Always nice to be profiled about exciting projects we are working on. (Courtesy of Chicago Daily Law Bulletin–Roy Strom)
When Roy D. Kessel started SportsLoop in 1997, he said he wanted the sports agency to bring an upfront approach to how players chose their agent and help them get directly involved in philanthropies.
“I wanted to … tell the players what the agents can and cannot do,” Kessel said.
But he found that the “rat race” of scooping up enough new clients to keep SportsLoop financially healthy wore on him and the agency’s books, he said. The agency stopped representing new clients about a year ago, he said.
“It’s a very difficult economic model when you look at how much it costs you to get into the game of being an agent,” Kessel said.
Although he scrapped representing athletes, Kessel said he still wants to accomplish the agency’s goal of changing how athletes pick agents.
“I couldn’t do that from an agent’s perspective,” Kessel said. “I’m trying to give them unbiased information to know that you don’t need an agent early. You need to know what the agent can do for you and where it fits in. And that’s what these athletes are not getting.”
Kessel and other local lawyers said there’s an education gap for young athletes when it comes to choosing an agent who keeps their best interests in mind. They said the trick is avoiding those who want to take advantage of famous athletes.
SportsLoop looks to bridge that gap in its new role as a consultant, Kessel said.
He said many schools that educate athletes on selecting an agent do so too late in the process and often through a biased source: a coach’s agent.
“There are certainly plenty of reports that many agents do the coach’s contract for free in exchange for some of that access (to their players),” Kessel said.
For example, Kessel said, that sort of paid-for access occurred from 2007 to 2010 at the University of North Carolina (UNC) involving their football team, according to NCAA allegations.
A complaint against the university by the NCAA says a now-deceased agent paid a UNC assistant football coach “to influence football student-athletes” into hiring that agent.
In response, the university fired John Blake, the assistant coach, and admitted that his actions violated NCAA rules, the complaint says.
Evan D. Whitfield, an associate at Schiller, DuCanto & Fleck LLP, as well as a former Major League Soccer player, said the uncertainty he felt around going pro led him to rely on personal relationships when picking an agent.
“You don’t know who to trust and you don’t know any of these agents,” Whitfield said. “You know who the top agents are, but unless you’re the top talent, you might not get that call. So, you just go about it by who you know.
“It’s usually that this person had some sort of connection and knew an athlete and wanted to represent him. In that sense, I think there is a need for a consultant for the player.”
Whitfield said it could be difficult for a consulting agency to develop relationships with players or schools that would lead to steady business.
Kessel said SportsLoop’s new consulting agenda also focuses on finding more efficient ways for athletes to promote personal philanthropic efforts.
“I don’t believe that most athletes need their own foundation,” Kessel said. “I think the athletes and organizations themselves would be better served if they aligned themselves with existing initiatives and programs.”
Andrew D. Morton focuses on setting up philanthropies for athletes and celebrities as a partner at Handler, Thayer LLP.
He said young athletes who start their own philanthropy as a 501(c)(3) organization often become overwhelmed with it.
“It requires a (management) board, oversight, insurance … and all sorts of other highly technical, highly risky requirements, which is why it’s the last thing the younger athletes needs,” Morton said, adding that he often works to fix athlete’s organizations that “are a mess.”
Morton said athletes should identify a specific cause that personally resonates with them. Then, they should team up with existing nonprofits or work with financial law specialists to create less-complicated nonprofit structures such as a fiscal sponsorship or donor advised fund, he said.
“I think to the extent that there’s anything that would slow down the train and provide some education, that would be tremendously helpful,” Morton said.
As for making money, Kessel said his consulting practice can generate revenue either through seminars for a whole school or by helping a particular athlete as they go through the process of picking an agent or philanthropy.
“I’m going to help them get some real information,” Kessel said. “Is it something these agents can actually do or something they just say? There’s a lot of agents that make promises to athletes that are completely false about who, where and why they’re going to get drafted.”