What's it really like?
Ronnie Hutcheon is a lawyer of many years experience, and now specialises in football, with an operation run from his successful agency in Liverpool.
What made you decide to choose to get into this sort of career?
I spent 5 years considering becoming a football agent. My former business partner became a director of a Blue Square League football team, and a family member was the President of a Spanish Team. When I did some research, I decided that there was not much difference between being a lawyer (which I had been for over 22 years) and becoming a football agent! Many years ago, my former employer ran his own football agency and I recommended a promising young footballer to the firm. He managed to play a few first team games for Liverpool FC, my life-long football team. I was proud when I saw him play. Since starting my own law practice, I had the choice, and decided to become a football agent when the time was right.
Do you have a standard day or a standard type of `exercise'?
Each day is different, but the major part of my work is still law and litigation. My football agency practice is a “slow burn.” Like everything I do in life, I do my homework and make sure I always do the right thing.
What is the most common type of problem/call-out/enquiry you must attend to?
For the football agency part of the practice, the most common problem is turning down or being unable to help footballers. My web site www.footballagents.org.uk is currently the number one search term for “football agents”, and with that presence and exposure, I am receiving emails from talents who want me to become their agent and help them.
What do you like most about the job?
To help footballers achieve their lifelong dream.
What do you like least about the job?
Having to turn down players I cannot help due to time constraints, or having to tell players that their dream is over.
What are the key responsibilities?
Sourcing the right player and the right club. Doing the homework, the legal matters such as contracts, and negotiating fair deals for player and club.
What about academic requirements? Any formal demands, eg A Levels?
For me, as an established practising solicitor, it was an easy step to become a football agent registered with the FA. However, to get into the agency you would need excellent communication skills over and above formal qualifications. The FA have a set level of exams that all football agents must pass before they can register.
If you left this position, what else would you consider/prefer doing?
I would simply continue what I am doing now, which is running a law firm.
How far is it possible to progress within the organisation?
There is no ceiling. Anyone who works for me will appreciate that the rewards reflect their hard work.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get into this as a career?
My advice would be to be prepared for a lot of setbacks, and spending a lot of time attending many football matches in all sorts of cold and wet conditions!
What are the most important qualities an applicant should possess?
Intelligent thought, integrity and communication skills. And of course, the ability to spot potential.
Any closing comments/thoughts?
Becoming a football agent is a very rewarding career and one I would highly recommend. Those who consider becoming a football agent for the money should think again though. As with most things in life, the large fees payable are usually paid to the very few.
A sports agent is the factor (or “go-between”) responsible for placing a sportsperson into a team, club or organisation. They consider opportunities and handle the associated negotiations and paperwork in order to further the career of the sportsperson.
A sportsperson/player must be placed into a team or competitive environment that is suitable for their age, level of ability, potential future ability and their salary expectations. The agent will agree to represent the sportsperson and attempt to place them where they will be most comfortable and earn the highest salary, balanced against the opportunities for long-term career progression. The agent derives a commission as a percentage of the contracted fee. The agent will also manage the sportsperson's career in as much as they will handle marketing and endorsement activities, and continually test the water in search of a potentially better offer. The agent will also represent the player when disputes arise between him/her and the organisation, and will act as spokesperson for their client when they wish to address the media or the organisation itself.
The sports agency can range from a one-man band specialising in just one sport, to international full-services agencies with a broad range of disciplines and services. Due to the continual media spotlight on top-level sports stars, the job of sports agent has been apportioned glamour and notoriety in equal measure, although those in the industry are more succinct and down-to-earth about their duties; at its most simple, the agent tries to improve a sportsperson's career prospects.
The income that the agent receives is typically between 5% and 10% of the sportsperson's working contract, although this can go up to 30% for one-off deals such as endorsements or short-run advertisements. Because the majority of sportspeople who feature in the media are capable of attracting huge salaries, it is often assumed sports agents en masse are handsomely remunerated also. In reality, only a small number of agents are able to represent the elite handful of top stars. Most will work with young or unknown sporting talents of proven ability and attempt to develop their career to a point where organisations with large cash reserves may be interested in signing the player. This long-winded path can be slow and expensive for the agent, and so decent cash flow for the agency is not immediately forthcoming.
- Advise the sportsperson on suitable opportunities for career betterment.
- Support players/sportspersons in times of difficulty, pressure or confusion.
- Take an active management role in the career development of the sportsperson.
- Handle contract, re-contract and remuneration negotiations.
- Actively push registered sportspersons to clubs or organisations which may be interested.
- Deal with commercial opportunities and product endorsements outside the scope of usual pay.
Exact qualification requirements are determined by the particular sport in question. For example, FIFA, football's governing body, stipulates that contracts involving football players and football clubs are negotiated by Authorised Agents. Contracts must be presented to both club and player in a typical format, and in order to achieve this, it is expected that a player's agent will have an understanding of law. This would then put the candidate on the long and hugely expensive path through A-levels, then university, then a Masters degree in Law. However, it is possible for the agent to operate as exactly that (a manager of opportunity), and use their own solicitor to prepare the legal documents at the point where the contract is required.
Football is a high-profile example, and many other sports are not subject to the same scrutiny by an overseer. However, a degree in either Law or Business Studies is generally agreed to be a necessity. Some colleges in the United States are offering Sports Administration as a subject, and opportunities may spread to the UK as understanding of the topic grows.
- Excellent communications skills, both written and verbal.
- Detailed understanding of the transfer and contract markets in the sport in which the agent has elected to specialise.
- A broadly capable head for figures.
- Strong understanding of marketing, promotion and “brand” (client) communication.
- Detailed understanding of the legal requirements pertaining to the negotiation of attached contracts.
Although generally an office or home office-based job, a large portion of the sports agent's working time is spent away from base. It may be a meeting with a club or sports organisation, or it could be the scouting and following-up of a talented new lead. There are lots of sports marketing events which the agent would be expected to visit (or at least have representation at), and there is a lot of driving between appointments. Thanks largely to the mobile phone, the roving office is now a practical realisation, and that means business can be conducted on the train and on the beach. The downside (depending on one's perspective) is that the agent will sometimes work seven days a week, especially in periods of frantic transfer placement, such as the famous “September round” in football. The job serves up stress and excitement in equal measure, and the candidate will typically have a strong interest in the sport they choose to specialise in, making the role uniquely enjoyable and without equal for those who love a certain sport.
At its most simple, the sports agent will be able to draft and complete a legal document of fulfilment which states that a sportsperson has agreed to join an organisation for a certain length of time. This in itself means that a graduate of law could theoretically set up shop as a sports agent. The reality is somewhat different because a large part of being successful in sports representation is knowing the sport, the ebb and flows of a given transfer market and the ability to spot and nurture talent. These are things that all come with experience, so naturally the graduate will seek to join an established full-services agency where their capacity for legality can be supplemented with a more broad knowledge of a sport or a selection of sports.