There’s no other profession that is as closely analyzed, ridiculed and broadcasted than professional sports, and in return, these athletes earn more income during their twenties than most make in the entirety of their lives. Unfortunately, most of these athletes don’t stay millionaires for long; rather, most end up broke.
Most professional sports careers only last a few years. In the NBA, the average career length is five years; in the more dangerous NFL, it’s only three. Even during that short period, many things can go wrong. Whether due to poor financial decisions and investments or career-ending injury, in a moment, all of the prestige and exposure can be taken away, leaving athletes without college degrees or real-world experience to contend with the challenges of everyday life. It’s no surprise that 78 percent of NFL players go broke within three years of retirement.
However, five seniors from Cornell, four of whom are current student-athletes, are trying to reverse that cycle. Jeremiah Shaw, Jelani Hoyte-King, Trey Duncombe and Sean Scullen, as well as Spencer Klein-Peter, the group’s only member who’s not on the team, are all uniquely positioned to understand the hopes and woes of the ambitious athlete, as they’ve been through the process themselves. So, they’ve formed a sports agency run by student-athletes for student-athletes with the goal of ensuring fewer professional athletes end up broke.
I had an opportunity to sit down with Jeremiah Shaw, who is majoring in Applied Economics, to discuss the ambitions of their burgeoning business, Essential Exposure Management Group.
Miguel Robles: How did your agency get started and what separates it from other sports agencies out there?
Jeremiah Shaw: Originally, we were focused on helping some of our friends, who were football players, to be able to play overseas—that’s the kind of professional level they could play at. We represented them, making deals that allowed them to play in minor leagues abroad.
Our major advantage is our youth; we can relate a lot more easily to many of the athletes. Quite a few agents have a problem relating to their clients. Our model allows us to represent way more clients more effectively, and with better usage of time. Other agents are only there for the contract-negotiations portion and the management part; we’re able to be there for the student athlete through the entire process.
Plus, we make it cheaper for them, which we accomplish through total brand management via social media, getting them a stylist, having a PR firm and offering their own personal value.
MR: You mentioned your youth gives you an advantage, and you’re all student-athletes yourselves, too. How does your experience help you understand the needs of your clients?
JS: As student-athletes ourselves, we’ve had the same experiences and the same coaches, and we know about the intense pressures from friends and families. Actually, we went through the recruiting process at the same time as a lot of these guys. All of that allows us to understand exactly what our athletes need from us.
We also have a passion for music; football is still our bread and butter, but we also just opened up a music department as well. We have lots of friends who are very talented musicians but don’t know how to get started or how to grow—that’s where we come in. We now have four music clients.
MR: Where do you see this agency going in the future? Will your connections to the sports world help you?
JS: Originally, we focused on getting players to Europe, but we’ve grown a lot since then. Now, we’re focused on the top NFL prospects, guys who should be drafted in the top four rounds in the NFL Draft.
One of the founders, Trey Duncombe, has a tight family connection with Shaun Alexander. He’s been super helpful to us. We also had a quarterback that signed with us when we were still working to get players abroad, and he got tryouts with the Colts and Titans. Through him, we were able to get a bunch of contacts within the NFL.
Alexander is a guy who feels very strongly about helping young athletes find a way to stay healthy. As you know, a high percentage of professional athletes go broke, and he feels that a lot of people take advantage of athletes along the way.
He, along with Morgan Stanley, works in our system to help protect our clients’ wealth and help grow it. They’ve been advisors in helping us protect players’ rights in general, and they also handle financial management for some of our clients.
We have a strong network that we’ve been able to rely on through this whole process. We have a partnership with a stylist agency called Thomas Faison Agency and stylist Rachel Johnson; they work with a lot of huge athletes like LeBron James and Victor Cruz.
MR: How does an agency normally operate after they land their client?
JS: Well, basically, what happens is that agencies sign the clients and then they go through the draft process, they pay for their training, start working on endorsements—but most endorsements are predetermined. Then, they get drafted, they sign a contract—contracts are pretty set for rookies within the CBA—and they just look for a little wiggle room for guaranteed money and signing bonuses.
There isn’t much difference in that first contract; the real difference comes in the contracts after rookie deals.
MR: When all of you started playing football at Cornell, did any of you have ambitions to play professionally or even to play overseas?
JS: We definitely understand that dream; since high school, that was all of our goals. As time goes on, though, you kind of get different aspirations and goals in life. That’s what led us to what we do now.
Our goal is to not only make sure student athletes can land that contract with the NFL, but also make sure that they’re portrayed as more than just a football player. As you know, these NFL contracts aren’t usually guaranteed money—teams can rip you off—so we want to make sure that our clients’ careers aren’t over after life in football.
MR: What’s it like still being in school, still being on the football team, while having this giant business venture growing under your feet? You guys are all teammates, so what’s it like to transition from being teammates on the field to business partners?
JS: It’s definitely challenging to balance everything, but there are many different advantages to still being connected to school that have really helped. We get advising from an entrepreneurship group, and teachers also look out for us.
As for becoming business partners, I think it was easy for us because we’re all really good friends and we’ve basically spent all of college together. There are no other people I’d rather be working with. They’re my brothers, and I think that our tight bond is what gives us an advantage over strangers who go into business together.
We’re all on equal footing, too, and we can all handle everything, but we do specialize in different roles. Sean and Trey specialize in legal issues because they’re pre-law, while the rest of us focus on corporate sponsorships.
MR: Are you guys taking in salaries at this point?
JS: No, in order to comply with NCAA rules, we did everything for free, since we’re all still students and technically receiving benefits from connections. But it was also a personal thing; we felt like we needed to prove ourselves first. It’s hard to convince someone to give some twenty-year-olds money before we had proven ourselves.
Come this next year, after graduation, we’ll change it up. We’re all going into this full time. It’s our future; it’s what we invested in.