Zachary Seybert: When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in the athlete representation industry? What specifically drew you to the industry?
Corey Gross: I had the chance to grow up in the athlete representation industry being that my father has been a hockey agent for over 25 years. Athletes were some of my biggest role models growing up so I always knew I wanted to work with them in some capacity.
Being able to experience all of the in’s and out’s of athlete representation at such a young age gave me great insight into the industry and made me want to pursue a career in which I would be working directly with athletes. I was able to see that each athlete is essentially their own brand and I wanted to be a part of that process by helping them achieve off-field/off-ice success as it relates to endorsements and charitable initiatives.
ZS: Where did you go to college as an undergrad? Did you pursue any graduate degrees or any internship to further market yourself in the sports industry?
CG: I went to the University of Arizona and studied Sports Management. I had the chance to intern for some of the top athlete representation/marketing agencies in the industry. Some of the highlights of my internship career were when I worked at IMG College, Van Wagner, and The Legacy Agency.
The Legacy Agency provided me with great insight into the athlete representation business, specifically athlete marketing. It was at Legacy where I developed a great understanding of the athlete marketing side of the business as I got to work hand and hand with some of the top marketing agents in the industry. I received significant exposure to all aspects of athlete marketing at Legacy, from prospecting possible partners to contract negotiation, providing me with a great foundation of knowledge early in my career.
ZS: How did you land your first job in the sports industry? As a follow up, how did your role with Sports Professional Management come about and shape your career?
CG: My first job in the sports industry was with Tough Mudder, working on the Partnership Sales team. I was tasked with securing sponsorships for the Tough Mudder event series as well as Mudderella & Mini Mudder. Working at Tough Mudder provided me with great insight into what it takes to secure sponsorships and it was at Tough Mudder where I really learned what it takes to “sell”. There were some internal changes shortly after I started so I definitely got thrown into the fire quickly, which I feel is the best way to learn, and was able to communicate with some top level executives at various Fortune 500 companies. I was fortunate to be surrounded with some very experienced and knowledgeable colleagues at Tough Mudder, which definitely helped me be more successful.
My role at Sports Professional Management came about given the agencies need to expand. Although my focus is on athlete marketing, I also help with recruiting, statistical analysis, scouting, and business development.
ZS: How does SPM differentiate itself from other agencies? What are some of the services the agency provides for its clients?
CG: SPM prides itself on being a smaller agency that is able to give each and every client the time and energy they deserve. Some mega agencies have so many clients that it is literally impossible to give each and every client the focus they deserve. We are on call 24/7 for our clients and will help them with any issues they have, whether they are hockey related or not.
Some of the services we provide for our clients are:
- Contract Negotiation
- Estate Planning
- Retirement Plan
- Post-career endeavors
ZS: Diving into the talent marketing side, what are some of the challenges you encounter trying to secure opportunities for each of your clients? What do you look for in opportunities for different clients? What is the hardest part of this component?
CG: One of the challenges I deal with on a daily basis is competing with the more mainstream sports in the United States. Although the NFL, NBA, and MLB have a greater presence and following in this country, there are still significant cities/towns that love their hockey. Hockey is huge in the Northeast & Midwest, and is starting to become more popular in other parts of the country such as Arizona & California. Hockey has definitely experienced significant growth over the past couple of years, which is great for our business, as it has led to more opportunities for our clients. It is important to seek the markets where hockey is relevant and penetrate the brands in those markets, making the partnerships more of an organic fit between the player and the brand.
The place where hockey’s presence is most significant is Canada. I actually was in Toronto a few months ago for the World Cup of Hockey and the amount of excitement generated by that tournament was incredible. The passion that people have for Football in the states is not even close to the amount of passion that people in Canada have for their hockey. We are fortunate to have a few clients playing for some of the teams in Canada so that has definitely been a place where we have found success.
I have a unique process for finding opportunities for my clients. First, I ask my clients if there are any brands they enjoy, such as favorite foods, technology they use on the road, brands their families enjoy, etc. I than check which brands have partnered with the teams themselves, as they are usually open to working with the athletes on that specific team to help enhance the partnership. I find it very important to find an organic fit between my clients and brands as that usually leads to a much more successful partnership.
ZS: What advice do you have for young professionals looking to enter the athlete representation business?
CG: Athlete representation is a tough business. It is important to put yourself in the right situation early in your career, even if that situation is not ideal financially. The lessons you learn by working with some of the top people in the industry are priceless and will stick with you throughout your whole career. Do not focus on money, the money will come, focus on learning and absorbing as much information as possible. There are so many people who want to work in this business that it is important to differentiate yourself. Be the first one in the office, work the long nights, put in time on the weekend, and most importantly, do not get outworked. Hard work will always lead to success, even if it might take some time.
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