Selecting Professional Representation
At the professional level, track and field and running is primarily an individual sport. However, athletes often benefit from having a team to support them as they pursue a professional career. Ideally, “Team You” takes care of the logistical aspects of a professional running career while you focus on your training and competition.
Do You Need an Agent?
Probably, yes. Most professional runners benefit from having an agent. But the decision to hire an agent is not an automatic one. Some runners can do without an agent. However, thinking about going without an agent requires a good understanding of what services an agent provides, and under what circumstances those services might be necessary.
Tearing up the Track or Ruling the Roads
Although the training centers operate differently depending on funding, location and coaching, the goal is similar – to improve the competitive level of U.S. distance running both nationally and internationally. Athletes are prepared to compete on the track, the roads and in cross country.
With limited spots for athletes in any one event, international track and field meetings are the most selective of all competitions. Your agent will take care of negotiating your entry into meets, including any appearance fees, and will typically assist in making travel arrangements. Bottom Line: when it is time to focus on racing in the spring and summer, you need an agent to get you into the right meets.
If you are considering a career on the roads competing on the USA Running Circuit, an agent is less important. There are numerous U.S. Championships at distances from 5k to the marathon. Entry into these races is less selective and can easily be accomplished without an athlete representative. Race entry information and contacts, and applicable qualifying standards and eligibility requirements, can be found on the USA Track & Field website.
It should be noted that appearance fees for competition in major marathons can require significant negotiations. Sure, gaining entry into a marathon field is not as difficult as gaining a spot in the 800 at the Prefontaine Classic. But, negotiating and maximizing your appearance value may well require an agent's help.
The Three C’s: Convenience, Contacts, and Cost
Of course, many professional runners compete in events both on and off the track. Beyond the type of career you envision, the decision to use an athlete representative is based largely on three C’s: Convenience, Contacts, and Cost.
1. Convenience. Having an agent take care of the details is easier than doing it yourself. Getting sponsors or gaining entry into meets can be difficult and stressful. Depending on your personality, an agent may be essential, allowing you to focus on training so you don’t have to sweat over making travel arrangements or negotiating a shoe deal.
2. Contacts. Agents have contacts with shoe companies and meet directors that most athletes do not. Your agent should be able to connect you with the necessary people and companies in the sport. Similarly, an agent can make you appear more professional to both meet directors and potential sponsors. Potential sponsors see you as more serious thus increasing their confidence that their investment in you is secure. Your agent should work hard in an attempt to secure a shoe deal or other endorsement deal. In addition to getting you into meets, this is an agent’s primary responsibility.
3. Cost. The cost of an agent can be significant but an agent can be a worthwhile investment for many professional runners. Typically, an agent will require a 15% commission to be paid on any money earned including: (a) shoe company endorsement contract, (b) meeting or race appearance fees; and (c) prize money. Additionally, it is typical for an agent to charge a 20% commission on any and all endorsement contracts outside of your primary shoe deal. An athlete’s agreement with an agent - including the percentages - can be negotiated, but most athletes have little bargaining power because the average professional runner does not generate a huge amount of revenue. And unfortunately, the less money you make the more precious each dollar becomes. While an athlete with a $1,000,000 contract may not feel as much of an impact from an agent’s 15% commission, an athlete with a $30,000 contract makes a much greater sacrifice by giving up 15% to an agent. However, it should be noted that, in many cases, the higher paid athletes subsidize the athletes at lower income levels. Your commission payments are a “business expense” and you should be sure to consult with a tax professional (see below) if you are unsure how to take advantage of business expense deductions under the Internal Revenue Code.