Andrew Bondarowicz, National Association of Sports Agents & Athlete Representatives:
First, can you let readers know about the National Association of Sports Agents & Athlete Representatives – what inspired you to launch the association and how you went about doing so?
I have been formally certified as a contract advisor since 2005. Every year, I have seen more and more grumbling within the agent community about the players associations, regulation, player-related issues and other concerns of my colleagues. Whenever, there is an NCAA player scandal, it is inevitable that someone is going to blame an unscrupulous? agent. Fans love to blame agents when their favorite player leaves town for another team. Rarely, does anyone else get criticized. Yet, so much of what sports agents do goes unseen. The notion to launch NASAAR has been kicking around for several years, almost every profession has a professional trade association to work on of collective interest and considering how many public agents deal with players, payers unions, NCAA, state regulators, colleges, etc., it only makes sense to bring agents together to provide a unified organization to work on these issues. Prior to getting into the player representation, I had the opportunity to work both on staff and in leadership for several trade associations and saw firsthand what the benefits to an industry can be and knew that is it something the was really needed in this industry as well.
What do you think separates this association from others that cater to sports agents?
The problem is there no others that really serve this role for agents. For example the Sports Lawyers Association-a great organization- is a non-profit educational association that brings together team officials, law professions, agents, media lawyers, etc. for discussion on sports related issues broadly. Only a small percentage of SLA business involves agents and agent issues. Secondly, not all agents are lawyers. The players’ unions have the ability to certify agents to represent players in contract negotiations, but they are not really regulators themselves outside of the scope of their respective CBAs and they are very careful to define their scope. They let it be known that they represent the players, not the agents. So, NASAAR fills a unique niche in working on behalf of agents to address issues of collective importance with other constituencies.
Is this for all sports agents – and if so, how will you address the variance in issues agents experience between the various sports and pro versus collegiate levels?
There are undoubtedly issues specific to particular sports, but there are also a ton of issues of common importance. Issues such as state regulation affect all agents. NCAA concerns affect many agents. The lack of uniformity in enforcement is a concern to agents. How players associations discipline agents and who they choose to discipline is a concern to all agents. Sharing what works from one players association to another can benefit everyone. For example, MLBPA is the first major players’ association to recognize non-certified recruiters in their regulations ? that?s something that needs to be discussed with all players associations too. On a different note, what if college student-athletes were allowed to have an?agent? Well, the concept should not be that far off. A trade association is the best place to discuss these issues and come up with the ideas and plans to make them work.
What are some of the biggest pain points you are looking to address in the agents community – what do you see as some of the biggest concerns and needs agents have now in regards to their day-to-day jobs?
State regulation is a big problem. It can cost upwards of $15,000 a year to license nationwide, yet enforcement of the rules is very, very haphazard. One idea is to move to a national regulatory model and possibly a self-regulatory environment similar to parts of the financial industry. The NCAA is in a very tricky position in dealing with student-athlete and agent issues ? NASAAR wants to have a role in ensuring that changes to the rules will be rationalized and have a likelihood of success ? not just more bureaucracy. We hope to establish a national database to track registration, issues, complaints, etc. so that information is broadly available. For day to day issues, it helps to network with colleagues; meet service providers such as trainers, financial advisors, trainers, etc. to help us service clients better. There are many areas where an organization such as NASAAR can make a big impact.
What are some of the biggest regulatory issues on your radar right now?
Aligning state laws into a more consistent system is a big priority. Rationalizing costs, requirements, paperwork, etc. is also a short-term goal. Developing a national regulatory scheme or self-regulatory environment is a long term goal. Improving the consistency of enforcement at the NCAA, state, and players association levels is another objective. Working with the NCAA, conferences and schools to make the system better is also a key priority.
Will one of the association’s missions be to address the image some have of the need for increased ethics and regulations in the agent community? How accurate is that viewpoint/need, from your perspective?
Absolutely. Agents often get a bad wrap and we have an image problem. You always hear about unscrupulous agents but never about unscrupulous players or unscrupulous coaches! Yet, there is not a single agent that would be willing put themselves at risk of a violation if it was not going to curry favor with a potential client. For example, there are almost 900 NFLPA certified agents out there and if a student-athlete is asking for money, someone is going to give it to him.
Unfortunately, student-athletes do not fear losing eligibility enough – what’s the risk forcing a player to go pro and earn millions sooner? I think the Reggie Bush and OJ Mayo cases were perfect examples of what’s wrong with the system. Without going into the details of the case, USC lost millions in the process, agents was disciplined, and the players essentially gets off making millions as high draft picks. USC, in my eyes, had an opportunity to send a strong message to student-athletes as well as agents. Instead, they sent the wrong message and I think it has gotten much worse since then.
If we agree that the system is broken and needs to be fixed, we have to address all of the pieces, not single out the weakest link (agents) in the process. We need to look at this the same way as political corruption and bribery. That’s not to say that all agents are model citizens either, but there is a lot to be done in this area.
What tools can you help develop for agents to make their jobs easier?
There are several that have already been discussed. One is to create a national agent registry to alleviate some of the pain points in registering in multiple jurisdictions each with its own forms, requirements, etc. This would also provide basis for establishing a universal database that can be used by a variety of constituencies including schools, the NCAA, players associations, agents, etc. It would also be useful to players seeking out information on agents because today it is pretty much only word of mouth. In the short term, just reducing paperwork requirements is a big win for the industry. There have been requests from agents to look into professional liability coverage and/or bonding issues, which are required by various states and players associations. Helping agents to connect is another benefit. The gap between large and small agencies is growing and some consolidation within the industry will be needed NASAAR will be a great resource for fostering dialogue within the industry.
From your perspective, what are some of the biggest misperceptions fans have of the role of agents in sports?
The role of the agent can be extremely broad from client to client. Some clients only want the agent to handle their player contracts. In other cases, agents are managing almost everything for a professional player from marketing to paying bills to training. Each client relationship is different and can extend well beyond the contract. So, while agents help players make decisions, it is hard to tell from the outside what the motivations are ? is it more money? Is it to play in a certain location or for a certain coach? Is it for family reasons? Agents have a role in the process, but it is most often to help the player decide the right decisions for himself. So, next time your favorite player decides to go play for your biggest rival, give the agent a break!
What are some of the key metrics and benchmarks you find agents using to measure their performance?
Until now, the only real benchmarks are: Who do you represent? How many players do you represent? Or how much money have you made for your clients? They are all relatively hollow figures because they don?t really express the overall value that an agent brings to a client. A first round draft pick will always have a bigger contract than a late rounder, yet the work effort to represent that player can be drastically different. A first round pick is often looking for different things from an agency or has different motivations from a late rounder as well. Experience is always a useful benchmark because you can never really negate experience, but I also said to potential clients, It is not who I represent, but rather how well do I represent them! The agency business is difficult to benchmark for that reason, so metrics can be very tricky and easily manipulated.
Much of an association/community’s value is on the ability of members to share experiences and successes/failures. How will you foster this in your association and at the same time ensure that confidentiality is maintained to keep the agent-client relationship “sacrosanct?
The agency business is extremely competitive and agents are naturally skeptical about everyone. NASAAR’s biggest challenge is probably getting agents to buy in initially. The good thing is that there is a lot of work to be done. NASAAR?s initial focus will be on big picture initiatives and some small quick hits that we can get people to rally around. As we establish more credibility within the ranks, I think you will see a greater openness within the organization. I don?t see confidentiality being an issue. The funny thing about the industry is there really are not that many secrets ? people talk and everyone has a pretty good idea of what is going on with their rivals. I think war stories are great teachers and you have many agents who would be willing to share their experiences for the benefit of the industry. After all, you continue to build your stature by gaining the respect and admiration of your colleagues.
What equates to success for you year one?
While I think that NASAAR will eventually become a very important organization over time, it is important to keep things in perspective and set attainable goals in the first year. We would like to build a strong membership base that will provide a range of opinions and bring a variety of experience and backgrounds to our working committees. We would like to establish strong working relationships with the players? associations, NCAA, and state regulators so that NASAAR becomes a part of the discussion on key issues. I think it is important to define the key issues and pain points within the industry to help set a comprehensive agenda for the future. We will be establishing an annual conference to bring members together, build relationships, and help develop leaders within the organization. We would like to build out a dedicated staff and stage a membership conference. Year one will be foundational, but I can say I would be disappointed if we did not make an impact.
Any last thoughts for readers?
Having worked both in the trade association and agent businesses, I think formulating NASAAR is a big challenge. It is a very decentralized business and not the most open one. Yet, I do see a very important role for NASAAR to play and I think we will continue to win support as we move forward. I have been fortunate to experience many successes in the agency business, yet my passion has definitely shifted to making NASAAR a reality and working for the benefit of the industry.