The Hockey News - Money & Power
AGENTS: THE BIG THREE
The game’s most powerful agent is a humble, hockey-mad team player behind a flashy Hollywood veneer
I’M A GUY who likes to push the needle,” says Pat Brisson. It’s a fitting image as hockey’s most powerful player agent is calling from his car on a Los Angeles freeway. Brisson means that he is always looking to innovate, to extend the limits of what is thought possible to gain an edge on the competition.
That character trait was on display last June when coaches, GMs and team presidents from six NHL teams flew to L.A. for appointments at Brisson’s office in the imposing headquarters of Creative Artists Agency. The glistening glass and steel structure is striking for its hulking size and a dramatic, eightstorey aperture that pierces its center. In Hollywood circles the building is known as The Dark Star in recognition of the envy and fear it inspires and the menacing effect of its architecture. Entering its marbled interior makes one feel small and incon-
sequential, which likely figured in Brisson’s calculations.
Over the course of three days, the reps from the six NHL teams delivered pitches designed to convince coveted free agent John Tavares to sign with them. Brisson, Tavares and his fiancee listened to the presentations and then the executives flew home. A few days later, Tavares inked a seven-year, $77-million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
No hockey agent had ever handled a UFA negotiation like this, and it graphically illustrated the clout that star players and their agents wield in today’s NHL. The man who orchestrated the event is a 53-year-old French-Canadian with rugged, leading-man looks, dark hair and piercing blue eyes. In 2017, Forbes ranked Brisson ninth on the list of the world’s most powerful sports agents. He represents more than 60 players, includ- ing Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Claude Giroux, Anze Kopitar and Nathan MacKinnon. The total dollar value of the skaters Brisson has under contract is just over $1.1 billion. Forbes estimates his commissions for those contracts at $45.4 million.
Brisson co-heads CAA’s hockey division with J.P. Barry, a lawyer and former legal counsel to the NHLPA who is based in Kelowna, B.C. In terms of total sports contracts at CAA, hockey ranks third at $1.9 billion, behind football ($4.1 billion) and basketball ($2.3 billion) but ahead of baseball ($1.0 billion). For the first 30 years of its existence, CAA catered exclusively to A-list actors, directors, writers and musicians. It added sports to the mix in 2006. CAA represents more than 750 elite athletes, and according to Forbes it has been the world’s leading sports agency in terms of commissions generated the past six years with $9.3 billion in contracts under management, more than double the total of its nearest competitor, and it now brings in more revenue than the entertainment division at CAA.
Considering Brisson’s influence and his office’s address at 2000 Avenue of the Stars in L.A.’s premier business district, one might expect him to be a fast-talking, egotistical barracuda. Yet in conversation, Brisson comes across a regular person, polite and self-effacing with traces of his French-Canadian heritage in his voice. He grew up in a hockey-mad family in Quebec and played major junior and one year as a pro in Europe.
His hockey background gave him a unique perspective when he began representing NHLers in the 1990s, as most agents were lawyers. Brisson’s edge was he understood his clients in a way other agents couldn’t. He still trades on that quality.
Of course the business has evolved radically since then. The workload has shifted from contract negotiations, which now account for only about 15 percent of his time, to player development, or as Brisson sometimes refers to it, “concierge service.” CAA’s hockey division advises and assists young players with skills training, nutrition advice and physical and mental preparation, and educates families on their best path to success. The keystone of the development group is a summer camp where invited prospects undergo an intensive week of on- and off-ice training.
While he personally brings in about 60 percent of the revenue of CAA’s hockey division, Brisson is quick to share credit with his team. He has 22 people on his staff worldwide, which includes subordinate agents, and he can get assistance from CAA’s legal team and other experts from the company’s PR arm, which provides a range of marketing and consulting services to corporate clients. “There’s a lot of interaction between all of the company’s divisions,” Brisson said. “We try to work collaboratively and we have a couple of retreats each year.”
Another thing that has accelerated since Brisson started repping players is the competition between agents. “It’s a tough business,” said Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. “The agents compete just as fiercely as the players do on the ice.”
In recent years, agents have begun pursuing younger and younger players, trying to arrange deals to serve as their advisors. “It’s getting crazy,” Brisson said. “I get calls from people saying, ‘My god, you’ve got to see this ’05.’ An agent can’t do anything for a 13-year-old except become a distraction.”
Despite the constant hustle and the emotional toll of the job, Brisson has no plans to leave the business and the collection of talent he has assembled. “I’ll do it as long as I still have the passion,” he said. “I love the players. I love the game. It’s given me everything that I have today.”