Professional sports agents have often been portrayed as conniving, vindictive money-grubbers that would do anything to acquire the best players on the market and negotiate the highest paying contracts for their athletes. It’s tough to argue these media driven depictions when presented with a typical sport agent such as baseball broker Scott Boras, whose cutthroat tactics have allowed him to orchestrate mind-boggling signings like Barry Zito’s seven year, $126 million contract, while also costing him the loyalty of top tier players including current ESPN whipping boy Alex Rodriguez.
Friday afternoon, Professor Al Ferrer’s Sport Management class had the pleasure of hearing the experiences of Matt Sosnick, one of the up-and-coming sports agents within the world of professional baseball. Sosnick, the subject of ESPN columnist Jerry Crasnick’s License to Deal, spoke in depth on his unique experiences of being an honest sports agent within a profession full of sharks.
Business was the name of the game for Sosnick growing up in small city of Burlingame. At the tender age of 15, he came across his first big money making venture by discovering a loophole in the San Francisco 49er ticket policies that allowed him to accumulate tickets to sell to corporations at a profit. Out of high school, the young entrepreneur was more than ready to tackle undergraduate work at USC having already accumulated a small fortune.
“I was trying to do as little work as possible,” said Sosnick. “In college I was so immature and had such a shit-load of money that I was on cruise control.”
Despite his lackluster collegiate efforts, Sosnick was able to quickly establish himself as a CEO of a Silicon Valley Tech company. He was raking in the dough, but money alone was not enough to satisfy the young businessman. A lifelong sports fan, Sosnick decided to drop everything and start from scratch, pursuing the dream of becoming a pro-baseball agent that so many have had but failed to realize. With no prior experience in baseball or law, the odds were stacked against him.
“I could have tried to do this [become an agent] another ten times and would not have been successful. I had a decent skill set for it but I had a ton of money on my own and more importantly caught a couple huge breaks,” Sosnick said.
One of the huge breaks came in the form of picking up a talented starting pitcher who boasted a personality that outmatched his imposing 6’4” frame. His name was Dontrelle Willis.
“When he [Dontrelle] started to become a household name, I was terrified that he was going to switch agents,” Sosnick said. If Dontrelle didn’t make it, it was going to be hard for me to make it long-term.”
Luckily for Sosnick, Dontrelle burst onto the scene with the Marlins and quickly made his mark as one of the star pitchers in the game. More importantly, he and Dontrelle established a relationship that extended far beyond that of an agent and a player.
“He’s never had a father … I’m probably as close to a father as he has,” Sosnick said. “I personally want to see him succeed in his life.”
The feelings of wanting success for each other are mutual between Dontrelle and “Soz”, as Willis went as far as to tattoo the emblem of Sosnick’s agency on his arm. This action might seem a bit extreme on the outset, but it just goes to show the level of support Sosnick’s clients have for an agent that goes above and beyond his line of duty to make sure all his players are taken care of. The three-year, $29 million contract Sosnick worked out for Dontrelle – who spent much of last season in the minors – probably didn’t hurt the decision making process.
“I’ve done so much other business growing up that negotiations are actually a step down in terms of the deals that I’ve made before,” Sosnick said. “Having said that, I have made some mistakes where I rushed negotiations and left money on the table.”
Despite showing impatience in certain negotiations, Sosnick has always put his players’ best interest first.
“I don’t need to roll the dice and risk a player getting less guaranteed money for his future, especially if he has family to take care of. This is where I am completely different than Scott Boras,” Sosnick said.
Sosnick’s personal ties with all of his players have set him apart from all the Scott Borases of the world, along with his willingness to stand by them even if something as serious as steroid use came to light.
“If you go back to 2000, I’ve heard that up to 75-80 percent of players were taking steroids or human growth. I conned myself into thinking none of my guys would do that stuff, but I was wrong. We don’t drop players for lack of performance, only for lack of integrity. If some players took HGH at one point, I don’t think it makes them less of a person.”
It was a breath of fresh air to hear Sosnick’s take on steroids, particularly with the steroid media circus that continues to permeate the major sports media outlets today. Even more refreshing was the agent’s stark honesty when asked for his advice on becoming an agent.
“Don’t do it. It’s a much easier deal to become a money manager and handle a player’s money until they’re through to retirement,” Sosnick said.
For a guy who established the only successful sports agency in the last 20 years working from the ground up, the advice, much like his career, was on the money.