About a year ago, I was having a conversation with Jay Courie, an NFL agent and partner at one of the bigger law firms in the Southeast, McAngus, Goudelock & Courie. Along the way, he mentioned that he needed someone to partner with, someone who had youth and energy but also someone who had enjoyed success and knew the agent business. I get this kind of request at times.

So I thought about it, and when I bumped into him at the Senior Bowl, I told him I had just the guy. When I finally got Jay together with Kyle Strongin of 1 Degree Management, Jay had already met him and knew him. I could see in his eye that my choice had reaffirmed what Jay was already thinking.

That’s why it wasn’t a big surprise to me when I heard Monday that Jay had brought Kyle in as Vice President of MGC Sports, with country music star Darius Rucker a part of the deal, as well. While I’m not, in any way, taking credit for putting this merger together, I can definitely say I know both Jay and Kyle well, they’ve both been ITL clients for a long time, and I knew Jay was leaning toward a merger of some sorts. The only mild surprise was that Kyle, whom I’ve tried to recommend to inquiring agencies for some time now, was willing to move. He’d always told me in the past that he was happily independent.

While adding a big star to a sports agency is decidedly not a new idea, here are a few thoughts on this move.

  • In 2016, the Kardashian century, celebrity matters. Having a big name on your team is an edge in recruiting, especially in a business that is as poorly understood as football representation, and especially when the people you’re recruiting are young men with big egos.
  • Courie has made significant inroads at Clemson, and has major ties with the school. But if I know him at all, I know he likes to win. I don’t think he’s happy getting the second-line kids at Clemson. He wants the DeShaun Watsons of the world.
  • On the other hand, Rucker, a black country star, is a perfect fit for MGC Sports, which consistently recruits white offensive linemen as well as the speedy black skills position players that have taken Clemson to the next level.
  • Outside of Clemson, MGC really hasn’t been relevant. In fact, I wonder if Jay even consistently recruits non-Tigers. But that’s where Kyle, who finished a close second to super-power CAA on Laremy Tunsil last year, comes in. Jay is an accomplished lawyer, likable and professional, but Kyle, who spent time with the 49ers scouting department as well as in the Ole Miss and University of Tennessee recruiting offices, gives the firm a credible NFL background. Kyle has significant relationships in scouting, and having those insights gives you a tremendous edge when you’re trying to sort out the stars from the overhyped pretenders. Meanwhile, Jay has a legal practice to run, and now he doesn’t have to split his time as mercilessly.
  • The next 60 days will be very telling for MGC. Clemson has a number of top players that will be part of the ’17 draft, and the firm has now gone from a solid contender that operates beneath the radar to a firm that others will be recruiting against. The Carolinas are very contentious, with several solid firms, big and small, battling for talent.
  • In an industry where the NFLPA makes things harder virtually every day, sorting out costs and distilling a profit won’t be easy. But if MGC can land a Watson, a Williams or another comparable talent, it might be the jolt needed to propel it into ‘big agency’ status.

In the end, this is just one more indication that the sports agency business is becoming an arms race, with margins and business decisions perhaps running second to the chase for bigger and flashier names. Increasingly, to stay relevant, bigger firms are going to have to decide if they’re ready to partner up with big personalities, and in so doing, figure out how to make it all work on the profit/loss sheet.

 

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