McIlroy, like all golfers, has to leave deals to the deal-makers . . . but caveat emptor
New companies on the block not really any different to old school fee takers
It’s one thing for Rory McIlroy to be competing on a equal footing in his early 20s as a talented golfer, but it’s another skill entirely thrashing out a deal at a negotiating table. Photograph: Lee Jin-man/AP Photo
Not many amongst us have not felt we were underpaid at some stage of our working lives. Likewise we have all experienced the feeling of being overcharged, probably on a daily basis. But sure we get used to most things as humans. That is unless you can afford to take matters further and enter the legal system to try to prove your point.
The country’s best golfer, Rory McIlroy, started court proceedings this week, accusing his former management group, Horizon Sports Management, of extracting more money than was reasonable out of a young talented golfer.
McIlroy started playing golf professionally at a landmark time in sports management when there was an abundance of choice.
The tired old reliables like International Management Group(IMG) were not meeting the needs of the plucky young bucks bursting on to the tour. The IMG agents were well qualified, usually with a legal degree, more traditionally attired and generally well-spoken English chaps who could point you in the right direction in any obscure part of the globe for a hefty enough fee.
Their secretaries were efficient young women who could look after the calls and paper work in a well-heeled and comforting British way.
Along came the management off-shoots, Andrew Chandler’s International Sports Management, Johan Elliot’s Sportyard, based in Stockholm, and 4Sports set up in Switzerland.
McIlroy arrived when the old empire had declined and there was an array of viable alternatives to choose from to carry out a myriad of duties for the golfer, from simply booking flights and hotels to finding wealthy clients and clinching life-changing deals.
Go to any Walker Cup and you will spot an army of sports agents “spectating” at what they hope is the last amateur event for their targeted players.
Everyone is naturally trying to get ahead of the curve and lure a young hopeful into their management web.
It can be quite flattering for a young impressionable golfer to be courted by so many representatives of the big name handlers and unless someone mature is paying attention to what is being offered to them, they could enter into a lob-sided agreement.
Companies like Horizon were the new face of sports management: well qualified, though not necessarily in law, and voracious for new and old talent and new deals for them.
Gradually the maverick management groups representatives on tour were ubiquitous. If McIlroy emerged from the toilet, a shiny, happy face was there in case he hadn’t pulled his fly up properly.
The professional entourages have been greatly increased of late. Cast your eyes along a driving range and you are likely to see a young agent , coffee cup in hand, sunglasses on head, open-necked shirt, well- tailored trousers and nice street shoes on him laughing and joking with the devil-may-care attitude of the new masters of the golf universe.
The new look was very much hands-on to the point of suffocation. Every industry needs a shake up in order to find an appropriate equilibrium and these new, young upwardly-mobile managers are the new agitators in the circus helping players find a new balance and standard on tour.
Of course the hands-on service has a price, but I don’t think it is much different to the old-school deals players were offered. There is a simple fact as a professional paying your entourage on a percentage basis: if somebody cuts a deal for you they are entitled to an agreed slice of it.
If you think you can do better on your own and have the business savvy and energy for it, and get the deals yourself while trying to compete at the top, you are free to do so.
It’s one thing competing on a equal footing in your early 20s as a talented golfer, it’s another skill entirely thrashing out a deal at a negotiating table.
I haven’t met a golfer yet who at some stage of his career due to domination on the golf course doesn’t think he can take on all challenges no matter how skilled he is at them. They usually learn the hard way that good golfers on a roll don’t necessarily know everything about everything.
Its no revelation that professional golf is a big, bad world within a leafy cocoon. I would still rather be born with a rare gift to hit a golf ball exceptionally well in Europe or America. There are some real heart-breaking tales from South America where a number of very talented golfers have been discovered.
Players like Angel Cabrera, Jose Coceres and Andres Romero were reputedly involved in deals with “sponsors” who behaved more like loan sharks than sponsors. In one case they took up to 75 percent of the player’s winnings and demanded expenses that would have to be returned when they won an event.
It puts a different perspective on paying out five percent on winnings and 20 percent on sponsorship deals.
We all have felt like we have been taken advantage of professionally at some stage in life. We do have choices and as we all were told in school, caveat emptor, when it comes to signing deals; don’t let your rare golfing talent get in the way of matters that are more complex.