Behind the scenes at a sport agency
Football deals worth more than most of us will earn in our lifetimes, packed rugby stadiums and millions tuning in to see Rory McIlroy take on the best golf courses in the world; the sporting world is definitely big business. We caught up with Paul McKenzie from Belfast-based sport management and marketing agency, Victa Sport, to find out what goes on behind the scenes.
The commercialisation of sport has been underway now for approximately 40 years. Much of the money attached to sport comes through a combination of gate revenues and media rights across broadcasting channels. However, it is the commercial aspects of the industry – sponsorship, partnerships and merchandising – that are increasingly coming to the fore.
A sports agent essentially helps an athlete manage their career. An agent, either directly or with the help of associating companies, will handle accounting and legal duties, negotiate contracts, and provide advice about signing deals.
It’s not uncommon for sports agents to have a background in law. Agents market their clients to potential sponsors to increase awareness and their earning potential. An agent helps his or her client get the best deals on playing contracts by personally meeting with team owners, managers and coaches. Important details such as proposed salary, contract length, benefits and stipulations are negotiated by the agent based on the needs and wants of the client. A comprehensive knowledge of the sporting landscape is essential if the agent is to represent their clients in the best way.
Victa Sport is a dedicated sports management and marketing agency providing a range of professional services for sportsmen and women. It was formed by Paul McKenzie and William McSorley, who is a sports lawyer.
Mr McKenzie said: “We currently have two associated companies, MCE Public Relations and Campbell Fitzpatrick Solicitors, while we are currently in negotiations with several other partnering organisations who will offer various services to our clients. We felt there was potential to create Victa Sport and enter this market, given the skill sets we were bringing together with both myself and William and our associated companies. We did this despite the fact that there are already several similar companies operating in Northern Ireland. We aim to provide an honest, knowledgeable and professional service, and are not limited to one sport or discipline.”
Athletes of different levels and abilities will require different things of their agents. For example, a young rugby player just starting out could use an agent to help source playing contracts across the world if they have not been offered one by their local or home town club. An agent with a broad network of contacts and good standing with clubs will be able to assist this player and potentially secure them employment that they would not have otherwise been able to secure by themselves.
Someone like Usain Bolt on the other hand will require different things of his agent. With the amount of demand for his time and profile, combined with a packed competition and training schedule, Bolt would want his agent to handle all off track matters and advise him on what deals to sign, what appearances to make, and what products to endorse.
So how do you get to be a sports agent? Well it helps to have a significant background in the industry. Mr McKenzie was no stranger to the professional rugby scene, with seven years logged with Ulster Rugby, Exeter Chiefs and the Ireland ‘A’ squad. But his talents didn’t stop there.
He said: “I initially went to Loughborough University to try and make a career of cricket as I had represented Ireland at all age groups up to under 19. Rugby took over however, and that was the path I decided to take. When I retired from the game, I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to go in. I knew I wanted to stay involved in sport in some way and so I did a Masters degree in Applied Sport Psychology at the University of Ulster.”
“I took on an internship with Cricket Ireland as Performance Analyst for the Ireland under 19 team, and travelled with the team to the under 19 Cricket World Cup in Australia in 2012. This was a brilliant experience and I was delighted to be back involved in cricket again. I have also been player coach at Donaghadee Rugby Club and am just starting my third year in this role.”
Getting experience in the business world, Mr McKenzie worked for MCE Public Relations for approximately a year over two spells, assisting in the sponsorship management of Danske Bank’s sports sponsorship portfolio.
He continued: “I wanted to create a job for myself in sport and with the help and backing of Paul McErlean and an introduction to William McSorley the concept for Victa Sport was created. My main goal is to help athletes during their career, while also planning for the day when their sport will come to an end. At the end of the day I’ve been there and done it myself.”
The sports management world is a competitive one. Clients are generally recruited on a ‘who you know’ basis, with introductions, networking and keeping an ear to the ground vital to the success of an agency.
Mr McKenzie spoke of the local sporting scene: “Northern Ireland is full of sporting talent and we could see that from those participating in the Olympics, Paralympics and Commonwealth Games recently. This is a global market and we have global reach. We don’t just work with athletes. We work with sports managers, executives and referees. A lot of the time athletes are working so hard to be the best at what they do that they don’t have the time to realise other opportunities for income.”
Mr McKenzie is still continuing to develop his own knowledge of the industry and will soon be starting a Sports Leadership and Development Programme at the Ulster Business School. Like many of his clients, he believes in continuous personal development to be at the top of his game.
So is Mr McKenzie keeping his eyes peeled for the next Rory McIlroy?
“We are always on the lookout for athletes we feel have the potential to take the step to the next level, whether that is with opportunities within Northern Ireland or outside it. We can’t approach anyone until they are over the age of 16. Our specialist areas are in rugby, golf, cricket and football. Once a client comes on board they sign an agreement with us to say that we are their sole representative and from that point we aim to secure endorsements, raise their profile and find suitable contracts. We will also help them to develop a strategy for the end of their career as well.”
If you would like to find out more or speak directly to Paul McKenzie please .