To understand the sports agent’s role, it is useful to look at the history of the sports agent and how this role has evolved along with professional sports. The sports agent has developed in three stages:
1. Legal advisor – Legal advice on player agreements.
At the beginning of professional sports, without globalization or a supply and demand mechanism in the basketball marketplace, teams and players dealt directly with each other to broker deals. The very first deals were simple verbal agreements, and only later did written agreements develop. The player would then take their contract to a lawyer, who would be paid an hourly fee for his legal advice. The legal advisor played a passive role.
2. Negotiator – Negotiating changes in agreements on behalf of players.
One step beyond advising is negotiating. A lawyer would find legal irregularities in a presented agreement, and the player would ask him to negotiate changes and modifications. As contracts between teams and players became more standardized, the need for legal advice diminished, and the need for negotiation increased, leading to the more modern notion of “agent.”
Evolving even further, the sports agent began to specialize in a particular sport, developing a deep network of contacts within the single sport as well as a profound knowledge of team budgets and other realities specific to the sport. Basketball agents went from being paid on an hourly basis to being paid on a commission basis, with earnings dependent on the earnings of the player. At this stage of the sports agent, however, agents still played a passive role. Teams came to them to negotiate contracts, not the other way around.
3. Promoter – Linking teams with players and establishing player awareness on a global scale.
With increased globalization and free-market mechanics, the role of the agent changed again. With so many teams and so many players across so many countries, agents were tasked with promoting their clients to make them stand out from the crowd. The agent went from playing a passive role to an active one. The modern sports agent has to have knowledge and awareness of hundreds of teams and thousands of players, along with differences in languages, customs, laws, and all the rest. Needless to say, professional agencies hire large staffs to assist in these daunting day-to-day activities.
As our society becomes more complex and evolves at an ever-faster pace, the role of the sports agent also becomes more demanding and complex. Today’s sports agents are often multi-dimensional. In addition to finding basketball jobs and negotiating contracts, they sometimes also provide other services such as mediation, counseling, career planning, PR coordination, personal assistance, and more.