Sports agents have been in the game since forever, but only lately they have become known to a wider audience. If you follow football, chances are you’re familiar with Mino Raiola, and when you know LeBron James, you’ve heard of Rich Paul and Klutch Sports. "Ten years ago you didn’t really know too much about who the agents were. You wouldn’t know about Raiola, Jorge Mendes or me unless you were in football. And by that I mean in the back-office, not just a fan of the team. Now? It’s completely different", says Akin Caulker, a twenty-something guy from London. He’s a rookie agent with big dreams, having established the Athletic Network only three years ago. Akin represents football, rugby and NFL players across the globe, but he’s doing it his way. "I’m up against agents who’ve been in the game twenty years. So we have to do much more in a smaller space of time than guys who are already far more established. I don’t sit back and wait for things to happen. I’m looking at the market, trying to forecast trends and understand what players want from their agents."
If talent on the pitch is the only string to your bow, you’re going to get lost in the sauce
And what players want is more. They don’t just want a lucrative shoe deal and huge contract at their club. Akin: "Anyone can get a good player a big deal. But we’re making sure that we’re partnering our players with the best brands in the world, full stop." It also changes what agents are looking for in the players they work with: "Every player can play. Everyone’s got technical ability. Everyone can get big, fast and strong. But as an agent, I’m concerned if my player has something outside of that, something I can use to help elevate him or her. I’d rather get ten players who are up and coming, but have unbelievable personalities, who are personable, are engaged with fans and dress well, than have one player who’s amazing on the pitch, but doesn’t do anything off of it. Talent on the pitch is the foundation – you have to have that before anything else, don’t get me wrong – but if that’s the only string to your bow, you’re going to get lost in the sauce."
There’s a lot of hard work being done in the office. I haven’t been on a yacht party yet, so I must be doing something wrong!
While he’s young, Akin does have an advantage over his competitors. Unlike most agents, Akin played rugby at a high level, until a career-ending injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise. "The transition from a semi-pro rugby player to a sports agent was difficult for me. All I wanted to do was to play professional sport. Whether it was football or rugby, I wanted to be that guy that people looked up to. I loved everything about it, the boots, the kit, the time you spend with your teammates. Even though it was tough in the beginning, I got a little bit more comfortable over time. Now I’m in the thick of it and I can’t even remember what it was like to be a player. Understanding your player, knowing what, how and when he or she wants it is 80 percent of the battle. I knew exactly what they wanted from the jump, ‘cause I had been one myself." Another benefit of suiting up for the back-office instead of the pitch is that you can keep the Guccis and haircuts fresh, admits a laughing Akin: "I’m happy I’m not getting cold and muddy anymore!".
Keeping fresh, dressing well and living the life of a BALR. is exactly how you picture sports agents. Not in the least because of hit series like HBO’s Ballers. "Social media made us a lot more vocal, it’s given us power as agents to have leverage in terms of having personalities and profiles of our own. Which is something I pride myself on, but at the same time, it’s made things difficult. People look at agents like we’re living the life you see in Ballers, which kinda glamourises the lifestyle. They expect it to be like that, 24/7. Let me tell you, it’s not. There’s a lot of late nights, a lot of hard work in the office and leaving at 1AM. I haven’t been on a yacht party yet, I must be doing something wrong!"