Vancouver sports agent Cliff Mander shares his tips on playing a cutthroat game

Being patient and keeping an open mind are key attributes for aspiring sports agents, according to Mander.

Credit: CKM Sports Management

Being patient and keeping an open mind are key attributes for anyone looking to make their mark in the industry, Mander says

At first glance, being a sports agent might look like a licence to print money. Taking a cut of 3 to 5 percent on player contracts worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars—what’s not to like? However, getting to that level is far from easy.

Just ask Cliff Mander, founder and CEO of CKM Sports Management, who learned that his early ambitions didn’t always square with reality. “Your expectations are that things happen faster than they actually do,” recalls Vancouver-based Mander. “The decisions you’re making today will really not have an effect on your life for three years. That’s a hard reality to come to terms with, but that’s the truth.”

Mander says the industry’s cutthroat competition and necessity for patience make it tough to for agents to find their feet. After he launched his agency back in 2010, he spent four years building it into a viable business, he says.

A big factor was other agents’ reluctance to help newcomers. “The only reason it took that long is because nobody’s there to teach you,” says Mander, whose firm focuses on hockey players. “They don’t want to teach you because you become their competition.”

That fierce rivalry boils down to supply and demand. After all, there are only so many players to represent. The National Hockey League, for example, has some 700 players, so there isn’t room for every certified agent around the globe to grab some. Also, the best players usually want to work with the same agents who represent their highly skilled peers.

Agents must be willing play a long game, too, identifying prospective clients years before they ever sign a contract. That could mean spending thousands of dollars watching different players in action before any money comes in.

READ MORE: 3 agents share their negotiating tips

Mander’s advice to up-and-coming agents? “Understand who the best in the world are prior to signing their first pro contract.” Although that might sound like a tall order, he says using data and identifying your competitive advantage will help you get ahead.

It’s one thing to land clients, but how do you keep them?

Mander says the two keys to maintaining relationships are being organized and open to talking with anybody. “Schedule everything so you never miss it,” he counsels. “The other thing is, get back to every phone call, even if there’s no value for you. Because you don’t know where that person’s going professionally. You don’t know if that person’s going to be the next GM of the Canucks or work as a trainer at a team where you want to work with some of the players.”

When negotiating on behalf of clients, take things slowly if possible, Mander stresses. “Do not let time dictate what you get if you don’t have to,” he says. “If you have time, wait it out. Its value is just like money.”