How to Become a Sports Agent: 6 Key Steps to Make It Happen
SummaryBecoming a high-earning sports agent for pro athletes is something you can do in a number of different ways. But getting a college degree is definitely recommended. And you'll need to earn the appropriate licensing, registration, and/or certification. Plus, you can greatly boost your prospects by completing an internship at a sports agency.
Are you eager to learn how to become a sports agent who represents athletes at the highest levels of competition? This article has the critical details you need to know. It outlines a six-step process you can follow to launch a rewarding career in this exciting field. It also provides information about the average sports agent salary and how people in this cool profession get paid.
Essentially, you become a sports agent by getting the appropriate licensing, registration, or certification from your state and/or the sports leagues you hope to deal with. The specific steps vary somewhat depending on the state and the league. But generally, you must get a bachelor's or graduate degree, undergo a background check, pass an exam, and pay a fee. The whole process is explained in greater detail below.
You don't need a specific degree to become a sports agent. That means you have a range of options. As you will discover, some agents get bachelor's degrees in areas like sports management, marketing, or business. And many complete law school or get advanced degrees like MBAs.
So check out the following sections to learn how to be a sports agent:
- How to become an agent
- How much do sports agents make?
- What's the job outlook?
How to Become an Agent
Do you dream of building business relationships with top-performing athletes? If so, follow these six steps to get started:
1. Understand what the profession entails.
What does an agent do? Most people know that a big part of the job involves dealing with contract negotiations and handling endorsement deals. But there's much more to the career than that.
Here's a basic sports agent job description: advocating for and managing the careers of athletes and sports competitors. Yes, agents conduct salary and contract negotiations. But they also manage their clients' public images and look out for athletes' long-term interests after retiring from competition.
So, what do sports agents do over the course of a typical week? Basically, they supply necessary support to the athletes they represent, aiming to help them perform and excel. As an agent, you might:
- Act on an athlete's behalf during negotiations with coaches, teams, owners, or sponsors.
- Offer financial planning advice.
- Be the media spokesperson for your client.
- Help with nutrition planning.
- Secure a new deal for an athlete who gets released or wants to change teams.
- Assist athletes and their families when they move to new cities.
- Help athletes make important decisions like whether to undergo surgery or accept a contract with less-than-ideal terms.
The best sports agents are charismatic, persistent, self-directed, personable, and willing to take risks for their clients. Plus, they are completely immersed in the sports world: They understand how recruiting and drafting work and who the key players, managers, owners, and teams are. They're also familiar with salary caps and the rules and regulations that apply to each sport. Many of the top sports agents have pro sports backgrounds and an extensive network of contacts within the industry.
To be an effective sports agent, skills in communication, negotiation, sales, and marketing are essential. You need to understand the basics of contract law and legal documentation and be able to build relationships with people from a wide range of backgrounds. Speaking more than one language can also be helpful.
Becoming a sports agent means committing to lots of travel and a variable schedule. You may handle hundreds of phone calls a day, and you might need to be available to your clients around the clock. But if you're a shrewd negotiator who is passionate about the business aspect of sports, this may be the career for you.
2. Earn a degree.
Technically, no formal education is needed to become a sports agent. But realistically, your odds of success are much better if you get at least an undergraduate degree. Some pro sports leagues require agents to have a bachelor's degree (or even a master's) in order to become certified.
Many agents start by earning sports management bachelor's degrees. Such programs typically offer instruction in sports economics, ethics, brand management, marketing, negotiation, and event planning. Many also include sports agency internships that can give you valuable real-world experience.
Other useful majors include:
Graduate-level training can be very beneficial. For instance, an MBA program can help you acquire the high-level business acumen to be effective at the bargaining table.
Many sports agents are lawyers or have law degrees. Indeed, studying contract law and the details of collective agreements is excellent preparation for this career. And if you pass the bar exam in your state and become a licensed attorney, you will be permitted to offer legal advice about athletes' contracts.
However, you don't need to go to law school to be a sports agent. Some agents develop partnerships with attorneys to ensure that the legal aspects of deals and contracts are fully taken care of.
3. Get licensed and/or registered by your state.
Some states, such as Florida and California, require agents to be licensed before they can broker deals on behalf of an athlete. In particular, state licensing is often required if you will be working with wrestlers, boxers, or mixed martial artists, since those sports have a greater risk of injury. Becoming licensed typically involves filling out an application form, divulging any criminal history you may have, and paying a fee.
Plus, in most states, agents must be registered in order to negotiate contracts or endorsement deals for student athletes who are looking to go pro. That means you must provide information about your education and experience. You must also disclose if you have:
- Been convicted of a felony
- Provided misleading information to a student athlete
- Had a sports agent license suspended, denied, or revoked
- Done anything to cause the ineligibility, suspension, or sanction of a student athlete
In addition, you may need to purchase a surety bond or liability insurance. Be sure to check with your state board of licensing or regulation to find out what rules apply where you live.
In 2019, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) amended its rules to allow men's college basketball players who declare for the NBA draft to hire agents and still retain their college eligibility in some circumstances. However, such agents must be certified by the NCAA. To qualify, agents must:
- Have a bachelor's degree OR be currently certified as an NBA agent
- Have been NBA-certified for at least three years in a row
- Maintain liability insurance
- Pass a written exam administered by the NCAA
- Pay the $1,500 fee
You must reapply for NCAA agent certification every year.
4. Become certified by the appropriate league.
Each professional league has its own certification process for agents. Here's how to become a certified sports agent for the four biggest leagues in the U.S.:
National Basketball Association (NBA)
Becoming an NBA agent requires having a bachelor's degree from an accredited four-year school. It's possible to become a certified agent without a degree if you have several years of relevant negotiating experience, but the players' association grants such waivers on a case-by-case basis. (The most famous example is LeBron James' agent, Rich Paul, who does not have a college degree.)
NBA agent requirements also include paying a $1,500 fee, submitting to a background check, and passing a multiple-choice exam covering the collective bargaining agreement and the regulations governing NBA agents. Applications are accepted during a specified period of time each year; the exam is offered each January in New York City.
To maintain NBA sports agent certification, you must pay an annual fee based on the number of players you represented in the previous season. Agents with fewer than 10 clients pay $2,500, while the top NBA sports agents who represent at least 20 players pay $7,500. You must also attend a seminar each year for the first three years and negotiate and fulfill a contract between at least one player and an NBA team during a five-year period.
Major League Baseball (MLB)
The MLB agent certification process consists of completing the application form, paying the $2,000 fee, and submitting a copy of your standard representation agreement. You must also undergo a background check and pass an open-book exam that tests your knowledge of MLB rules, the collective bargaining agreement, the drug agreement, and MLB agent regulations. Even after all that, you are not actually certified until at least one player designates you as his agent within three years of you passing the exam.
If you submit your completed application by June 1, you will be able to take the written test in August or September. (The actual exam date is announced each spring.) Maintaining your certification requires paying a $1,500 fee each year.
National Football League (NFL)
The NFL requires its agents to have both a bachelor's degree and a graduate degree (either a master's or a law degree) from an accredited university or college. Top NFL sports agents like Drew Rosenhaus and Tom Condon have law degrees. However, exceptions are sometimes made for candidates who have bachelor's degrees and at least seven years of negotiating experience.
You must also pay the $2,500 application fee, consent to a background investigation, attend a two-day seminar in Washington, D.C., and pass an open-book exam. The exam covers the salary cap, collective bargaining agreement, player benefits, NFL agent regulations, and policies on performance-enhancing drugs and substance abuse.
Applications must be filed in January. Once you have passed the exam, you must also purchase liability insurance from an NFL-approved provider before you are allowed to recruit or represent any players.
To maintain your certification, you must attend a seminar each year and pay an annual fee that ranges from $1,500 to $2,000, depending on the number of players you represent.
National Hockey League (NHL)
To become an NHL agent, you must fill out an application form and provide details of your educational background as well as current and past business dealings. To get further details (and to request application materials), you have to contact the players' union in writing. You can do so by emailing email@example.com.
5. Complete an internship.
An important step in learning how to get a job at a sports agency involves looking for internships. These can give you a real-world understanding of how contracts are structured and how the business end of sports works. Plus, completing an internship can greatly boost your odds of landing a more permanent position within the industry. In fact, some agencies recruit exclusively from their internship programs and don't even hire external candidates.
- Track player stats
- Develop schedules
- Coordinate travel arrangements
- Monitor media coverage
- Create press kits
- Help write scouting reports
- Assist with event staging
Positions may be seasonal or available year-round. Some internships come with a small hourly wage of $10 to $14; many others are completely unpaid but offer college credit.
Sports management degree programs frequently include internships, but many agencies accept interns from a range of majors. Typically, interns must be current students, but some positions are open to recent graduates as well.
Don't limit yourself. Apply everywhere and be prepared to take whatever you can get. For instance, if you're hoping to represent basketball players but you have a chance to be an intern at a baseball agency, go for it. This is a highly competitive industry, and any experience you can get will help you in the long run.
6. Build your career.
It can take years to become a sports agent who has the expertise and experience to attract clients, so don't expect instant success. Remember that this job is about cultivating lasting personal relationships with athletes, coaches, journalists, and other industry insiders. Completing an internship is an excellent way to build your professional network, but you should always be looking to develop new contacts.
And remember that happy clients are the best form of advertising. If you provide excellent service and deliver what you promise, you will have a much greater chance of expanding your client roster.
How Much Do Sports Agents Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median sports agent salary was about $66,000 in 2018. "Median" means that half of all agents made more than that amount, and half made less. The BLS also notes that the average salary of a sports agent in 2018 was about $91,000.1
Clearly, earnings vary widely in this field. That's because sports agents may charge a percentage of player earnings, a flat fee, an hourly rate, or any combination of those three methods. The general rule is that the more a client earns, the more an agent makes. In North America, the sports that pay the most are typically basketball and baseball, but that can vary.
Some leagues limit agent commissions. For instance, an NFL agent can't charge more than three percent of a player's contract, and an NBA agent salary is capped at four percent of a player's earnings. (Agents sometimes take a lower percentage. For instance, ESPN reporter Darren Rovell estimates that LeBron James pays his agent 2.85 percent, which amounted to $947,310 in 2018.)2
The MLB does not have an official cap on commissions, but the standard agent fee is five percent. MLB rules do stipulate that agent fees cannot leave a player with take-home pay that is less than the league minimum salary.
However, agents can and do take a greater percentage of athletes' marketing deals—typically anywhere from 10 to 25 percent. And in sports like golf and tennis, where there are no guaranteed salaries, agents only earn commissions on sponsorship and endorsement deals, not on athletes' winnings.
So if they have a long client roster or represent high-profile players, sports agents make good money. In fact, the highest paid sports agents make tens of millions of dollars a year. In the U.S., the richest sports agent is Scott Boras, who represents dozens of big-name baseball players like Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer. Boras makes over $100 million in commissions.3
According to Forbes, some of the other top sports agents that have earned multimillion-dollar commissions include:3
- Mark Bartelstein (basketball)
- Jeff Berry (baseball)
- Pat Brisson (hockey)
- Casey Close (baseball)
- Tom Condon (football)
- Todd France (football)
- Adam Katz (baseball)
- Seth and Sam Levinson (baseball)
- Dan Lozano (baseball)
- Rich Paul (basketball)
- Leon Rose (basketball)
- Drew Rosenhaus (football)
- Jeff Schwartz (basketball)
- Joel Segal (football)
- Joel Wolfe (baseball)
What's the Job Outlook?
The job outlook for sports agents is positive. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of agents in the sports and entertainment realms is expected to grow 10 percent between 2018 and 2028. On average, about 2,600 total job openings for agents are projected to become available each year over that time period.4
However, sports agent jobs are highly coveted, and competition for available positions can be fierce. That's why, as noted above, internships are typically the best way to land entry-level sports agency jobs. You can make yourself even more appealing to potential clients and employers by developing expertise in areas like Internet marketing, social media, and community outreach.
It's a good idea to research various agencies to see what sports they specialize in and what services they offer. Some of the biggest sport agent companies are:
- Creative Artists Agency (CAA)
- Excel Sports Management
- Independent Sports & Entertainment (ISE)
But there are dozens of others. And don't overlook smaller organizations that may have fewer applicants jockeying for positions. You never know where an opportunity may arise.
Fulfill Your Ambitions
As you've now discovered, learning how to become a sports agent can take you down a number of different routes. So it's definitely worth your while to check out the broad array of streamlined degree programs offered by adult-friendly colleges and vocational schools. Why not start exploring your options right now? Just put your zip code into the search tool below to generate a list of convenient programs!
1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on October 23, 2019.
2 Business Insider, "LeBron James got less than half of his $33 million salary this season—here's what happened to the rest," website last visited on October 23, 2019.
3 Forbes, "The World's Most Powerful Sports Agents 2019," website last visited on October 29, 2019.
4 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Employment Projections, website last visited on October 23, 2019.