- The Business of Sports Agents
Kenneth Shropshire, Director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania, and Timothy Davis, law professor at Wake Forest University, have updated their 2002 work of the same title. Like its predecessor, the second edition of The Business of Sports Agents contains a detailed description of the world in which athlete agents operate and the premise of the book remains the same. The athlete agent business resembles the Wild West of the past. Little regulation governs the industry, and the conduct of its practitioners and what little attempts there are to regulate the industry are largely ineffective.
The authors divide the book into three subsections. In the first, they provide an overview of the business including an historical development of athlete agents. Occupying the most ink is the second section in which the authors discuss problems facing the athlete representation business. Titled “Solutions,” the last section has four chapters examining attempts to regulate athlete agents by various groups. In all the chapters, Shropshire and Davis draw their evidence heavily from trade journals, newspapers, court cases, and, to a lesser degree, secondary sources, which is more an indication of the scarcity of scholarly studies on this topic than inattention by the authors. The wide variety of sources used in this book lends support to the authors’ thesis. [End Page 322]
Of interest to sport historians in this book is the pattern of development of the athlete agent business. Shropshire and Davis begin by tracing the historical root of the business to Charles C. “Cash and Carry” Pyle who represented football legend Harold “Red” Grange in the early twentieth century. Pyle might be a better known athlete agent but by no means was he the first. Certainly, there were others before Pyle: one could conceivably argue that athlete agents appeared earlier in boxing. Still, that authors’ point notes the connection between sport and entertainment as Pyle was in the entertainment industry previous to his signing of Red Grange. Shropshire and Davis see this trend continuing when Hollywood producer J. William Hayes engineered negotiations for Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1960s. Even though team owners looked upon athlete agents with distaste up to that time, the authors nicely contextualize their reluctant acceptance by team ownership in the 1970s that facilitated the growth of this sector in the sport industry. By the 1990s, the authors argue, a process of consolidation occurred as the industry began to be dominated by big agencies. Still, the authors could easily make a case that consolidation was replaced by conglomeration in the mid 1990s as agencies wanted to expand services and increase capitalization. Realizing the lucrative market in athlete representation, non-sport-related conglomerates ventured into this business: entertainment industry companies in particular saw synergy between entertainment and sport. Hence, sport agent representation became a part of a larger business enterprise.
As professional athletes began to receive higher compensation in the late twentieth century, the potential for big payouts from agent fees attracted many into the business. Indeed, in the second section, “Problems,” one can summarize the six chapters in one word: greed. Before consolidation, many who claimed to be an athlete agent did not make money, and some did not even have any clients. Yet, the small pool of professional athletes made for fierce competition, and tactics used were not always above board. Although this competition for clients occurs at all levels, collegiate athlete recruitment has received the most attention. Indeed, Shropshire and Davis devote an entire chapter to the problems facing the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) and its member institutions. As the title of the chapter, “The Last Amateurs on Earth,” suggests, they point out that amateurism as upheld by the NCAA is unworkable in preventing athlete agents from recruiting college athletes before they graduate. Similarly, the ideology also fails to deter athletes from accepting cash and gift offers by athlete agents or their runners.
While it is true that...