This evening at Radio City Music Hall, 32 young men’s dreams will come true, when they are drafted in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. When a player walks across the Radio City Music Hall stage to be donned with his new team’s jersey and hat, it is the culmination of hard work not only on his end, but also by his agent.
Kelli Masters is the founder of Kelli Masters Management, a sports agency based in Oklahoma, that represents NFL players, baseball players and Olympians. Her NFL clients include the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2010 first round draft pick (3rd overall pick) Gerald McCoy and the Dallas Cowboys’ 2008 first round draft pick Roy Williams, along with eleven other high-profile NFL players.
Masters’ experience in working with and representing first round draft picks makes her knowledgeable of the intense preparation that an agent must complete going into the NFL Draft. Masters explains the preparedness required of an agent when going into the NFL Draft as follows,
“There are a lot of different seasons and facets in being an agent. Preparing for each season and knowing what’s coming going into it, along with having your wits about you and being prepared and organized, is so important.”
The first season in an agent’s preparation for the NFL Draft, is finding clients to represent. Masters takes a very hands-on approach when it comes to finding talent to sign.
“When I’m recruiting players, I go to their games. Not because I’m there for any improper purpose, but because I want to see them in their environment–how they interact with people–and see them play live. It is really important to me, to be on that journey with them,” Masters said.
While Masters’ hands-on approach and commitment to the players she signs are reasons for any player to sign with her, the fact of the matter is, Masters is one of only a handful of female agents representing NFL players. As such, when she started her agency, she faced some difficulties when it came to recruiting talent. However, using the keystones of her agency, she was able to quickly overcome these obstacles.
“The recruiting process in the beginning was very difficult, because young men have always dealt with men in football. It changes in the NFL, because suddenly it becomes a business. You have to have the right people around you to manage your career. While I have seen players open their minds and say that they want the best person to manage them, it took a little bit of time to open their minds to have a female. I don’t see myself as a woman agent; I see myself as an agent–and a good one,” Masters explained.
There is not a cookie-cutter model for agents to abide by when it comes to preparing for the Draft. Rather, agents must familiarize themselves with the players they represent and those players’ individual needs. What a first round draft pick needs from an agent is different from what a player who will be drafted in later rounds needs.
“How you prepare for the Draft really depends upon the type of players you represent. In the first few years of my agency practice, I mostly worked with guys who were under the radar, they weren’t necessarily combine invites. We had to look for opportunities and pro days to showcase their qualities. I spent more time preparing film and getting it into people’s hands during those years. Every year, I still take on a couple of guys in that scenario; they are more of the free agent and priority free agent players, who need someone to represent their interests,” Masters explained.
As for the role an agent takes in representing players expected to be drafted in the higher rounds, Masters noted,
“You are not necessarily begging for workouts, but it is a different approach. You’re identifying teams specifically that have a need for the position the player plays and looking to see whether he fits their scheme and whether they like his style of play or his size. You spend a lot of time communicating with the teams where that player fits best and making sure that all of their questions about the player get answered, so the player gets drafted as high as possible. An agent can’t move a player up higher than his talent will dictate, but you can certainly make sure questions don’t go unanswered about your player, because that’s what makes your player drop lower than his talent dictates. If there are questions about injuries from a college career that need to be dealt with or character questions, my job is to make sure those quest are answered.”
Given Masters’ unique position as one of the few women who actively represent NFL players, one has to be curious as to her ability to develop relationships with college and NFL coaches as well as front offices. However, Masters has been able to use her unique position to her benefit when it comes to developing relationships.
“It has been challenging. I don’t think it’s been as bad as I prepared myself for. Surprisingly, having doors open and being able to make connections as far as networking and developing relationships with front offices, coaches and owners, has not been as difficult as I anticipated. At the beginning, maybe they thought it was interesting that this woman was passionate and determined enough to make it in this business. That may have opened doors in the beginning, but to establish rapport and relationships, is more. I decided I’d use my uniqueness as an advantage, and a positive as opposed to a negative. Now, I would say it definitely worked out well,” Masters said.
After developing relationships and answering questions to ensure that teams are aware of her players’ talents and potential, Masters notes that “the rest is logistics.” According to Masters, this includes organizing the logistics of her clients’ on-campus workouts and team visits. “As an agent, I do things like make sure the guys get to their flights, know their itinerary, prepare them for the questions they may get and do a lot of media coverage for them,” said Masters.
The payoff for all of Masters’ hard work, is having each of the players that she represents drafted or signed by a team when the NFL Draft is complete. Masters’ players can rest assured that her support of them does not end once they sign a contract. Rather, Masters’ hands-on approach to representing talent continues. “Every weekend im at one college game and one pro game,” Masters noted.
Up until January of this year, Masters was a parter of the Oklahoma City law firm Fellers, Snider, Blankenship, Bailey & Tippens, P.C., while also working as an NFL agent. These days, she is of counsel of the firm. Masters notes that she made this choice because, “It got to the point where I wanted to do all of my clients justice, and I knew for my sanity and the quality of work I wanted to do, I needed to focus on a lighter caseload with the firm.” When asked how she balances representing a sizable stable of NFL talent while also working as an attorney, she answered,
“I don’t sleep. To be honest with you, when it comes to draft work, it’s just me. I have another attorney with a different firm who has worked with me on the client services side for three years now. His role during the Draft, is tending to our current clients, while my focus is on the Draft, because I’m the only one with our agency that speaks to teams. When it really comes to dealing with all of the Draft work and Draft issues, that’s all on my shoulders.”
While sleep could come for Masters after the NFL Draft, it most likely won’t. Rather, Masters will most likely be calling NFL front offices ensuring that her players get the best deals, scouting new talent, or hopping on an airplane to the new cities her players are headed to.