Sport Agents: Taking care of African sports stars

 

The commercialisation of global sport has resulted in the emergence of sport agents, consultants and managers who look after the careers and business of sports personalities.

In most cases, these are accounting, legal or general management practitioners whose primary occupation is to look after the interests of sports persons to enable them to concentrate on their core business ‑ which is  training and delivering on the field of play.

The relationship between professional sports stars and their agents or managers is usually governed by contractual arrangements, which define the roles and responsibilities of both parties as well as the remuneration that accrues to the agent. It is always not a bed of roses in the relationships between the sports stars and their agents.

In some sports like football, the international federation, FIFA has seen the need to govern the activities of agents such that only registered persons or companies can assume the role of agents on behalf of players and clubs.

Just like their counterparts from other parts of the world, African sports stars are in dire need of the services of agents and managers to help their careers to blossom as well as to maximise their earnings.  Sports careers in most codes are very short. The careers can also be extended through good and healthy lifestyles, which enable the sports person to train, compete, rest and recover in systematic and orderly manner. However, in most sports, professionals retire in their mid to late thirties.

Sports stars, therefore, need to save and invest their earnings so that they do not struggle and suffer when the active careers have ended and they are no longer earning money.

There are very good modern examples of how sports stars should conduct themselves and their business dealings. Good examples and role models are sports people like the Brazilian, Edson Arantes dos Nascimento, popularly known worldwide as “Pele”, Franz Beckenbauer the “Kaiser” of Germany, Michael Jordan of USA and David Beckham of England.   

Franz Beckenbauer is one of the few people, if not the only one, who has won the FIFA World Cup as a player and as coach as well as going on to oversee the official bid and organisation of the same event in his country. 

The great Brazilian, Pele, was not only a phenomenal player for club and country but went on to become an excellent ambassador for the game of football worldwide. He has also earned considerable money from product endorsements and advertising.

Michael Jordan continues to be the face of Nike and of excellence in basketball. The story of Beckham is also a source of inspiration to many young sports stars. It is a good example of how sports persons coming from humble backgrounds can convert themselves to highly marketable brands on and off the field of play, accumulating millions of dollars in the process. The successes that Beckham and other sports stars have been able to register are largely due to the good work of sports agents and managers.

Although they are sometimes vilified and branded as greedy people, agents and managers are in the business of taking care of their clients and earning a bit of money for themselves as well. It is a win-win situation for both the sports star and the manager or management team, in some high profile cases.

Some sports stars have resorted to family members to manage their careers, mainly due to loyalty issues and the comfort derived from such arrangements. Good examples are the great Argentine, Leonel Messi, who is managed by his father, Jorge, legendary Barcelona player and coach, Pep Guardiola managed by his brother, Pere as well as Frenchman, Nicholas Anelka,  whose agent is his own brother.

There are obviously advantages and disadvantages of having a family member or an outsider managing the affairs of successful sports stars. However, the irrefutable fact is that sports agents and managers have become part and parcel of global sports business. In this connection, they are very few African agents and managers looking after the interests of African sport stars.

In most cases, the careers of African sports stars are managed from Europe, much to the detriment of the fledgling sports business industry in Africa. The critical shortage of African sports agents and managers has seriously endangered the careers of African sports stars. For most European agents managing the affairs of African stars, it is a case of laughing all the way to the bank and caring very little about future of the clients.

One case that has been discussed in previous columns of The Southern Times Sports Forum is that of African 400m sprint queen from Botswana, Amantle Montsho, who has been World and Commonwealth champion and winner of the 2013 European-based Athletics Diamond League. Despite achieving legendary status on the continent, her earnings from the Nike Company are peanuts compared to those of Serena Williams of tennis, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both from golf who are also contracted with the same sports goods company. Nobody is advocating for exact parity but there is need for the achievements of Montsho to be recognized and rewarded accordingly in accordance with the brand value and impact of the respective sport codes, athletics, golf or tennis.

Another pathetic case in sports management is that of Saido Berahino, originally from Burundi but now plying his professional trade with West Bromwich Albion in the English Premier League (EPL). The young man, despite being one of the most exciting young talents in the EPL, was a short while ago, being paid a paltry £800 (US$1 300) a week while some of his counterparts in the same league such Adnan Januzaj of Manchester United FC and Raheem Sterling of Liverpool FC   are being paid decent contracts around £40 000-£60 000 (US$65 336-US$98 000) per week.

This is another classical illustration of unfair treatment and double standards, which can only be rectified by having an assertive and competent sports agent to look after the affairs of the sports person.

African sport needs competent and professional agents and managers who can help the continent’s stars to avoid becoming like Mike Tyson, who earned almost a billion dollars in his short boxing career and blew almost all of it. African sports agents and managers must be guided by the highest of ethical and professional standards as in most cases; they handle affairs of clients coming from hitherto, under-privileged and in some extreme cases, semi-illiterate backgrounds. National sports authorities and associations must also develop good working relationships with agents and managers as they help them to look after the successful sports stars.

In the case of Southern Africa, extraordinary sporting talent has gone to waste in the form of Jabu Pule, Robson Muchichwa, Onalenna Baloyi, Hezekiel Sepeng, Gibby Mbasela and many others due to critical shortage of business and counselling services offered by agents and managers. Hopefully, this situation will change. A Luta Continua!

January 2014
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