Choosing a manager/agent (for purposes of this article, I will refer to this role as “manager” but it is important to note that MMA managers perform many of the duties of sports agents and the terms are often used interchangeably) is one of the most important decisions a professional fighter will make in his or her career. As MMA has grown, so too has the number of individuals holding themselves out as “managers”. In many jurisdictions, regulation and licensing standards are non-existent. Simply saying you “represent” fighters may be enough. Fighters must be willing to do some due diligence to identify individuals with the skills to add real value.
What should a good manager be able to do? Strong MMA managers will be very well-connected to the major industry players. Managers who have had success representing athletes in other sports are not necessarily going to be the obvious choices. If a particular manager still represents a number of athletes in other sports, an MMA athlete may find the manager’s time and attention is focused on acquiring deals for other clients. While there may be some multi-sport managers who professional fighters should consider in the selection process, it makes sense to focus attention on managers who represent fighters exclusively.
A fighter’s ability to negotiate with the major promotions is fairly limited. Exclusive Fighter Agreements are one-sided documents as the major promotions have the leverage. Therefore, in choosing MMA representation, a fighter should focus on the depth and breadth of a particular manager’s contacts with potential sponsors. At a minimum, your manager should have well-placed contacts with the major MMA clothing and sports nutrition companies. Pick up FIGHT! magazine and leaf through the pages. It does not take long to compile an accurate listing of the major advertisers in the MMA space. A professional fighter will need to supplement his or her purse income with consistent sponsorship dollars to make fighting more than a hobby.
Once a fighter has identified a manager with an appropriate focus and solid MMA connections, he or she should ask a lot of questions, ask for references, and make certain that the fighter representation agreement is fair. Talk to the other fighters the manager handles. Speak with former clients. Ask for industry references. It is one thing to say you have high-level connections at Sprawl, for example, and quite another to be able to pick up the phone and talk to corporate decision makers authorized to do deals and make things happen.
I have reviewed a number of fighter representation agreements and have identified several provisions fighters need to understand before signing. First, in most instances, management will likely try to tie up a fighter for a two-year term. This makes sense but be aware of it and understand what it means. Management will spend considerable time and effort on a fighter’s behalf and so it is reasonable to require an exclusive relationship for a two-year period because it can take time to build relationships and do the necessary work to help a fighter break through to the next level. If you are uncomfortable with the term, however, ask for a “without cause” termination provision that will let you end the relationship after a certain notice period. Second, management will likely ask for a double-digit percentage commission on all sponsorship deals he or she obtains on your behalf during the term of the contract. This amount usually ranges from 10 to 20%. Like everything else in the fighter/management agreement, though, this is negotiable.
Other key provisions to consider include power of attorney clauses and the fighter’s right to decline any and all offers. Many managers will ask you to agree to grant them “power of attorney”. Typically, this grant of authority will allow the manager to accept payment for fighter services on behalf of the fighter. The manager will deduct his or her commission from receivables and then pay the remainder to the fighter. Make sure you are comfortable with this kind of relationship. Make sure such monies are deposited into a trust account. Also, it is critical your agreement with your manager gives you the final say in whether or not a particular deal is to be accepted. This is fairly standard language in most agreements but read yours carefully – you do not want to empower your manager to accept a deal on your behalf that you have no intention of honoring.
Most management contracts I have seen are relatively concise. However, do not mistake the brevity of the agreement for lack of importance. In the fight business, this is one of the fighter’s best opportunities for exercising his or her leverage in a sport where others will often hold superior bargaining positions. Make your management agreement work for you. Never hesitate to ask your prospective manager to re-draft ambiguous provisions in your agreement. Everything is negotiable and you are the boss. Good managers understand and respect the fact that the relationship needs to be fighter-focused. Do not accept less.