Finding jobs in this field is as challenging for those just starting out as it is for those at the top. Even intern positions and entry-level jobs are hard to get, because so many people are struggling to enter the field. Insiders recommend starting as early as possible and taking any job that gives you exposure to athletes. High school students can start by shagging balls at tennis tournaments, golf caddying, or applying for coveted ballboy/girl and batboy/girl or clubhouse assistant positions with major league baseball teams.
College internships are probably the most valuable introduction to the field, especially when you consider that many of the top management firms that hire agents do not accept younger applicants. These firms are looking for men and women who are eager and willing to learn about the field. Insiders believe the internship is crucial to getting a solid start because it may be the last time when anyone will let you be close enough to see how the job is done; once someone passes the internship stage, they are viewed by other agents as competition and the avenues of communication close up. Although young recruits in an agency receive some informal training on the job, the secrets of the trade are highly individualized and are developed by the truly successful among the agents.
The sports agent's primary duties consist of negotiating contracts and finding endorsements for his or her clients. Contract negotiations require great communication skills on the part of the sports agent. He or she must clearly summarize the athlete's salary and benefit requirements and have a clear vision of the athlete's future—and how any given contract might affect it. Agents usually represent their clients for the duration of their clients' careers, which sometimes means finding work for athletes once their athletic careers are over. For example, an agent may be able to build into the contract a coaching position, in the event that athlete is injured or otherwise unable to complete the contract. Having a good sense of timing helps the agent as well. Part of understanding a bargaining situation means knowing when to stand your ground and when to cut a deal.
Endorsements and public appearance deals bring additional income to the athlete, but they also have the potential to create a great deal of media attention around the athlete. It is the role of the sports agent to ensure that this media attention is positive and works to the benefit of the athlete. Marketing the public image of an athlete is increasingly difficult in today's media-saturated world; in the past, all an athlete needed to do to be considered a winner was be successful at his or her sport. Today, an athlete who wants to attract top endorsements and public appearances must have incredible charisma and a blemish-free image in addition to being a top athletic performer. Generally speaking, agents must be extremely careful when choosing endorsements for their clients.
Often, a great deal of "schmoozing" is necessary to achieve the kind of contacts that will help clients. For example, an agent for a tennis player might court the attention of executives whose companies manufacture items related to tennis, like tennis racquets, balls, and clothing. By developing friendly business relationships with these individuals, the agent has a direct line to those in charge of dispersing product endorsements. If and when those companies decide to use an athlete to help promote their products, the agent's athlete hopefully will be the first considered. Networking like this is part of the sports agent's everyday work routine. In between reviewing contracts and financial arrangements, he or she might be on the phone, chatting to an advertiser, scheduling lunch with a sports scout to uncover fresh talent, or handling some other aspect of the athlete's life, such as renting an apartment for the athlete during spring training.
Financial advising is a growing part of the agent's job. Successful new athletes suddenly have a great deal of money. In order to manage those funds, the agent needs to know a reliable financial adviser or act as the athlete's financial adviser. Creating or finding tax shelters, investing money, and preparing for the athlete's retirement are all duties that agents routinely perform for their clients.
Other duties, which are sometimes so small and trivial as to be deceptively insignificant, are many times what keeps a client happy and convinced that the agent has only the client's best interests in mind. This might mean making sure the athlete's mother always has a great seat at home games, or pestering a talk-show host for months to schedule the agent's client for a post-game interview on a popular sports radio program.