KPT Sports BlogKPT Sports posted on November 11th, 2014
When people talk about bad sports contracts, they’re often talking about top-level contracts that are bad for the teams that offer them – take, say, Alex Rodriguez’s pair of massively excessive contracts. Contracts like A-Rod’s often cripple teams, leaving them unable to afford other players to back up their headline stars.
But, while they grab fewer headlines, there are also plenty of sports contracts out there that are terrible, not for the teams, but for the players who sign them. Probably the most notorious recent example is football’s Ricky Williams, the Heisman winner who signed with inexperienced agents under rapper Master P’s then-new sports agency. His representatives, not knowing any better, got Williams a contract with the New Orleans Saints that was heavy with performance-based incentives but with little downside protection for their client.
The result? One of the hottest talents in the NFL at the time was at risk of taking home a league-minimum salary for his first four years. And as his performance lagged in year 3 and 4, Ricky Williams did end up being criminally underpaid for the duration of his contract with the Saints.
Young athletes are particularly vulnerable to signing bad deals. So, how do you avoid a similar fate if you’re entering the world of professional sports? Here are a few pieces of advice on negotiating and structuring a professional baseball or other sports deal.
Find an agent who you trust.
It’s very difficult for someone not seasoned in the industry to understand the intricacies of sports contract negotiations – despite their best intentions. That’s what happened to Ricky Williams’ No Limit agent. So when looking for an agent (hopefully long before any actual negotiations begin), be sure you’re carefully gauging their experience and ensuring others have had a good experience with them. This is especially vital because your agent isn’t just negotiating for you, but a main channel of information about offers from multiple teams.
Look for win-wins.
“Show me the Money!” may be the most famous phrase associated with sports contract negotiation (thanks to the movie Jerry Maguire), and certainly, getting the biggest returns on your talent should be the main goal of any player and their agent.
But negotiating isn’t just about a short-term cash-in – finding a team that a player is genuinely compatible with can be at least as important for long-term happiness and career development as pumping up the number next to the dotted line. That means both players and their representatives should know what they want – including things like geography, resources, and play time, not just money.
Know your options – and develop new ones.
One of the major stumbling blocks of Major League Baseball negotiations is the tiny number of teams who might be interested in pursuing a particular player. You don’t just have to be good – you have to be a fit for the positions or skillsets the team needs filled. If you’re not one of the top prospects of the season, you might find yourself talking to just two or even one team, which could make you feel like you don’t have much negotiating leverage.
But the MLB doesn’t have the lock on professional baseball that it once did, especially thanks to the spread of the sport globally. Most famously, Japan’s professional baseball league provides a level of play within spitting distance of MLB, and international leagues everywhere from Australia to Italy import players. While these smaller international leagues offer pay comparable to American developmental leagues, they do come with the rare opportunity to see the world – and put you back at the negotiating table with a little more experience the next year.
Obviously no American prospect’s goal is to play baseball in Italy (sorry, Italy). But just knowing what your options are can be vital to getting good results in your primary negotiation. It’ll keep you from feeling like you have no choice but to take the offer on the table.
Don’t mistake being a bonehead for “playing hardball.”
However, pursuing other options can also backfire. Next to Ricky Williams, one of the most tragic recent stories of contracts gone wrong is Matthew Harrington’s. Offered a string of multimillion dollar contracts when he was a high school prospect in the early 2000s, Harrington declined them one after another, holding out for a better deal. But instead, each offer got smaller, and that better deal never came. Harrington ended up playing in developmental leagues for a thousand dollars a week by his mid-20s.
You, your family, and your agent all want to get the most you can out of your talent and opportunities. And there are certainly bad deals out there. But sometimes when the market is telling you what it has to offer, it’s best to listen.
It goes without saying that developing a professional career in baseball, or any professional sport, is complicated. That’s why almost all players have agents to represent their interests. Whether you’re in the Tampa Bay area or elsewhere in the country, KPT Sports has the experience and reputation that you should be looking for in your representative.