The recent furore surrounding the Wayne Rooney saga has once again raised questions over the role of sports agents. High profile football players, particularly the seasoned pros, have condemned the role of agents in modern sport – championing the role of legal and accountancy professionals as the more appropriate alternative.
Modern sport for the professional is of course a business with significant sums being involved. Not only would one assume that the stewardship by qualified professionals, who specialise in such disciplines as drafting and negotiating contracts and providing financial advice, would be preferred over that of a lay agent, but from a financial point of view, solicitors charge an hourly rate as opposed agents (who calculate their fee as a percentage of the multi-million pound deals they are doing).
The basis of such fee calculation surely raises a conflict of interest concern. The sports lawyer has the ability to consider the broad aims and objectives of the client, as the solicitor does not gain from the value of the client’s contract. Furthermore, sports solicitors do not benefit from any transfer fee, whereas it is in the agents best interest to sign the client up to the deal which is financially more advantageous (the agent of course, works on a percentage). This could lead to issues for the professional – such as career development and job satisfaction – and is perhaps fuelling the public perception that sports people are no longer in it for the love of the game.
Then why do professionals within the sports industry continue to engage agents as opposed lawyers? There is often a perception that budding sports men and women ‘need’ an agent, and there is perhaps a lack of understanding that there is indeed a viable if not more suitable alternative. It is also considered that agents have the knowledge and contacts that their professional (either legal or financial) counterparts lack.
As the area of sports law practice develops, lawyers appear to have grasped this imbalance with many sports departments, now offering a more rounded service combining teams of qualified solicitors and non-lawyers with backgrounds in various sporting arenas. I would suggest that this is the future of sporting representation which may well be more welcome to those involved in sport than those who write the tabloid headlines.