SKY SHOULD NOT BE LIMIT IN THE EFL
Facebook and Twitter are future, predicts agent
THE EFL must consider abandoning the safe money of Sky and embrace the power of social media, according to one of the men who ushered in the Premier League era.
Up until 2010, Jon Smith was the head of sports management agency First Artist and still has a direct line to some of the most powerful players in the football industry.
He worked with Sky to commercialise the British game but, with new technology offering exciting possibilities for the future, Smith believes now is the time for the Football League to start diversifying.
The eyewatering amounts that Sky and BT have ploughed into the Premier League – totalling more than £5bn over the next three years – is leaving the EFL further in the distance.
But Smith’s message to EFL chief Shaun Harvey is to investigate the global pull of sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, in time for when the current broadcasting arrangement with Sky ends in 2019.
“There’s a way of making Bradford sexy in South America,” Smith quipped. “If I was heading the Football League, I would be engaging with the big social media companies and those who have invested in it – Amazon, Google, Facebook, Snapchat – so that when the next round of rights are sold there are options.
“It opens the door fully and they don’t have to sell their rights to the only bidder in Sky.
“If they are not be going to be challenging the Premier League right at the top, it makes for an interesting analytical discussion.
“It would be a step into the unknown, and a gamble, but the next generation are not watching on TV. They’re on social media and have phones and tablets. It’s got awesome potential globally.
“There is always something else next. There will be a big revolution with the tech companies, and football will grow in a completely new dimension.”
Smith, whose previous list of clients include the England football team and Diego Maradona, “unashamedly” helped bring about a commercial revolution that he feels has made the game a far better spectacle in this country.
But, with the cashflow from the top to the bottom more of a dribble than a deluge, he also recommends that chairmen become savvier in their transfer dealings.
“It’s a handful of the bigger clubs that the money is going to. That’s the problem,” he said. “You get big parachute payments, but what about the rest of the Championship?
“Football League clubs have to take a look at the way they sell their players, because bigger clubs go shopping abroad as the deals are more malleable there.
“Clubs in [places like] Spain are more open to staggered payments, amortisation, including image rights.
“Whereas, in England, it can be the attitude of ‘give me £1.5m now and £1.5m at the end of next season’.” If the general belief is that agents floss their teeth with £50 notes, Smith insists it can take years of hard work to forge a successful career – and even then only a tiny proportion rake in mega amounts. “You get a tip about a lad who is very good. He is 16. You go to see the parents and say ‘this is what I’ve done for others’,” Smith explains in one example. “But they’ve got ten other agents or intermediaries interested, and ask for, say, £50,000 to represent their son. They want their piece of flesh, too.”
But, though football’s age of innocence may be long gone, there is still room for fairytale in the game, as Smith has helped numerous semi-professionals achieve their dreams.
“I’ve done loads of deals down the leagues, not just the big ones,” he added.
“I’m a football fan. I love it just as much as I have always done, and I’ve always wanted to change and innovate.
“It’s quite amazing, the variation. One day, you could be doing a big deal, and then, in the lower divisions, you are arguing over luncheon vouchers, figuratively speaking.
“Players can still go unnoticed at lower-league clubs, it can happen. I picked up a kid at Wealdstone. My brother watched him and thought he was good.
“We had a relationship with Ken Bates (former Leeds chairman) at the time and he was very good with academy players, and they all loved him when he went on trial.
“Within 18 months he was in the first team and then scored against Manchester United. It was Jermaine Beckford. “It can happen. It’s not that much of a rarity, but you have to manage expectations. The Championship is probably his level as it did not work out for him at Everton.” The Deal: Inside the World of a Super-Agent by Jon Smith, with James Olley (Constable), is out now.
UNCOVERED GEM: Agent Jon Smith, inset, found Jermaine Beckford, seen here playing for Leeds against Manchester United
BIG NAME: Smith has represented Diego Maradona in the past and, inset right, his new book