I just got done watching this video, in which ESPN’s Darren Rovell interviews social media magnate Gary Vaynerchuk. Vaynerchuk just invested in Symmetry, the South Walpole, Mass.-based agency that includes Michael ‘Mook’ Williams and Brian McLaughlin. The agency will henceforth be known as VaynerSports.
Here are a few thoughts on things that might be hurdles, at least in the near future.
- Building a brand doesn’t happen overnight. Pitching players on off-field opportunities is smart, no doubt about it. It’s probably the most compelling reason why players fire their agencies, especially when those agencies are still on the new side (as is Symmetry/VaynerSports). On the other hand, most players don’t want to spend countless hours blogging, hanging out on Skype, or whatever. This is especially true of the kind of players that Symmetry has on its client list, i.e., lower-profile linemen, etc., who aren’t by their nature particularly flashy. These players signed with Symmetry because they didn’t need a big, sexy agency. It might be a bit of an uphill climb to convince them they now need to go a different route to gain a Vaynerchuk-style presence that can be monetized.
- Recruiting is taxing. You can tell in this video that Vaynerchuk (who’s always excited anyway) is super-charged by the opportunity to watch players, talk to players, get to know them, and otherwise enjoy the trappings of working in the business. Still, the ins and outs of the game; the bumps and bruises acquired by travel; the frustration of getting snubbed by players and/or their parents; the road blocks presented by well-meaning but overly bureaucratic schools; and the non-responses to celebrity that might come from NFL types, all tend to take a toll.
- Recruiting the Northeast is tough. Being based in Massachusetts means there aren’t a ton of top recruits in your backyard, and though the firm has been able to establish its range with a few clients, for the most part, they’re going to have to keep extending that reach. That leads me to my next point.
- Recruiting is expensive. As we’ve already established in this space, it costs about $35,000 to get a player rated in the top three rounds from college to draft. And those costs are only going up. Fortunately, Vaynerchuk’s got a good young agent (McLaughlin, who’s featured in the video) to help him avoid costly mistakes, but he’s going to have to fight the temptation to take shortcuts.
- There are no guarantees in this game. Take Vernon Adams, for example. The Oregon QB came from a flashy school; has an exciting style of play that earned him plenty of media plaudits; did exceptionally well at the No. 2 all-star game, the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Fla.; and otherwise acquitted himself well during the pre-draft process. Despite all of this, Adams couldn’t even get an undrafted free agent deal with the NFL, and was among the two-thirds of passers that were not selected by NFL teams and went unsigned after the draft. Now, he’s playing in Canada, where the margins are much, much smaller for agents.
- Celebrity doesn’t always travel well. Though Vaynerchuk is undeniably talented and successful, it will take a little doing to get to the conversation stage with top prospects. For example, I think we can all agree that Morgan Stanley is established in the financial realm. Despite this, I’ve been told by some of my financial advisor clients that they’ll introduce themselves to a player as a Morgan Stanley advisor, exchange pleasantries, perhaps even give the player a business card, and still, as they part, the player will say, ‘nice meeting you, Mr. Stanley.’ Players tend to be laser-focused on their own careers and usually have a good grasp of pop culture, but don’t always have much vision outside of those worlds. Parents may be far more receptive, but ultimately, most players make their own decisions when it comes to agents.
As a student of the player representation business for almost two decades, this is an experiment, and one I’ll be interested to watch. But if it’s a success, I don’t expect it to be overnight.