which started in 2015, also shows a strong depiction of sports agents.
Due to the popularity of these works, there has been increase of attention in the profession. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair's son decided to become a football agent.
Notable sports agents
- Tom Condon: co-head of Creative Artists Agency (CAA) Football. Clients include Peyton Manning and Tony Romo.
- James "Bus" Cook: Clients include Brett Favre, Jay Cutler, and Calvin Johnson.
- Ben Dogra: co-head of CAA Football. Clients include Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, and Joseph Addai.
- Jason Fletcher: former player turned agent. Clients include Antonio Cromartie, Jamar Fletcher, Clinton Portis, and Fabian Washington.
- Bob LaMonte: founder and president of Professional Sports Representation. Clients include Mike Holmgren, Brad Childress, and Josh McDaniels.
- Joe Linta: In 2013, negotiated the richest contract in NFL history for Joe Flacco, despite the fact that he's never been picked for the Pro Bowl.
- Eugene E. Parker: negotiated the highest signing bonuses in NFL history for Emmitt Smith and Deion Sanders. Real-life inspiration for flamboyant character "Rod Tidwell" in the film Jerry Maguire.
- John "JR" Rickert: Clients include Joshua Cribbs, T. J. Houshmandzadeh, Kevin Burnett, and Mike Patterson.
- Drew Rosenhaus: Clients include Plaxico Burress and Terrell Owens.
- Peter Schaffer: President of Authentic Athletix, LLC. Clients include including Joe Thomas, Phil Taylor, Barry Sanders, Trevor Pryce, Joshua Cribbs, C. J. Anderson, Mario Edwards Jr., and Hakeem Nicks. and PGA golfers including two-time PGA tour winner Jonathan Kaye and Shane Bertsch.
- Joel Segal: President of Lagardère Unlimited Football. Clients include Eric Fisher, Reggie Bush, Santonio Holmes and Chris Johnson.
- Leigh Steinberg: Clients include Troy Aikman and Ben Roethlisberger. Real-life inspiration for fictional sports agent Jerry Maguire in the film of the same name (has a cameo appearance in the movie).
- Don Yee: Clients include Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo.
- Barry Axelrod: Clients included Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Rick Sutcliffe, and executive Kevin Towers.
- Scott Boras: Clients include Alex Rodriguez and Prince Fielder. Boras is known to have negotiated the highest contracts in Major League Baseball history.
- Casey Close: Clients include Derek Jeter and Ryan Howard.
- Greg Genske: Successor in sports agency formerly run by Jeff Moorad (baseball) and Leigh Steinberg (football).
- Randy Hendricks: Partnered with his brother, Allan; they sold their firm to SFX (now Live Nation), and bought it back again.
- Joe Kehoskie: Small agency; frequently quoted by media regarding Cuban defectors and baseball in Latin America.
- Bo McKinnis: Clients include David Price.
- Jim Munsey: Clients include Sam Fuld, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Sean Burnett.
- Burton Rocks: Clients include Kip Wells, Jim Riggleman, Mike Easler, Robinson Cancel, Dave Eiland, Paul DeJong, Joe Oliver
- Matt Sosnick: Clients include Dontrelle Willis. Sosnick is subject of the book License to Deal by Jerry Crasnick.
- Arn Tellem: Clients have included Albert Belle, Mike Mussina, and Chase Utley. Also a basketball agent (see below).
- Joe Urbon: Clients include Jason Bay and Grady Sizemore.
- Jeff Austin is head of Octagon's basketball division, and was ranked 11th in the "12 Best Sport Agents in the World" in 2010 by Business Insider. His clients include David Robinson, Moses Malone, Kirk Hinrich, Stephen Curry and Jimmer Fredette.
- Doug Davis: Clients include Metta World Peace and Roger Mason, Jr..
- Bill Duffy: Clients include Rajon Rondo, Joakim Noah, Greg Oden, Yao Ming, Klay Thompson, and Steve Nash.
- David Falk: Currently semi-retired. Past clients included Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson, and Dikembe Mutombo. In the 1990s, was generally considered the most influential player agent in the NBA.
- Dan Fegan: Noted for creating several nuances in the most recently expired NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement. Clients include John Wall, Dwight Howard and Ricky Rubio.
- Aaron Goodwin: Terminated by LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Al Horford and Jamal Crawford. Goodwin now represents Candace Parker.
- Roger Montgomery: Managed Desmond Mason, Maurice Evans and Jeremy Lin.
- Rob Pelinka: Former basketball player at the University of Michigan. Clients include Kobe Bryant and Carlos Boozer.
- Leon Rose: Former agent of LeBron James.
- Arn Tellem: Clients include Tracy McGrady, Jermaine O'Neal, Pau Gasol, and Joe Johnson. His clients' total salaries in 2007-08 season added up to more than $210 million. Tellum left the agent business to become President of the Detroit Pistons.
- Mi?ko Ra?natovi?: Serbian agent. Through his agency (BeoBasket), he mostly represents European basketball players and coaches as well as American players playing in Europe. He represents many highest paid European basketball stars in Euroleague. His notable clients include Nikola Pekovi?, Mirza Teletovi?, coach Du?an Ivkovi?, Vassilis Spanoulis, Nenad Krsti?, Dario ?ari?, DeMarcus Nelson, Joffrey Lauvergne, Du?ko Savanovi?, Pero Anti?, Aleksandar ?apin, Marko Ke?elj, Nihad ?edovi?, Novica Veli?kovi?, Milenko Tepi?, Aleksandar Ra?i?, Ra?ko Kati?, ?lkan Karaman, Emir Preld?i?, Marko Simonovi?, Andrija ?i?i?, etc. Ra?natovi? was additionally involved in the Deron Williams' transfer to Be?ikta? during the 2011 NBA lockout and owns a basketball club KK Mega Vizura that competes in the Basketball League of Serbia.
- Craig McKenzie: American basketball agent. Worked for Eugene E. Parker on Deion Sanders. At 24, was one of youngest agents ever to have lottery pick in Bonzi Wells. Clients included three-sport athlete Charlie Ward, and American International Basketball stars Marcus Brown, JR Bremer,Demond Mallet and Mire Chatman, some of the highest paid players in Europe at one time.
- Zoran Savi?: Serbian agent. Through his agency (Invictus Sports Group), Barcelona-based Savi? represents coach Xavi Pascual, Milan Ma?van, coach ?an Tabak, Dalibor Bagari?, Ivan Opa?ak, etc.
- Jorge Mendes: Portuguese agent. Founder of GestiFute. Clients include Cristiano Ronaldo, Radamel Falcao, David de Gea, Diego Costa, Renato Sanches, Ricardo Quaresma, Deco, Nani, Ángel Di María and managers José Mourinho, Aitor Karanka and Luiz Felipe Scolari.
- Paul Stretford: English agent. Clients include, Wayne Rooney. Set up Triple S Sports Entertainment Group in 2009 after leaving Proactive Sports, which he originally established.
- Pini Zahavi: Israeli agent. Handled deals involving the transfers of Carlos Tevez, Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Rio Ferdinand.
- Mino Raiola: Dutch-based Italian agent. His notable clients are Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovi?, Mario Balotelli, and previously Pavel Nedv?d.
- Constantin Dumitra?cu: French-based Romanian agent. His agency (Mondial Sports Management) include Edinson Cavani, Alexandre Pato, Hatem Ben Arfa, Fernandinho, Nemanja Mati?, Douglas Costa and Philippe Coutinho.
- Milan ?alasan: Serbian agent. His agency (Mondialvas) represented Christian Karembeu, manager Arsène Wenger and Nikola ?igi?.
- Claes Elefalk: Swedish agent. Clients include Fredrik Ljungberg, Pontus Farnerud, and Nils-Eric Johansson, plus several NHL ice hockey players.
- Roger Ljung: Former Swedish international player, owns his own agency (Roger Ljung Promotion AB). Represented Fredrik Ljungberg until 2006. Clients include Marcus Allbäck, Daniel Andersson, Patrik Andersson, Erik Edman, Andreas Isaksson, Kim Källström, Marcus Lantz and Teddy Lu?i?.
- Martin Dahlin: Former Swedish international player; works for Roger Ljung Promotion AB
- Dirk Hebel: Former German footballer, owns his own agency (Fussballmarkt). Has represented Mario Götze, Sunday Oliseh, Goran Sabli? and Patrick Weiser.
- Abdilgafar "Fali" Ramadani: Macedonia-born, Germany-based Albanian agent. His agency (LIAN Sports) that he co-owns with Nikola Damjanac represents players either from or with family ties to former Yugoslavia such as Stevan Joveti?, Lazar Markovi?, Adem Ljaji?, Zvjezdan Misimovi?, Haris Seferovi? and Marko Marin.
- Barry Silkman: English agent. Clients include David Villa, Demba Ba and Ravel Morrison.
- Zoran Stojadinovi?: Serbian agent.
- Paschalis Tountouris: Greek agent and founder of Prosport Europe. Clients include Giorgos Karagounis, Sotiris Ninis and manager Yannis Anastasiou.
- Walter Palombo: Swiss-based Italian advisor. His notable clients are Andy Carroll,Jack Wilshere and Jermaine Defoe in English Premier League
- Simon Kennedy: British agent who has represented Brian Lara, Stan Collymore, Tom Cleverley and Jimmy White.
- Mike Barnett: former agent of Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, Paul Coffey, Jaromír Jágr, Joe Thornton, Lanny McDonald, Sergei Fedorov, Alexander Mogilny, Owen Nolan, Mats Sundin and Dany Heatley. Current senior advisor to the president and general manager of the New York Rangers.
- Ritch Winter: over 70 clients.
- Gilles Lupien: former NHL defenceman; current Canadian ice hockey agent. Clients include Roberto Luongo.
- Don Meehan: president of Newport Sports Management. Over 100 clients in the NHL, including Jarome Iginla, Steven Stamkos, P. K. Subban and Chris Pronger.
- Tatiana Ovechkina, two-time basketball gold medalist, is her son Alexander Ovechkin's agent. She brokered a 13-year, $124 million contract.
- Allan Walsh in 2004 merged his hockey representation with Octagon Hockey. His clients include Marc-André Fleury, Patrik Eliá?, Martin Havlát and Milan Michálek.
- Pat Brisson - agent of Sidney Crosby, among others
Notable former sports agents
- Colleen Howe (deceased): ice hockey, late president of Power Play International and Power Play Publications managing hockey careers and business interests of her husband Gordie Howe and their sons Marty and Mark Howe.
- Camilo Marin (deceased): Cuban-born horse racing agent. Clients included Laffit Pincay, Jr., Braulio Baeza, Jorge Velasquez and Manuel Ycaza.
- Mark McCormack (deceased): American golf agent, and principal originator of modern sports agency industry. First client was Arnold Palmer. Founded IMG (originally "International Management Group").
- Jeff Moorad: Former baseball agent and former partner of Leigh Steinberg, now baseball executive and part-owner of San Diego Padres.
- Rob Pelinka: Former basketball player at the University of Michigan. Clients include Kobe Bryant, Carlos Boozer, and Buddy Hield. Pelinka stepped down from being an agent to be run the Los Angeles Lakers in March 2017.
- Charles C. Pyle (deceased): American football; clients included Red Grange and Wildcat Wilson; founder of first American Football League (1926).
- Gary Wichard (deceased): American football, three dozen clients, the inspiration for the movie Jerry Maguire.
Sports agency groups
There have been some efforts to transform the sports agency business from an individual, entrepreneurial business, to more of a corporate structure. These experiments met with varying degrees of longevity and success.
- Creative Artists Agency: "CAA" - acquired various pieces of the sports agency business of SFX (see below), starting with football.
- IMG - International Management Group - corporate agency established by entrepreneur Mark McCormack, originally with a specialization in golf and tennis. After the death of McCormack the company was acquired by private equity group Forstmann Little.
- International Sports Management - British sports agency run by former European Tour golfer Andrew "Chubby" Chandler.
- Interperformances - International full-service sports agency, specializing in the basketball market.  In January 2017, the company expanded in the United States with intentions of developing into areas beyond basketball; it is known as InterperformancesUSA (IPZ). 
- Lagardere Unlimited - International sports agency, sports consulting and event management, active in the football, tennis and golf markets.
- Octagon Worldwide - Full-service sports agency and event marketing group, traded with advertising and marketing companies in the Interpublic Group.
- Priority Sports and Entertainment- Agency representing the most NBA players, run by Mark Bartelstein.
- Roc Nation Sports - sports agency founded in 2013 by Shawn Carter, better known as Jay Z. Currently in partnership with CAA; first client signed was Robinson Canó.
- Rosenhaus Sports- sports agency run by Drew Rosenhaus.
- International Sports Agency - Full service agency that handles football, racing, sports marketing and corporate branding.
- Sports Management Worldwide - (SMWW) - global sports agency founded by Dr. Lynn Lashbrook.
- Wasserman Media Group: acquired Arn Tellem's basketball agency from SFX, and usually represents the most players in NBA lottery draft each year.
- Independent Sports and Entertainment (ISE) - sports agency which tries to mix athletes into the world of entertainment and film.
- Imago Sports Management: Imago Sports Management is a Bangladeshi talent and sports based agency.
Formerly active agencies
Some sports agency firms were once prominent, but are now gone or reorganized:
- Assante Corporation - Canadian public company that acquired the Steinberg, Moorad & Dunn agency, then acquired other than agencies including Dan Fegan & Associates and Maximum Sports Management in an unsuccessful effort to build multi-sport corporate agency.
- SFX Entertainment (now Live Nation, a publicly traded company) - in 1998 SFX agreed to pay up to $150 million in cash, stock, and bonuses for F.A.M.E., the sports agency run by David Falk, the agent for basketball players Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing. SFX also acquired two other major sports agencies, Arn Tellem's agency (Tellem & Associates) and the baseball-oriented firm run by Randy Hendricks and Allan Hendricks. SFX would later reverse course, and sell off the pieces of its large sports agency business.
- Steinberg, Moorad & Dunn ("SMD") - a multi-sport agency sold in October 1999 for reported $120 million to Canadian financial firm. Defections of principals, and litigation, followed. Originally led by entrepreneurial agents Leigh Steinberg and Jeff Moorad.
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- How to Play the Game: What Every Sports Attorney Needs to Know, by Darren Heitner, 2014, ABA Book Publishing, ISBN 978-1-61438-916-3
- The Business of Sports Agents, by Kenneth L. Shropshire, Timothy Davis, 2008, University of Pennsylvania Press, ISBN 978-0-8122-4084-9
- License to Deal: A Season on the Run with a Maverick Baseball Agent, by Jerry Crasnick, 2005, Rodale Books, ISBN 978-1-59486-024-9
- An Athlete's Guide to Agents: 5th Edition, by Bob Ruxin with Darren Heitner, 2009, Jones and Bartlett, ISBN 978-0-7637-7611-4
- How To Be A Sports Agent, by Mel Stein, 2008, High Stakes Publishing, ISBN 978-1-84344-045-1
- The Football Agent, by Knut Høibraaten, 2015, HHH Forlag, ISBN 978-8-26900-990-3