Sunday 19 August 2018

Will a new LinkedIn for athletes replace the money-spinning sports agent?

Sports agents make millions connecting athletes with prospective teams. But a new social network might mean their days are numbered

You won't find LeBron James or Kobe Bryant on SportJobz - but 3,000 other players already are
You won't find LeBron James or Kobe Bryant on SportJobz - but 3,000 other players already are

Nadine Skoczylas

Among the talent scouts in Las Vegas last week hunting for rising stars at the National Basketball Association's summer league, Roe Stimler was trying to get people to sign up for his website.

The Israeli entrepreneur runs a social network called SportJobz that hopes to one day do to sports agents what LinkedIn did for business recruitment.

Stimler, a 30-year-old former sports agent, created SportJobz in Tel Aviv with his developer co-founder Lior Broshi more than a year ago. The site invites basketball players to create free profiles with their photos, video, playing statistics and other information.

Recruiters from teams around the world can then search the database, sorting by age, height, weight, position and even shoe size.

The site has attracted interest from international teams, as well as hopeful free agents who failed to make the cut with NBA teams. You won't find LeBron James's profile on SportJobz - but more than 3,000 players, mostly Americans, have created accounts on the site. About 200 teams, mainly from European leagues, use SportJobz to scour for talent options.

Diamond Foggia, a team in the Italian league, found Laurence Donelson, an American player, through the site, and signed him to a one-year contract worth $45,000. Greece's Kavala BC and New Zealand's Waikato Pistons have also used SportJobz to ink player deals valued between $40,000 and $50,000.

But the Rock doesn't have to worry about his character in HBO's Ballers getting replaced by an app anytime soon. The typical athletes on SportJobz wouldn't have much of a chance at a starting spot in the NBA, and they're often ignored by sports agents looking to sign the next Andrew Wiggins for a cut of a multi-million-dollar deal and sponsorship opportunities.

This class of players was given a brief chance to shine this month during the NBA Summer League, an offseason competition where US teams experiment with lineups, and try out rookies and unsigned players.

In a different end of the sports market that's been similarly ignored by professional agents, there's InRecruit. The Philadelphia company has created an online forum for high school athletes to connect with college coaches. The National Collegiate Athletic Association has strict rules on recruitment, which make the business less attractive to agents but creates an opportunity for sites like InRecruit.

Stimler is hoping to expand SportJobz quickly before other companies can gain a foothold in online sports recruitment, and he's seeking funding to spend on promotions at tournaments, including next year's NBA Summer League.

In the meantime, he'll need to figure out a way to generate revenue from the low end of the basketball market. Currently, SportJobz is free for both athletes and teams, but Stimler says the company plans to start charging recruiters a monthly subscription fee for access to more search filters and other features by next summer. Players will also have the option to pay for more tools to advertise themselves to teams.

Rick Burton, a professor of sports management at Syracuse University, estimates that there are at least 500 college athletes graduating each year who would be willing to pay for a subscription service like the one SportJobz plans to offer.

"You can always get the next crop of athletes who aren't quite good enough to be represented by the super agents of the NBA," he says. Basketball is a good sport for the company to start with, says Burton, the former commissioner of the pro basketball league in Australia and New Zealand. Along with soccer, basketball is one of the few sports with worldwide appeal.

Many European recruiters, who flew to Vegas for the NBA Summer League, are now on their way home after the tournament ended July 20. They'll report back to their general managers with a list of prospects to hopefully prove the trip was worthwhile.

Avoiding high travel costs, which can add up to a quarter of a starting player's salary or more, is part of Stimler's pitch to teams.

"There are hundreds, if not thousands, of basketball players each year who are just graduating from different colleges in all different levels, and are not good enough for the NBA," Stimler says. "Those players are getting this exposure in the summer league and looking to take it to the next level outside of the US."


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