The Future of Football Agents: Predicting the Unpredictable
Over the last three weeks we have delved into two different areas of football agency; the history of the profession and where it all began, and more recently we assessed the work of a modern agent plying their trade in the present era of football. These were objective accounts of what has happened before and what is happening now in the ever changing and evolving world of football agents and the sport itself. The internet has many accounts of both of these topics and the facts, figures and details are documented and expressed to explain every aspect of the past and the present.
Whilst the fundamental skills and knowledge required of an agent have remained constant over time, I demonstrated last week that the scope of the work that an agent applies these assets to has broadened exponentially as agency has become a multifaceted profession. Additional capabilities have become integral to the role that an agent plays in the career of their client; from commercial and business knowledge to legal understanding and a savvy prowess over social media. Regardless, we are able to define and outline what the agency profession entails in the modern era of the beautiful game.
Perhaps, then, the most important question is where is the football agency occupation heading next? The answer is not objective and calls for calculated speculation. It is not possible to research factual information on what future awaits the profession. However, it is an intriguing proposition that presents several undisputed predictions. It can be guaranteed that, inevitably, the role of an agent will continue to expand and adapt in alignment with the evolving nature of football. Furthermore, the outlook and positioning of agents inside the sphere of football will change, which I will explore in more depth.
In this blog I will offer my attempt to make some other, more debatable, key predictions for the future of my profession. Some of these predictions might seem to imply drastic changes to the industry whilst others are simply a continuation of the pattern of change that has already been seen in recent years and since the emergence of agents in football and wider sport. Some are more speculative than others but all of them are alterations to the role of agents that I believe warrant genuine consideration as possible outcomes which may be reached from the direction in which football agency is going.
From Player Representatives to Sports Agents and Club Agents
There has been a gradual move in this direction already over the last few years. Player agents at the top end of the industry have begun to act on behalf of clubs, coaches, TV presenters and even sporting directors. I believe it is just the beginning of a limitless diversification in the clientele that current football agents will face in the future.
First and foremost, ‘club agents’ will likely become set as a norm within the agency profession. With FIFA’s new regulations coming into force imminently, there is a higher rate of commission remuneration obtainable through representing the selling club or the exclusively permitted dual-representation of the player and buying club, and I expect agents to become the representatives of clubs more frequently than of players. This will see a shift in the primary roles and responsibilities of an agent as the job is no longer caring for an individual human being but instead, the task is representing and attaining the best interests and outcomes of an entity, in the form of a football club.
For similar reasons, I also believe that agents will also be more prone to representing clients commercially rather than concerning themselves with employment contracts at football clubs. Those agents that continue to represent players are once again restricted on the percentage of commission they can take from the contracts that they negotiate with clubs. A far higher commission of up to 20% from commercial endorsements and player sponsorships is likely to be far more attractive to agents.
The commercialisation of football shows no sign of diminishing. More and more commercial opportunities are becoming available to players as the age of technology, social media and the extraordinary fame and public spotlight that accompanies being a professional footballer, comes with the perks of attracting interest from major sponsors. The marketability of player clients is continually improving as they develop their own personal brand through the most modern and popular forms of promotion such as Tik Tok, Twitch and Instagram.
The increasing number of platforms on which players can have a presence and influence on wider society correlates with a rise in commercial interest and the value of endorsement contracts as brands vie for the best talent to push their products into the public sphere. The modern world of football and wider sport encapsulates a significant commercial aspect and agents will continue to broaden their roles to fulfil these demands. Importantly, this is likely to also be a growing aspect of representing female clients. The rapid growth and expansion in the financial backing and popularity of the women’s game will be reflected in a rise in the number of agents that represent female players and invest vast amounts of time in seeking commercial endorsements for their clients.
There are other unpredictable elements that may play a significant role in the future of football and, consequently, for agents. Cryptocurrency, NFT’s and e-Sports are examples of relatively new phenomena that are gradually becoming intertwined within football and other sports. Once more, one would imagine that these will have a part to play in the future and agents will have to add yet another skillset to be able to fulfil their role in acting in the best interests of their client. Whilst already playing a role in financial guidance for clients, agents may, to some extent, engage with ventures such as crypto or NFT-asset management or perhaps securing a source of income for their clients in futuristic technological areas such as e-Sports and Twitch.
Evidently, agents will no longer be just ‘football agents’. I believe the more appropriate term in future will be ‘sports agents’. This incorporates more of what the work of an agent will likely entail across all of the sports world. From representing clubs to advising their clients on developing as a brand and commercial entity, agents must understand how best to serve their client in the future world of sport.
This future world incorporates the commercial side of sport and I also believe will lessen the narrowed approach of agents to a singular sport. As the more prominent responsibilities of an agent become dealing with off-field activities and interests of their clients, the sport they play is less important. Instead, I predict that agents will broaden their client base across many sports, from athletics to basketball to golf. I think that agents operating in a singular sport will become less common and less focussed upon the sport being played but rather the off-field opportunities of their clients.
Importantly, as I mentioned last week, a good agent will not endeavour to carry out all of these responsibilities in all of these sports and areas alone. Whilst I’d advocate for possessing a basic overview or understanding of every venture the client goes for, the skill in the task lies in the ability to delegate to experts. It is the agent’s role to manage all of these outsourced and external team members and ensure that everyone is working in conjunction; aiming to achieve the best possible outcomes that are in the interests of the client. It would be ludicrous to think that one individual could be an expert in every facet or every sport I have mentioned but they must be an expert in directing and leading a team with the same mutual goal on behalf of the same client.
The Issues in the Lower Leagues
From what I have predicted so far, a lot of the extra responsibilities that I suggest will become an integral part of an agent’s career rely on the client having a considerable amount of public popularity and global status in order to build up off-field opportunities such as personal brands and monetising social media channels. However, the future of lower leagues in football has a collateral impact on the agency world too. Many agents operate solely within these leagues during their careers and this is an area that could suffer in the future.
With the new commission cap regulations implementing a hard cap on agent remuneration, it may prove difficult to make a living from clients in lower divisions of football. The consequences of this may be a fall in the number of agents, particularly those working within lower leagues, as they are unable to achieve financial sustainability through the profession. Alternatively, this could have an additional negative effect as agents in that region could seek to find different ways of sourcing more income or unethical practices. Perhaps they will simply have to take on large volumes of clients which inevitably is of detriment to the holistic and personally-targeted service that they would be able to provide to each individual client.
This may further encourage agents to adapt into different areas of the industry such as representing clubs or other more lucrative clients rather than players at the lower end of professional football. However, it is my hope that this concern and genuine fear might be realised and acknowledged by the policy makers within football. A revision of the regulations to include factors such as tiered commission cap restrictions in order to maintain the survivability of agents operating in lower divisions may occur at some point. This would avoid these negative outcomes and the decline of agents that are vitally willing to work with players that are not in such a category that opens up a vast array of off-field opportunities.
Another significant trend that has emerged as a component of the growing fame and attention that players receive is an increasing readiness to openly express their opinions of the world. Well-known players are utilising their position to share their thoughts about topics far away from the world of football such as politics, economics, inequality, religion, world hunger, animal cruelty and other global points of public discussion.
In the future, I believe this pattern will continue. The power, status and influence that players possess will become extortionate. This will open up an array of opportunities that can reflect positively upon the player or can jeopardise their careers. It will become a part of the remit of an agent to have an acute awareness of the personal beliefs and opinions that their clients hold.
Agents will come to have distinct responsibility in ensuring that their players feel empowered to use their position to have a positive impact on a matter that they feel passionately about and that is important to the world beyond football. However, they are also responsible for assessing the consequences of being outspoken on sensitive topics and suggesting the best manner in which a player can deliver their opinions to the world. In this situation, the agent will have to offer informed guidance to try and achieve the outcome that their client desires such as meaningful change or positive political action.
The future magnitude of ‘player-power’ offers dangers and rewards aplenty. The future agent will likely be obliged to carry out the thankless task of monitoring how their client conducts themselves and uses, without abusing, this power. Ultimately, the
agent’s main role is to care for the client. In the future, the extent of this care across elements of their client’s lifestyle outside of football or the sport that they play, will broaden, and the agent must keep up with such changes and be able to fulfil their overriding duty.
Incorporating Data and Analytics
One of the major driving factors behind the future of agency is technology. The advancement of all things tech-related underpins the growth in social media platforms and the ability to market clients. However, another area that technology is increasingly having a presence within is in contract negotiations for employment contracts and transfer deals. There have already been examples of how data and analytics that are collated by technological computer programs and analyst teams can be used in contract negotiations. Most notably in recent times, Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City, one of the finest midfielders in the game, negotiated a contract worth an estimated £83million after bringing in data scientists as part of his team which saw him become one of the highest paid players in the league.
A drastic, sceptical suggestion to this example could be that there is no future for agents as data analytics and experts can be used instead to demonstrate to the club the on-field and off-field value that a player holds. However, there are two significant factors in this proposition which I argue make this an unlikely eventuality.
The four-year deal that ‘data’ obtained for KDB was not solely thanks to the analysts who presented the statistics. He still entered the contract negotiation with a team around him; his father, his lawyer and importantly, his two agents from Rockstar Sports. This is a telling indicator that players still seek the advice and knowledge of agents.
Whilst data played a vital role in helping the agents, alongside De Bruyne, to demonstrate to the club that he was worth forking out £83million (an extra 30% on what he was earning previously) for over four years, it was still the agents who played the pivotal role of getting the deal over the line. The bottom line is that footballers do not want the burden of responsibility for this aspect of the industry to lie with them. Their job is to focus upon performing on the pitch and even if they can call upon data to help with finalising contracts, there will always be a desire for agents to take on the responsibility of ensuring they are getting the best deal possible for their client.
Secondly to note on such a deal is that the level of data and off-field value that the data scientists were able to present to Man City were only possible because of the calibre and status of a player such as Kevin De Bruyne. It is far-fetched to think that, in the future, players that are in a lower division or even those not in the top bracket of top divisions will also call upon data and statistics. This would most likely not be the most realistic and cost efficient way of finalising a new contract and would fail to produce any significant advantage over what an agent could have done. Hence, I conclude that the future of data statistics and agency is, instead, one of harmony and mutual benefit. Agents can utilise data as a useful tool as and when it is appropriate and advantageous in reaching a more preferable and lucrative agreement for their client.
Over the last three weeks our blog has transitioned from the birth of football agency to a look far into the future of the fascinating profession. It is clear that no one day is ever the same in such a role and the responsibilities demanded within the remit of the job are ever-evolving and moulding in alignment with the flow of the beautiful game. It is difficult to predict which direction football agency is headed next or which upcoming phenomenon will have an impact on our careers but hopefully the insights we have shared provide food for thought for how agency might look in the near and further future.