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18 October 2017Last updated
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Features | People

How an agent strikes a deal

David Collins, senior vice president for Wasserman Middle-East, on negotiation, top golfing talent, and bringing more women’s sports to the UAE

Mike Peake
6 Oct 2017 | 11:10 am
  • Source:Supplied

What does an agent actually do, David?

At a basic level, we act as an intermediary between big brands who want to be associated with certain key sports events and talent, and the events and athletes themselves who are interested in corporate backing as part of their overall commercial strategy. So, say a leading UAE business wanted to have a relationship with a top golfer, and perhaps wanted them to become an ambassador, we would help to broker that deal.

Most people think they know what an agent does because of Jerry Maguire – is real life like that?

I think that, the same as with most movies, it doesn’t truly reflect real life. As far as my role goes, the most comparable elements would be matching brands with top athlete talent, which is something we do very regularly.

Has anyone ever said, “Show me the money?”

Clients regularly ask about when new investment will be coming, but they haven’t used that exact phrase.

What’s a typical day for you?

Like that of so many people who live in the UAE, my day starts with an early school drop-off and then when I get to the office around 8am the first few hours are spent catching up on overnight emails from western parts of the world and then the daytime is usually rammed full of client and internal meetings as well as new business calls. We often do event site visits throughout the week and in the evening there are often overseas conference calls at home. We’re definitely not a 9-5 industry.

What kind of deals have you brokered?

My work in talent procurement and marketing has largely revolved around high profile golf stars, so deals such as MasterCard and Paul Casey, British Airways and Justin Rose, Jumeirah Hotels and Rory McIlroy and also Jumeirah Golf Estates and Henrik Stenson.

Is it interesting work?

Absolutely, and a large part of the talent procurement role that we provide for brand clients is to ensure before a deal is struck that the fit between the brand and the talent is one that is going to be very strong. Not just for consumers to see, but also that the relationship chemistry between the two is such that it can be as successful as possible for both parties.

Sportsmen must be pretty savvy when it comes to business opportunities?

Absolutely. Whilst top athletes are naturally motivated by increased commercial earnings, if the core partnership fit or other associated factors are not right, then it’s not necessarily any deal for more money. There’s always a variety of factors involved in these deals – a good example would be the British Airways deal with Justin Rose; he’s a proud Englishman but spends most of his time in the States, where he lives. The ability for him to associate with such an iconic British brand was a great fit for Justin while continuing to promote his brand as a top global, but fundamentally British, sports star.

What was the deal that you had to work hardest to achieve?

We’re currently promoting Abu Dhabi’s only ladies’ professional sports event – The Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open golf tournament – which is a very important project for us and the UAE. Women’s sport is massively under-supported and yet the partnership potential is arguably even greater than the men’s, especially given the lower-level finances involved. One of the hardest things is convincing brands here to partner with women’s sports. It’s an opportunity that most can appreciate, but still relatively few are willing to take the leap to become a pioneering force in that space.

How often do deals collapse?

Deals often don’t happen and big deals have a much lower conversion rate. What we really try and do is set the deal parameters as early as possible to test how ready and serious a brand is. We often say that we’re not going to be offended if the answer’s no: a quick no is better for us than a long, drawn-out maybe.

Are you an expert negotiator in everyday life?

Honestly, I’m not sure. Sometimes I feel like I spend my whole day negotiating so in everyday life maybe I can switch that aspect off. But I guess it is inbuilt into my personal DNA.

What skills does a good agent need?

Negotiation for sure, but also perseverance to continue to network and have as fresh a pipeline for deals as possible. Most of these deals are right time, right place circumstances. Also, really getting to understand how a particular talent or event is going to deliver for a sponsoring brand. There’s no point trying to sell a betting company to a talent from a genre that isn’t aligned with that, so an understanding of both parties is important.

Do you play golf?

I do. I guess one of the reasons I got into the industry was that I wanted to be a pro athlete but then quickly realised I wasn’t quite good enough. We get out on the course fairly frequently, and often with leading talent in an effort to put them together with prospective partners. This is the best way to finally establish an authentic personality fit between two parties. I wouldn’t say that I give Rory a run for his money, though he did remark at a sponsored outing outside New York that I can’t be spending much time in the office playing golf like that! Sadly, this couldn’t be further from the truth!

What are some of the interesting opportunities for you in the UAE?

In our business we talk about a path to 2022 where we’re involved with mega events in the coming years such as our Abu Dhabi tournaments, Asian Cup football in 2019, Expo 2020... These mega events will continue to present all manner of opportunities for businesses large and small.

What often makes a deal with a celebrity or sportsman more complicated than you’d like?

We try and make these dealings as simple as possible but there are often complications and that’s due to a variety of elements. It’s not restricted to managers or lawyers, sometimes it can be the talent themselves proving difficult or even close family and friends who might be slightly blinded as to what makes a good deal.

Is pretty much everyone on this earth available for an hour if we had a million dollars to spend?

A million dollars buys a lot of talent and opens up a number of high profile options, but whilst revenue generation is key for most of them, so is their brand reputation and career development. So if the opportunity doesn’t fit with those elements, then no amount of money may be enough.

Finally, what was your worst day at work?

I once worked in the very glamorous world of chess and we were involved in a high prize money event where the governing body and the owner of the event decided to halve the prize money on the day that all the players arrived – and then quickly handed over to ourselves to explain in the players’ meeting what was happening. That was definitely a challenging moment – I was 25 at the time and like any of these things it was a positive learning if looked at constructively.

Mike Peake

Mike Peake