by Nicole Wilkes
Photo Courtesy of StockSnap
No one can deny that professional athletes, at least at the highest levels, have lucrative careers. However, it is all too easy to forget about who negotiates those massive salaries and gets a massive chunk of commission for their efforts: sports agents.
Abroad, Portuguese football (soccer) agent Jorge Mendes has been regarded as a more of a super-agent for several years. However, experts doubt that he will yield this much power in years to come. A cocktail of hardships, including star client Cristiano Ronaldo’s alleged tax evasion and the strain that Brexit has placed on the European economy, have caused many to speculate that he is “rapidly losing ground.”
Despite these hurdles, Mendes still managed to bring in about $72.7 million in commissions in 2016. He represents 91 footballers and handles a noteworthy $1 billion in active client contracts. The 51-year-old has been honored as FIFA’s Agent of the Year on three separate occasions.
Mendes founded GestiFute International in 1996, and the agency has been credited with securing “soccer’s craziest deals.” An endorsement from Mendes has carried tremendous weight ever since his professional relationship with superstar Cristiano Ronaldo began in 2003. Mendes’ signing of the 18-year-old Ronaldo to Manchester United is considered to be one of the most, if not the most, lucrative investments that a professional sports team has ever made in an athlete.
Although he signed Ronaldo, Mendes’ roles in several controversial deals have led many soccer fans to question his perspective and ethics. He has been known to demand massive contracts for players with too little achievement to warrant such high salaries.
“People have the wrong idea about agents,” said Mendes in an interview with the BBC. “I’m working hard every day. I have ambition, determination, and (value) being honest and doing the right things.”
Wielding power in the sports world encompasses Scott Boras’s career in America. He has been identified as the world’s most powerful sports agent by publications like Forbes since 2012. With a net worth of $175 million, Boras is the highest earning sports agent worldwide. Boras got his start as a lawyer in California, but has since founded the Boras Corporation, of which he is the president, owner and top agent. Boras Corp. is listed as Forbes’ third most powerful sports agency in the world, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars in commissions every year.
Boras is still an active agent within his agency and shows little to no interest in giving up the field work for exclusive administrative duties. He is the only sports agent in the world with more than $2 billion in active player contracts. He alone handles nine Major League Baseball (MLB) clients with contracts worth over $100 million and 13 clients with contracts worth over $80 million. Bora’s most valuable clients include Prince Fielder, who has a $214 million contract with the Texas Rangers (MLB); Chris Davis, who signed a $161 million contract with the Baltimore Orioles (MLB); and Jacoby Ellsbury, who signed a $153 million contract with the New York Yankees (MLB).
Boras credits much of his success to his dedication to the players’ best interest.
“We want the best for the athlete,” he said in an interview with ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick. “That may mean turning down a multi-year contract… We are not going to be in a position where outside interests control the best interest of the athlete.”
Much like Boras, brothers Sam and Seth Levinson made their names handling MLB contracts. Together, the dynamic duo of negotiations handles about $1 billion in active contracts while operating their co-founded agency, ACES. ACES, which stands for Athletes’ Careers Enhanced and Secured, hosts almost $900,000,000 in active player contracts. The two split all responsibilities, from administrative oversight to headhunting and recruitment, right down the middle.
The Brooklyn natives dreamed of making a living off of baseball as children and found that, despite their lack of athletic promise, they absolutely could. Older brother Seth worked as a defense attorney right out of law school at age 23 to save for the dream that would soon become ACES. At the same time, 19-year-old Sam began recruiting players and making deals from pay phones at Brooklyn College, where he was pursuing an undergraduate degree.
The brother-brother team handles 64 clients, all from the MLB, including Dustin Pedroia, David Wright and Jon Lester, reporting $55.4 million in commissions in 2016. From their earliest days, the Levinsons have stuck to a decisive strategy of brains over brawn. They take advantage of the concrete power of statistics and, most of the time, allow the numbers to do the talking for them.
“Who cared if no one but our parents believed we would ever accomplish anything?” said Sam Levinson in an interview with Forbes. “We might not have always been the smartest guys in the room, but we sure as hell we’re going to be the ones working the hardest ‘till our last breath.”