Why I Left Being Jerry Maguire Behind
I get this question a lot. Why did I step aside from representing athletes to focus full-time on a career as a lawyer with a goal of starting my own law firm Heitner Legal?
There are many reasons.
But before I get to some of the myriad factors that caused me to refocus my attention, it is important that my circumstances and positions should in no way devalue what agents are able to accomplish for their clients. Many agents provide very valuable services to the principals they represent and are well worth the commissions they are paid. In fact, many agents are current clients of my law firm, and I very much appreciate their business and friendship.
And after giving it a shot as an agent and leaving for what I believed to be greener pastures, those who have survived and flourished have my everlasting respect.
So back to the topic at hand; why did I hang it up as a sports agent?
- It’s expensive. Want to represent baseball players? Expect to pay for their equipment on the way up. Want to represent NFL players? Training, housing, Per Diem, its all likely on you. Plus traveling to show face and recruit. We are talking about tens-to-hundreds of thousands of dollars in up-front capital needed to compete. And want to sign a major NFL prospect? Better have the money for a sizable marketing advance. Then there are the players association fees to be licensed as well as state-by-state registration fees to legally recruit in those jurisdictions. All of that was a big turnoff.
- Low margins. After the expenses, you want to make money! But the NFLPA caps agent fees at 3%. Today, the NFLPA suggests to players that they only pay 1.5%. The NBPA caps at 4% for most contracts. 4–5% is the norm for MLB players as well. It’s hard to make good money on such low commissions unless you scale your practice, which is also incredibly difficult as a new entrant. It could take a decade before you see real returns and go from the red to black.
- Ruthless competition. Don’t get me wrong; competition in industry is great. The problem I found with agency work was that the competition would often say or do anything to pry away clients. Sometimes it’s making promises to already represented clients. Other times it is operating in areas without a proper license in place. Very common is the trash talking behind closed doors, which leads to a lot of agent switching.
- Sleepless nights. Speaking of agent switching … you find yourself constantly looking at your phone at night, hoping that you don’t get a call from a client who is considering a switch, or that he desperately needs your help at 2am. That type of life just wasn’t for me, no matter the size of the pot of gold that may be sitting at the end of the rainbow.
- Too much travel. I love the idea of traveling the world, but traveling to northwest Arkansas was never on my bucket list. Agents spend maybe half the year (or more) on the road, and I wanted the luxury of being able to spend most of my time at my domicile while hopefully raising a family. Being a successful agent makes that incredibly difficult.
- Little legal work. I liked the idea of putting my legal education to work and thought that being an agent would allow me to do just that. However, I quickly learned that the vast majority of time was spent recruiting and servicing, and not necessarily negotiating complex contracts. I felt unsatisfied in the role.
- Little loyalty. This relates back to an earlier point about ruthless competition. For whatever reason, so many athletes sift through numerous agents during their respective playing careers. I haven’t experienced that at all as a practicing lawyer. But I certainly have dealt with the issue for others.
- Crowded space. There is always a need, in any industry, for qualified, innovative, hard working individuals. But you can’t ignore that the barrier of entry for being an agent is very high and there are already hundreds of agents, with a lot of experience, fighting for the same potential clientele. And with low margins! No matter how well I was able to think outside of the box and differentiate myself, it would have been a bad business decision to stick it out, with my own company, as an individual agent straight out of law school.
I could go on and on, but I think this paints a decent picture of why I pivoted from full-time agent to full-time lawyer, while continuing to write and going through teaching stints in the process.
Again, all the credit in the world to those agents who have successfully navigated the very difficult industry. I look forward to representing your interests and your clients’ interests as a lawyer and not a competitor.