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Show me the money: Is a Dutch auction, via email, the new way to land a contract?

Insights

While the game has become more sophisticated through the years, it seems not everything in rugby league has moved with the times, writes Michael Blucher

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“I will not rest until I have you holding a Coke, wearing your own shoe, playing a Sega game featuring you, while singing your own song in a new commercial, starring you, broadcast during the Superbowl, in a game that you are winning, and I will not sleep until that happens. I’ll give you fifteen minutes to call me back …”

If you love sport, there’s every chance you’re at least distantly familiar with Jerry Maguire, the slightly flawed, but otherwise honourable, idealistic, sports agent made famous by Tom Cruise in the 1996 movie of the same name.

It was amid Jerry’s panic to deliver for his only significant client at the time, NFL star Rod Tidwell, that we first heard the phrase “show me the money”, an imperative that looms just as large in professional sport today.

For the average sports fan, that’s about where our understanding of the player management / sports agent “industry” starts and stops. Few know how the sports agent model works, and even fewer care.

We probably should. Both directly and indirectly, managers have more sway over the fluctuating fortunes of our favourite sporting teams than we could possibly imagine.

For all sorts of reasons, we don’t know – at least not the intricate details. However powerful and influential player managers might be, they fly well under the radar, largely faceless operatives working behind closed doors, guiding the careers and fortunes of young blokes with rare talent but little time – the window of opportunity for professional athletes as we all know is small and closes quickly.

And that heightens the importance of the role the managers play – sage and poor advice sends athletes in very different directions.

To provide a quick snapshot, figuratively speaking, player managers are a bit like lawn mowers. They come in all shapes and sizes, everything from the comfortable, expensive ride-on model, to the steady serviceable four-stroke machine, right down to the dodgy second hand two stroke job that’s hard to start, runs rough and is more likely to be cutting somebody else’s grass.

Just like the size and shape, the quality of advice they offer varies enormously. At its best, the counsel is strategic as well as commercial, affording consideration to what’s right for their client now, with what’s most likely to benefit and sustain them in the future.

In other words, don’t just show them the money, show them the big picture. The alignment, the brand plan, the “fit”.

In the middle, there’s an expanse of well intentioned “hobbyists” whose entry into the industry was more likely to have been driven by a genuine love of the sport, rather than a quiver of relevant qualifications.

Any impression of this group having unique, bankable knowledge and experience relies on the favourable comparison with the knowledge and sophistication of the people they represent – ie virtually nil. Those who just “wanna play footy” .

And then there’s the lower rungs that you’d typically describe as “opportunistic”. That’s all we’ll say about them – any more detail and we might run the risk of them engaging the services of a hit man, or at the very least,  a defamation lawyer

Yes – sports management is a “colourful”, complex and competitive industry, and hardly a place for the fainthearted.

Which brings us rather circuitously to the live case study of Brandon Smith, the New Zealand and Melbourne Storm NRL player, whose management team announced this week they were “inviting offers” from all 16 clubs for his services in the coming years.

That’s right – a little like all the list managers from the respective NRL clubs turning up on a Saturday auction and bidding on a three bedroom, two bathroom house on a 600sq/m block, in a leafy inner city suburb. Easy access to public transport.

Have we got any advance on $1.25 million? Final offers…going once, going twice, sold to the Penrith Panthers. Congratulations sir….step this way and we’ll get the paperwork sorted.

Really? That’s where we’re at? That’s the most sophisticated approach Smith’s team of minders can come up with? Flogging him off to the highest bidder?

Heaven help us, and the game of the rugga-ba-leeege.

On the strength of what we know about Brandon Smith, he’s not a bloke that’s necessarily going to be suited to every club, regardless of the size of their war chest.

Lively character, and great player for sure, but he’s recently been fined and suspended for drug use, after vision of he and several other Storm stars appeared on social media, hooking into what “looked suspiciously like cocaine” – media speak for “yep – sprung”.

And this is on the watch of the Melbourne Storm, recognised as the club in the NRL with far and away the most enviable culture. Piloted by Craig Bellamy – “Bellyache” – the best coach, the hardest task-master who demands professionalism and doesn’t tolerate anything less.

“FIFO” – fit in or fall out. Or words to that effect.

A reminder, Smith started his NRL journey as a rookie with Cowboys – they’re still talking about his teenage exploits up in Townsville. Holy dooley. Talk about a handful. Cyclone Yasi and Cyclone Brandon.

And now those who are apparently acting in his best interests are going to send him …. somewhere, anywhere, as long as the coin is right.

What could possibly go wrong?

At the end of the day of course, Brandon Smith has the final say. He’s the one who’s ultimately responsible for his own career – his choice of club and how he performs while wearing the jersey, whether it’s for one season or 15.

But in my experiences, professional athletes often “don’t know what they don’t know”.

And as stupid as it might sound, the last thing they need is more money.

What they need is a stable environment – good people around them – firm, principled, responsible types who can help keep them on the straight and narrow. Hold them accountable to themselves and their teammates.

That’s how they accumulate large piles of money – through long, successful sustainable careers.

Less so through Dutch auctions.

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