Where are In­dia’s Jerry Maguires?

What is wrong with the player rep­re­sen­ta­tion busi­ness in this part of the world?

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Joy Bhat­tachar­jya

It was early 1997 when Jerry Maguire re­leased­inIn­dia.AsIwasthen­work­ing for TWI, the tele­vi­sion arm of IMG, the big­gest player man­age­ment agency in the world, it was a must see. And while the main vil­lain in the picture looked dis­qui­et­ingly like a lawyer who worked out of our of­fice, Tom Cruise’s de­pic­tion of an ideal­is­tic player agent was an in­spi­ra­tion to all of us who wanted to work with sport in In­dia.

It’s 20 years since Jerry Maguire came and went, and pro­fes­sional player man­age­ment is still in the wilder­ness in In­dia. And with the num­ber of sports leagues emerg­ing, it is a se­ri­ous worry in an in­dus­try that is just be­gin­ning to take baby steps to­wards be­com­ing an or­ga­nized sec­tor. So what is wrong with the player rep­re­sen­ta­tion busi­ness in this part of the world? It prob­a­bly starts with the play­ers.

The top ath­letes are sus­pi­cious of any­one in a suit and won­der why they should part with a 15-20% com­mis­sion on deals which are any­way on of­fer. In ef­fect, the Cola ma­jor was any­way dy­ing to sign them up, what real value does an agent of­fer?

It’s eas­ier to find a trusted friend or rel­a­tive who also acts as the agent and will be hap­pier with a much lower com­mis­sion. It sounds log­i­cal, ex­cept that the­friendis­usu­al­ly­notbeste­quippedto ne­go­ti­ate a mean­ing­ful long term deal with­a­multi­na­tional,andthe­un­clemay also be tak­ing a cash cut which might just be a tax headache in the fu­ture. I re­mem­ber deal­ing with one such agent dur­ing the IPL who would ped­dle an up­com­ing In­dia star for photo op­por­tu­ni­ties with com­plete strangers in re­turn for cash and once even a slightly used lap­top!

In many cases the player agent also acts as the ma­jor domo for the player and his fam­ily. And while a per­sonal touch is prob­a­bly re­ally im­por­tant in any rep­re­sen­ta­tion busi­ness, pick­ing up the player’s mother’s laun­dry is not what an agent should be do­ing. These agents rarely have the skills to build a player’s pro­file over time and help craft an en­dur­ing brand. The leg­endary golfer Arnold Palmer, IMG founder Mark McCor­mack’s first client was get­ting spon­sor­ships decades af­ter re­tir­ing from the pro­fes­sional cir­cuit. Surely, the likes of Dhoni , Le­an­der or Anand de­serve a sim­i­lar longevity in our coun­try.

The other prob­lem is that a na­tional team cap­tain’s agent tends to at­tract a whole lot of ju­nior play­ers. And some­times it is the other way around, new play­ers feel awk­ward about not sign­ing with the cap­tain’s firm even if they have been given no such in­di­ca­tion by the cap­tain. So a change in cap­taincy, es­pe­cially in the cricket cir­cuit, re­sults in a sig­nif­i­cant ex­o­dus of clients from the com­pany man­ag­ing the for­mer cap­tain.

The in­ter­na­tional play­ers in the busi­ness also stut­tered at the start. In the hey­days of player rep­re­senta- tion in the mid and late nineties, lo­cal In­dian firms were of­fer­ing sig­nif­i­cant min­i­mum guar­an­tees to the top play­ers. Given that it was a norm in In­dia, it was very dif­fi­cult for the likes of the In­ter­na­tional Man­age­ment Group (IMG) to in­sist that they did not ever pay up front fi­nan­cial guar­an­tees to any player. And as player rep­re­sen­ta­tives for IMG dou­bled up as spon­sor­ship sales heads for ma­jor events, they ob­vi­ously fo­cused on just the large value deals.

It’s ob­vi­ously not all doom and gloom, there are a few firms do­ing ex­cel­lent work, in­clud­ing one ob­vi­ously in­spired by a Jerry Maguire di­a­logue. But the num­bers are minis­cule. To­day, there are more than five hun­dred pro­fes­sional ath­letes across all sport, and a vi­brant and grow­ing mar­ket, es­pe­cially in re­gional mar­kets.

A client may not see huge scope for Wrid­dhi­man Saha in na­tional tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tise­ments, but he would def­i­nitely add value in Ben­gal. Add to that the im­mense op­por­tu­ni­ties for present and ex-play­ers for speak­ing en­gage­ments, celebrity coach­ing and lo­cal live events and you have a long tail that can re­ally of­fer sig­nif­i­cant value. We need more Jerry Maguires now.

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