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April 13, 2010
An Agent's Take
Josh Kusnick periodically shares his experiences of representing professional baseball players and media members.
One major aspect of active player representation is marketing. When an agent attempts to brand a player that he represents, there are many things that one can do to help facilitate the process. A strong relationship with the media is absolutely crucial while attempting to market a player. I have an unusually strong relationship with the media given the small size of my company. I always felt that everyone involved in television and print media could help my company grow more than I attempted to go this journey alone. There is no way I could envision my career being what it is without the major contributions for many members of the media. For the purposes of this article I am only going to focus on marketing up-and-coming prospects, and not established stars.
A trend among some of the younger and newer agents is that many think that social networks are not only excellent tools in generating exposure for their clients, but many even go so far to use them as recruiting tools. I am assuredly not a part of the group that believes Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook can make a player famous or aid them in any way. To some degree, these social networking sites have knocked down the wall that existed between the players and the fans. Yet while the overall fan experience is much more involved these days than it was 25 years ago, the players' personal lives are getting encroached upon more often. Speaking from a marketing point of view, I fail to see how these social networking tools could benefit a player. The agents that tend to utilize these sites in hopes of creating a fan base for their players fail to realize that the only thing fans tend to care about when following a specific player or prospect is his statistics or on-field contribution to his team. Creating an artificial fan base via Facebook or having tons of followers on Twitter is not a benefit; if anything, it invades a player's privacy to the extreme. If a specific prospect is hitting .220 in the Florida State League and has 5,000 followers on Twitter and 5,000 fan club members on Facebook, would that player really be in a better situation than a prospect who hit .330 anonymously? Absolutely not, and it would be ignorant for any agent to think otherwise. You cannot mask the reality of a player's situation because now more than ever, fans are educated about every facet of the game.
(Full disclosure: I do post on several message boards, and that is a personal preference. I enjoy interacting with fans, whether it be online or in person. I always answer my e-mails and private messages. I do not consider what I do on message boards to be work, but something I choose to do on my down time.)
Beyond statistics and on-field contributions, good old fashioned media exposure is the only way to help capitalize on a player's success. Radio, television, and print media all offer sufficient means of exposure that could potentially aid a player's career. It is the job of the agent to not only assist a player in dealing with all forms of media but to capitalize financially on that exposure. When I first started as an agent, the very first industry members I befriended beyond the scouts who got me started were the local beat writers for my hometown teams. I asked them hundreds of questions and contacted them incessantly. I thank them dearly for putting up with me. As my company grew and I signed players from all over the country, I made it a point to contact every local writer I could from my client's home town in addition to contacting every major media member who covered my client's major-league affiliate. Every winter meetings I attended I made more and more media contacts, and in 2003, in a stroke of absolute dumb luck, I befriended John Buccigross of ESPN. This will take the story way off course but it's worth telling.
I had the good fortune of attending the 2003 NHL All-Star Game along with the player party held the night before. I was on a mission that weekend. If I failed, I probably would have never emotionally recovered. All I wanted that entire weekend was to meet John Buccigross. I am a massive hockey fan. I played for 13 years, went to tons of games with my father as a kid, and always felt that a guy like Buccigross just understood better than anyone what it was like to truly love the game. He was like your local drinking buddy who just happened to make it big . After making it big, he tried to take all of his buddies along for the ride, except they were his entire audience. I was part of that group and I wasn't going to be satisfied unless I got to meet him.
The night of the player party, I brought a silver paint pen, my camera, and a hockey puck. I got to the event early in hopes of catching him. Hour after mind-numbing hour, I failed with astonishing regularity. At the time, ESPN had a hockey program called NHL2NIGHT. I somehow managed to meet the entire cast that night, except Buccigrorss … Steve Levy, Barry Melrose, Bill Pidto. Each time I ran into someone I would ask, "Have you seen Buccigross?" Each time the question was asked, I was greeted with a look of absolute annoyance (It was quite funny to watch Levy come to the realization he had no fans). Finally, at the end of the night, I was going to the escalator getting ready to leave when I literally ran into John Buccigross.
I have only gone speechless around celebrities three times in my life. When I met Dominik Hasek when I was 16 years old I went completely numb and rambled like an idiot while he signed a hockey card for me. The second time I ever got star struck, I literally almost got struck by a star. When I was walking back to my office in 2003, Larry David almost hit me with his rental car. Yes, Larry David of Curb Your Enthusiasm almost ran me over, I looked at the car after it almost smashed into me and said, "Oh my god, that was Larry David". I waited after he got out of his car and had him sign a hockey puck I had with me. He asked how I recognized him and I told him I had Jewdar. I can pick out other Jews from a crowd. David laughed at that comment. I made Larry David laugh, game over and thank you for playing. I can now die in peace.
The very last time I was star struck was when I finally met Buccigross. I somehow spit out the words "Bucci, can you sign this puck for me, please? I have been searching for you all night." His response was twofold, "Why and what's your favorite band?" I told him and he promptly signed the puck, which I still hang in my office, "What Kurt Cobain was to Nirvana, Josh is to John Buccigross." His presence relaxed me and we ended up chatting for about three hours that night. When it was all said and done, we had exchanged e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers. I made sure we stayed in touch and he graciously did the same. While I was in college, he even used several of my e-mails in his weekly column. After I graduated, John allowed me to use his image on our website and he hired me to help assist him with whatever he needed with regard to his career, so I am basically on call for him as he needs me. When John hired me I felt a tremendous sense of validation and without guys like him believing in me at such a young age I'm not sure I could have survived in this business. I started out as a fan but I ended up as his agent and friend totally by accident.
With John Buccigross as a client, more members of the media began to take me seriously and it allowed me access and opportunity that I normally never would have had. As my clients progressed and became more well-known, I made it a point to make all of them available to the media for everything. Any time someone in the media needed a quote or wanted an interview, I made it a point to make my clients available in a flash.
But what does an agent do with all these raw materials, the interviews and stories? Well, my company has a file for each client that the agency represents. Each file contains every piece of media that I can get my hands on. Those files are scanned and eventually power point presentations, brochures, and even full blown books are created for each one of my clients. These materials are then sent to seemingly every company on earth in hopes of securing endorsement contracts for our clients. Without the media, it would be significantly more difficult in marketing my clients. If I were to contact a company and all they had to rely on were statistics and my word, I don't think I would have nearly the number of endorsement contracts I've been able to negotiate. And those contracts have probably kept me in business because when a player is in the minor leagues he needs to generate as much off the field revenue as possible to stay financially afloat. Not every player signs for a six- or seven- figure bonus. So, side from their salary, all a minor-league player has to survive on is off-the-field revenue. So with all that being said, I believe it is imperative to have a positive relationship with the media.
The media can make players a great deal of money but they can also prevent a player from making money. An agent's relationship with the media can greatly assist a player's career by potentially helping his off-the-field revenue. If an agent has a poor relationship with the media or simply ignores it then that can negatively affect a player's career. It is very important to note that an agent should never try to outshine his clients. No player ever wants to compete with his agent for the spotlight. If an agent is able to walk that line in addition to assisting the media with its job, a player can greatly benefit financially from that agent/media relationship. And as one dear friend told me several years ago when I told him I'd make him famous, "I don't want to be famous. I want to be rich".