This interview is presented to you by the University of Nebraska - Lincoln Master of Arts in Business with a Specialization in Intercollegiate Athletics Administration
By: Tyler Endebrock, @tjendebrock
As a young child, Howard Shatsky knew exactly what he wanted to do in life: Represent athletes and negotiate on their behalf. What began as a career goal eventually turned into reality and he once worked with some of the most well-known athletes in football, such as Michael Strahan and Brian Westbrook. However, as the agency world changed, so did Shatsky’s business plan. Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Howard Shatsky, CEO of Professional Football Management and Associate Agent at Coaches Inc., to learn more about the changes he has seen in the representation business over almost 30 years and the changes he has made in his own representation practice.
Shatsky first saw adversity at age 13, when he read a book about sports representation. He had written a letter to the agent who authored the book, wishing to receive some insight into the agency business, but the agent told him all the information he needed to know was within the writing.
“As a 13-year-old kid, that was a pretty big let-down. It really only made me more determined to get into the industry. I started to read every book I could about sports representation.”
With his career goals in mind, Shatsky planned for his educational path. However, he does say that initially his choice for college was not made strictly on the basis of becoming an agent.
“I went down to Tulane University to visit the school, which had a beautiful campus and good academics. The day I went up there, it was 70 degrees and there were girls in bikinis all over campus. I looked at my dad and said, ‘This is where I want to go to school.’”
Although he did not choose Tulane solely to help him towards his goal, Shatsky knows his relocation from New Jersey to Louisiana benefitted him in the long-run. He was able to learn about people who were different from him and he was exposed to many athletes from Tulane and neighboring schools. Whether or not he knew it at the time, Shatsky was learning how to recruit and negotiate to different types of people.
He wanted to head back to the northeast for law school, and his decision gave him his biggest break towards his career path.
While attending the American University-Washington College of Law, Shatsky and his classmates started their school’s Sports and Entertainment Law Society. This allowed him to connect with people in the industry and network before and after events. At one of these events, Shatsky spoke with a representative from the NFLPA, which is based not far from Shatsky’s law school, who gave him the contact information for someone who worked in the Salary Cap and Agent Administration Department.
“Now they have a system where agents can go online and look up the contract of any NFL player they want. Back then, they didn’t have that and if agents wanted to know what a player was making, they had to call the NFLPA to get that information. After contacting the main person in the department to the point of probably needing a restraining order, I received the internship. Working in that department was good to me because the agents had to call in for all the information, which allowed me to forge relationships with most of the agents in the industry.”
Throughout law school, Shatsky interned multiple times with the NFLPA and only once with a law firm. After figuring out practicing law was not a road he wanted to travel, he joined the team at Eastern Athletic Services (EAS) after graduation in 1989. He stayed at EAS for about 17 years before forming his own agency.
Shatsky was a rare case of immediate success in the representation industry. His very first client was Andre Collins, a second-round pick in the 1990 NFL Draft out of Penn State. From there, Shatsky went on to work with the aforementioned Michael Strahan and Brian Westbrook, along with Mike McCrary, Jamie Sharper, Gary Brown, Darren Perry, and many more. Shatsky estimates he has represented over 100 different players in the NFL.
“Working with players will always be my first love and my first passion. There isn’t a better feeling than seeing your players on field. I enjoy helping young players get from A to B. I enjoy assisting them outside of football and helping them even when they are finished with their career.”
Even when the players are young, Shatsky encourages them to do charity events, get involved with internships and take part in other endeavors that assist them once they are done playing. Not only do the players gain experience, but they also get great exposure by becoming involved in charitable events. Shatsky says a very positive change in the business is how the NFLPA developed different opportunities to help the players and more athletes take advantage of the opportunities each year.
In almost 30 years of representation, Shatsky has seen his fair share of changes in the industry.
“When I first started, the players didn’t have free agency at all. The only leverage players had was to hold out. But the team knew the players were not willing to lose a game check, so the players eventually came in. It was very difficult to get a team to move their offer up. I can remember one team specifically said they weren’t going to offer our player the same deal since the player held out. They took $25,000 off the deal and I found out right away that this was a very tough business.”
“The good is that now the players have a lot of freedom—they have free agency, they have more options to play for the team they want to play for. Players have gotten smarter in terms of knowing what they should be paid and players have seen better opportunities off the field, both during their career and after."
“One thing that’s been both good and bad is social media. If used the right way, it is a tremendous platform for players to interact with fans. However, there are many examples out there with social media backfiring on players and teams.”
Shatsky, himself, is very active on Twitter. Take one look at his profile and it’s easily seen he has no issue being blunt. He often offers his opinion that athletes who take large “bribery” checks from agents are very bad for the industry. He also tweets that agencies signing hundreds of players does not bode well for the players, since their needs are often forgotten or ignored.
“My personal opinion is that to really do a good job for your clients, you have to spend a lot of time talking to them and getting to know them and their goals because every player is different. This isn’t really a business where you can cookie-cut things and I think you have to treat each player as an individual. The only way you can do that is by talking to your client and I think that is a very difficult thing to do when you are representing so many guys.”
When Shatsky realized the route the agency business was going with how much money agents needed to invest just to recruit a player, he saw the opportunity to work for coaches. Not only did it make sense financially, but he appreciated the new challenge. He has been able to work for some of his former players who are now coaches and it is exciting for him to see that he can still work with his clients after they are finished playing. Coaches have different needs, contracts and rules that go with coaching representation and it challenges him every day to learn the differences of players and coaches. However, he loves his job and cannot see himself doing anything else.
“I often hear agents say they don’t like this business and they do nothing but complain. I tell them that if they don’t like it, they can get out. I like to tell young people to know exactly what they are getting into if they are looking into this business. Everyone thinks this is a glamorous business, but what they don’t see is the driving home alone at 3 a.m. after trying to recruit a kid who probably won’t sign with you. Sure, going to the Super Bowl victory party is great and there is some glamour involved, but it is a very difficult, expensive and competitive business. Unless your heart is really in it, there are so many other avenues in sports.”
“I encourage kids to look at every aspect of representation to make sure it is for them and while I love being an agent, not everyone loves it. To know what you love, be proactive in getting more knowledge about the industry. There are so many great school programs available for kids to learn more about the business. Also do things outside of school to prepare yourself for the future you want. Don’t just talk about how you want to get into it—do something that will give you a leg up.”
“People don’t want to hire fans. Do those things that are necessary to put yourself in the best place possible to land your dream job. As someone who taught sports law at a law school for seven years, I told the kids that it will be what they do outside of the classroom that will get them the job they want in the sports industry.”
This interview was presented to you by the University of Nebraska - Lincoln Master of Arts in Business with a Specialization in Intercollegiate Athletics Administration