Interview with player agent Kelli Masters
Kelli is widely recognized as one of the most influential women in sports business and subsequently named in America’s ‘top 25 most influential women in the US’.
She has represented more professional athletes than any woman in the industry, having served as agent/contract adviser to players in every NFL draft since 2006 as well as numerous players in the MLB draft.
In 2010, she made history as the first woman to represent a first round pick in the NFL Draft. As her reputation for outstanding work continues to grow and inspire countless others, she has further expanded the reach of KMM Sports to other athletes and celebrities…
How has the sports management industry changed over the last 10-15 years?
The sports management industry has changed in a number of ways, with technology and social media being two primary drivers of change. When I first began my career as a sports agent, Twitter did not exist. Facebook was brand new and we were still learning to trust email as a safe, effective way to share documents and do business. We were still communicating with teams, leagues and unions via fax.
Now, information flows rapidly through email or other online communication. Instead of waiting for hours to receive news of how one of my clients performed in practice or whether he suffered an injury, I can log on to Twitter and learn about his day in real time. I also have an obligation to know what my clients are posting (or have posted in the past) so that damage control can be done, if necessary.
Other changes have come about as well, specifically within the NFL agent community. Expenses related to doing business (particularly combine/draft preparation expenses) have soared, with every agent trying to out-spend the next in order to entice and keep new clients. At the same time, fees have been reduced. The maximum agent fee under the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement is still 3% but the NFL Players Association recommends a default fee of 1.5% in the Standard Representation Agreement form that must be used by all agents. Many agents charge 1-2% now, particularly to higher draft picks. Meanwhile, rookie contracts are significantly lower than they were under the previous CBA. With the tougher business model and more difficult testing requirements in place, the total number of certified NFL agents continues to decline. Making money as an NFL agent is harder than it has ever been, but we continue to persevere.
Has social media followings increased athletes values with clubs and sponsors?
Social media has become both a blessing and a curse for the professional athlete. From the team perspective, management and coaching staffs are not terribly concerned with a player’s social media following; however, they are very interested in whether the player is putting out appropriate or inappropriate content. The scouting process now involves scouring social media postings as part of due diligence. And NFL team PR or communications directors often work with current players to communicate important information, personal statements and promotions
From the sponsor perspective, social media following and ENGAGEMENT is very significant. Sponsors use social media analytics to determine the value of a player’s reach. And virtually every endorsement deal now includes monthly or weekly posts as part of the athlete’s contractual obligations.
What lead you from being a lawyer to becoming a player agent?
As much as I loved sports, especially American football, I never pictured myself as a sports agent. I began my law practice in civil litigation, with a side practice is non-profit organization law. Approximately five years into my law practice, I found myself working with professional athletes who had formed non-profit organizations and needed legal advice. My work with these athletes and their families opened my eyes to the business of sports agency. After spending a year researching the industry, I knew I had found my calling and I jumped in!
What are some of the day to day challenges you face in the sports management industry
Every day as a sports agent is different, which keeps life interesting! Each day it is challenging just to get everything done. I now manage more than 30 athletes personally, handling everything from contract negotiation to scheduling medical appointments to handling legal or PR issues. I manage all aspects of their professional lives, and many aspects of their personal lives as well. I handle relocation when a client moves to a new city. I negotiate major purchases. I find specialists to help them with physical and mental training or therapy. Communication can sometimes be difficult, which also makes it harder to do my job. But my clients are busy people being pulled in numerous directions, so I try to be patient and respectful. If I was better at delegating, perhaps my job wouldn’t be quite as challenging! But I truly enjoy the relationships and the management aspect of being an agent.
After being named in America’s top 25 most influential women in the US, did it help break down some barriers for women in the NFL?
Yes! While the sports agent business is still very male-dominated, I was fortunate to become a role model who inspired many young women to follow in my footsteps. Some are launching their own companies like I did. Others are joining large, existing agencies. Interestingly, I believe agencies are more willing to hire women as agents now than they were before my success. Women used to only fill roles in client services, concierge or marketing. Now, more and more women are being respected and hired as contract advisors.
Is there something you want to see changed in the player agent industry?
One change I would love to see in the business is enhanced enforcement of rules and regulations. Why have rules if they aren’t going to be enforced? I also believe that agents should play a larger role in the negotiation of the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players union. Agents are on the front lines and deal regularly with both players and teams. Our input and negotiation skills should be put to good use. As of right now, at least in the NFL, we are considered outsiders.
Who do you think does great work in the business of sport and why?
I have many favourites for many reasons. Jeremy Darlow is an incredibly wise and effective brand consultant (formerly with Adidas, now independent). Jon Gordon is a powerful author and speaker whose messages are impacting teams and companies across the nation. Darleen Santore (“Coach Dar”) is a mental strength coach for NBA, MLB and NFL players who is addressing the need for mental health help and awareness in professional sports. Others like Rachel Baribeau and Jason Romano are shining a spotlight on positive sports stories. I am also very impressed with The Players Tribune, a platform that gives athletes the opportunity to share important messages in their own voice. Finally, the NFL teams I am most looking forward to seeing – based upon their current leadership (owners, front office, coaches) – are the Los Angeles Rams, the Buffalo Bills and the Cleveland Browns.