What Lies Ahead For Agency Business, Talent Representation In 2018?

How will the sports agency business evolve over the next 12 months? As part of #SBC2018, we polled contract agents in addition to those in media and marketing to gain some perspective on the world of talent representation.

We asked, what are the trends/hot-button you’re following in the sports agency business, and what is your big, bold prediction for 2018? 

You’ll find that the two questions for most of these articles are similar — that’s on purpose. Participants could answer one or both questions and were limited to 100 words total (not 100 per question). Below are their emailed responses, which have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Also, over the past week, Sports Business Chronicle has highlighted how senior executives and key decision-makers see 2018 playing out across a variety of areas in sports. We’ve featured social/digital media, ticketing, esports, AR/VR, general businesstechnology, traditional media and corporate/experiential marketing.

To follow the conversation on Twitter, use the hashtag #SBC2018.

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MARKETING

Trends/topics: I have been in the business of sport for over 30 years; the speed with which technology is impacting the industry is unprecedented. The use of analytics, due to increased technology, has been a game-changer in the sports agency space, and not only from a talent representation standpoint. The level and commitment of company spending around technology is trending upward largely due to wearables, player-performance biomarkers and augmented reality. I’m also intrigued how Olympic athletes in competitions like cycling, skiing and speed skating have integrated technology into their training methods. Prediction: Aaron Boone and the Yankees will win their 28th Championship.

Frank Vuono, Partner, 16W Marketing

Trends/topics: Social platforms have increased and improved their deployment tools over the past year. A trend to follow is how brands will take better advantage of this, especially on Twitter, where the increase to 280 characters can make a difference in the size/substance of messages that they’re having ambassadors deploy. Predictions: 2018 will bring a new class of marketing superstars to the NFL. There should be several quarterbacks taken near the top of the Draft, and if they can find success while landing in the right markets, then the NFL might have a new crop of franchise stars with broad, national marketability.

David Koonin, Marketing Agent, Creative Artists Agency 

Trends/predictions: Sports marketing continues to change and personal branding is becoming more and more vital to players. The leagues have even opened up regarding expressing “individuality” with custom cleats, end zone celebrations and supporting causes close to home. Players are realizing they are a “brand” and beginning to capitalize more, which will continue in 2018. Many agencies are starting to figure it out, too. We at 500Level.com, partner with a lot of the players and agencies creating custom apparel for them, which many teams don’t even do. Of course, social media will continue to be the driving force for athlete branding.

Ryan Totka, Partner, 500Level.com

Trends/topics: Athletes continue to develop their personal brands as entrepreneurs and business owners. The increased convergence of online and offline retail.

— Brandon Swibel, Partner, Rubicon Talent

Trends/topics: I’ll continue to follow major story lines of the consolidating media market and major content creation/ OTT entities. Amazon is grabbing up a lot of compelling storylines with teams, and The Players’ Tribune is creating authentic content through brand partnerships to tell those great stories, not just via athletes on their own. I’m interested in seeing if we hit critical mass on influencer marketing. There’s a tremendous spend on “influencers” because brands feel obligated, but optimizing spend is key. Predictions: 6-second ads and in-game/PIP advertising will become standard across all sports and traditional broadcast shows.

Greg Goldring, Marketing Agent/Talent Broker, Platinum Rye Entertainment 

 CONTRACT

Trends/topics: The FBI’s investigation into the NCAA is already impacting the representation/agency industry. Athletic departments, coaches and student-athletes are more aware of their actions and communication with agents. We hope agents who have found success from cutting corners and cheating the system won’t be able to operate the same way. Prediction: Athletes will increasingly want to address social justice issues in light of the current political climate. Agencies will need to navigate the optimal way for their clients to make a maximum impact while balancing how different initiatives may affect their personal brands.

— Jim Tanner, President, Tandem Sports and Entertainment

Predictions: With the recent crackdown on certain individuals in the basketball world by the FBI, I feel a lot of agents will have to change how they operate. A lot of universities and coaches freely allow agents on campus to interact with student-athletes with little or no regard for if the agent(s) is registered as an athlete agent within that specific state. More universities and coaches will be extra vigilant in insisting agents adhere to each state’s rules with regard to both registration and interaction with student-athletes, for fear of reprimand from both state and federal government.

Andy Shiffman, Executive Vice President of Basketball Representation, Priority Sports and Entertainment

Trends/predictions: With more than 60 percent of pro athletes in the big four leagues represented by just a handful of sports agencies/agents, the industry is reaching a precarious point in which few if any independent and boutique agencies will be able to survive. To the same end, the behemoth that is Creative Artists Agency (with more than $8 billion in contracts under management) may very well use 2018 to announce its IPO, taking the sports agent business into a new era of public ownership.

Jason Belzer, Coaches Agent, Game, Inc.

Predictions: 2018 will be what I call “The Year of Powder Keg Convergence” of sports, politics and pop culture. This year was the 2-minute trailer for the 2-hour movie. From Kaep (NFL), to Lebron (NBA), to Vonn (OLY) the social ‘shootout’ between athletes and POTUS is historically unprecedented. This convergence of sports, politics and pop culture is significant because marketability, outside of the sport-specific ability and resume of each athlete, hinges largely on likability and relatability. Nothing moves the ‘likability needle’ more than political statements for/against parties. The impact on an athlete’s profile and profitability will be undeniable and possibly permanent.

Doug Eldridge, Founder, DLE Agency

MEDIA

Trends/topics: As someone who represents broadcast talent, the trend I’m looking for is: will there be a slowdown in the acceleration away from the cable bundle or have we reached peak acceleration and will we start to see a stabilizing in the industry. Prediction: In 2018, especially if we see continued cord cutting on the same pace, I predict some media company will finally take a page out of the music industry circa early 2000’s and aggressively go after cable piracy. With the advent of blockchain technology, companies are better able to track and crack down on password swapping/sharing.

Steven Herz, President, If Management/The Montag Group

Trends/topics: In 2018, expect to see more women taking larger roles in sports agencies. While we have worked in agencies for years, you’ll see women representing NBA, NFL and NHL players, NBA coaches and front office executives, and, of course, broadcasters. Prediction: I predict that 2018 will be the year of the new look for sports media. I believe that networks and other sports outlets will expedite a dramatic programming shift, integrating social media and generally shaking up the way they cover sports. Live events will continue to dominate and there will be plenty of pre- and post-game shows, but essentially all other aspects of sports media will evolve and adapt to audiences’ new media consumption habits.

Debbie Spander, Senior Vice President, Broadcasting/Coaching, Wasserman

Predictions: More personalities will attempt to connect directly to fans through subscription models with varying price points, and these efforts may include premium audio/video content, exclusive access to VIP events, deals on merchandise and beyond. If this comes to fruition, the next market expansion will be built on the personality alone. It’s unquestionably a high-risk, high-reward proposition.

— Josh Santry, Media Agent, Creative Artists Agency 

Trends/predictions: The sports and entertainment business has converged and there is a huge demand for sports agencies and the Hollywood agency powers to represent media personalities in sports and news broadcasting. Representing media talent is big business as players retire who look for broadcast work, speaking engagements, coaching jobs and for the many endless opportunities in local, network and cable news, and in streaming, entertainment, lifestyle, digital, mobile and social media. Hollywood agencies have emerged in acquiring firms solely focused on representing broadcasting/media clients and I foresee that trend to continue into 2018 and beyond.

Matthew H. Kingsley, Founder/Chief Executive Officer, 3 Kings Entertainment 

Trends/topics: The world of client representation will further blend into content and brand marketing. Thankfully, for Playbook, Inc., we have always put the client’s personal brand at the forefront of his or her career goals, so it’s a natural assimilation for us. This isn’t the case at other agencies, where they’re debating how to meet the demand of their client with the needs of their agency. Predictions: Agencies will begin providing content marketing strategies to their clients, who are increasingly wanting to become individual content businesses. Inventory is opportunity. The more inventory a client owns, the more opportunities an agency will create.

— Reed Bergman, President/Chief Executive Officer, Playbook, Inc.

About Mark J. Burns

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