Tonight, I’m joining my friend Eugene Lee of 3 Strand Sports in his sports law class. We’ll be discussing the history of compensation provided to players by agents interested in signing them for standard representation.

The following is what I came up with. Is it perfectly accurate? Probably not, but pinning all this down is not easy. I reached out to several of my friends in player representation who’ve been around for a while, and most of them generally agreed with this timeline and the various facets of compensation (don’t call them inducements) I’ve listed.

  • Prior to around 2002: We didn’t really see players offered anything to sign with an agent until about 2002. Players might train on their own, but often, an agent would go to the combine to recruit and sign players.
  • 2005: This is about when the first training packages were offered. These were pretty bare-bones. Players would be tutored on speed, but programs were far from comprehensive.
  • 2007: It was around here that training started to be somewhere away from a player’s school or hometown, and began to specialize. More importantly, it was around this time that solely training was enough to offer. We began to see no-interest loans at this time, i.e., money the bank wanted back.
  • 2009: As the new CBA arrived, agents were beginning to shift from the no-interest loan to a marketing guarantee. This was legit; it wasn’t just free money disguised as earned money. Most of the marketing consisted of trading card and other deals. Back then, it was still common for the major shoe companies (Nike, Reebok, etc.) to provide apparel to draft prospects. It didn’t last much longer, however.
  • 2012: By now, we were well into the new CBA, and agents were now operating without the promise of the gargantuan rookie signing bonuses that teams handed out to top picks pre-2009. Still, players were expecting what previous draftees had received. We saw training really ramp up (by now, most combine training was taking place in the Sun Belt) and we saw marketing guarantees swell. This is also when agencies started providing a monthly allowance to top picks (called per diems) and we started to see agents offer to bill only two percent, not three percent, to top draftees.
  • 2015: It was around here that packages really began to expand. Players were getting training that also included rental cars and, at times, splashy living accommodations. They were also getting bigger signing bonuses while per diems were also inching up. Fee cuts were becoming more common, and marketing guarantees were stacked on top of signing bonuses.
  • 2018: It was probably around this time that we were seeing four-figure per diems become commonplace. This is also when fees were beginning to be 1 point for first-rounders, 2 points for second-rounders and 3 for all others. At  the same time, this is when I started to hear of some desperate firms offering a no-fee rookie deal (the agency would make money solely on marketing until the second contract). Obviously, all the other stuff (training, signing bonus, marketing guarantee) was also on the table.

Today, we’re seeing the following:

  • Training that typically runs in the $30,000 to $40,000 range.
  • Per diems — especially for players projected in the first 10-20 picks — in the $10,000 per month range.
  • A standard one percent fee for projected first-rounders, and in many cases when a firm is truly desperate to sign a top player, no fee at all.
  • Some agencies are even beginning to offer a fee cut on the second deal, the place where firms used to get well financially.
  • Marketing guarantees are still around, though often, agencies don’t expect a lot of actual work on these, i.e., appearances, signings, social media posts, etc. 

Obviously, not everyone in the draft class is receiving this — not by a long shot. These are mainly available to only the top prospects in the draft, though many of these are becoming commonplace even to later-round players. This is true to the point where, in my opinion, many players lose sight of their important goals while trying to maximize “what they get.”

If all of this sound excessive to you, you’re not alone. “It’s the most asinine, short-sighted cannibalism in American commerce,” said one established agent of the direction the industry is taking.