In 1996, Creative Artist Agency (CAA) client Tom Cruise introduced the world to the sports agency business with his award-winning turn as Jerry Maguire. A decade later, CAA, one of the world’s most respected talent agencies, would itself delve into the business of representing professional athletes. In just a few short years, CAA has gone from industry newcomer to the most valuable sports agency in the world. Having negotiated more than $5.3 billion and 954 years worth of player contracts for the four largest team sports (basketball, football, baseball and hockey), with total contract commissions at close to $200 million, CAA’s sports practice is worth more than double its nearest competitor.
Creative Artist Agency’s athlete representation practice is anchored by its massive football division, which represents the likes of Tony Romo, Drew Brees, as well as Eli and Peyton Manning. Led by veteran agents Ben Dogra and Tom Condon, CAA’s football practice manages an estimated $2.9 billion in player contracts, and by itself is worth more than any other agency. CAA also houses the industry’s second largest hockey and baseball practices, each of which manages over $900 million in player contracts. Milwaukee Brewers’ left fielder Ryan Braun, Philadelphia Phillies’ first baseman Ryan Howard, and Pittsburgh Penguins centre Sidney Crosby are but a few of the all-stars represented.
CAA’s basketball division, headed by agent Leon Rose, ranks third overall within its sport, managing almost $700 million in player contracts. Included among its roster of clients are stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat, New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, Los Angeles Clippers’ point guard Chris Paul and Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs.
While not factored into these valuations, it is worth noting that Creative Artist Agency is also home to one of the largest soccer representation practices in the world, managing as much as $600 million in player contracts and transactions fees for clients such as Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Coupled with its Olympic sports, golf and coach representation divisions, CAA’s total contracts under management are estimated to be in excess of $6 billion.
The World’s Most Valuable Sports Agencies
#1 Creative Artist Agency (CAA)
Contract Value Under Management: $5,392,932,775
Contract Years Under Management:: 954
Maximum Commissions: $195,861,660
Most Valuable Athletes: Carmelo Antony, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Ryan Braun, Ryan Howard, Sidney Crosby
Key Agents: Ben Dogra, Tom Condon, Leon Rose, Aaron Mintz, J.P. Barry, Pat Brisson, Jeff Berry, Nez Balelo
Representing athletes in all four sports, CAA is anchored by a football representation practice that in and of itself manages more contract value ($2.9B) than any other agency on the list. CAA’s position as the most valuable sports agency in the world is unchallenged, with a total value more than double it’s nearest competitor.
Veteran agency Octagon and upstart newcomer Relativity Sports tie for second in our rankings. With just over $2 billion in managed contracts and approximately $80.8 million in commissions among the four main practices areas factored into this ranking, Octagon leads with the slightest of edges. Although not particularly dominant in any one area, Octagon is home to one of the top hockey practices as well as representing a relatively young roster of talented players in other sports, such as New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry and Toronto Raptors’ Rudy Gay. With over 40 years of experience, Octagon is by far the the most veteran agency in the rankings, and has one of the most reputable sports consulting practices in the business. It is also well known for its individual sports division, led by Peter Carlisle and representing such athletes as 18-time Olympic gold medal winner Michael Phelps.
Recently formed Relativity Sports comes is at $1.9 billion in negotiated contracts and $80.8 million in maximum commissions. While representing basketball players for some time, Relativity Media made a splash last year when it acquired mega-agency SFX baseball and top football agency Maximum Sports Management, as well as the acquiring the services of basketball agent Dan Fegan, who was previously with Lagardere Unlimited. Although lacking a hockey division, Relativity has a solid roster of clients including: Arizona Cardinals’ wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, New York Knicks’ forward Amar’e Stoudemire, Los Angeles Lakers’ center Dwight Howard, Chicago Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano and Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera.
Continuing with the trend of conglomerating agencies is Wasserman Media Group (WMG) at #3 on our list. Named for its President, Casey Wasserman, grandson of legendary media mogul Lew Wasserman, WMG manages athletes primarily in baseball, basketball, and soccer (not factored) with approximately $1.5 billion in contracts under management and $65 million in possible commissions. At the center of Wasserman is the number #1 basketball representation practice in the world, led by mega agent Arn Tellem. Having negotiated over a billion dollars in current contracts, Tellem represents players such as Brooklyn Nets’ forward Joe Johnson, point guards Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls’ and Russel Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and center brothers Marc and Paul Gasol. In 2012, Wasserman Media Group became the first sports agency in history to represent No. 1 overall pick in the NBA (Anthony Davis), MLB (Carlos Correa), NFL (Andrew Luck) and MLS (Andrew Wenger) drafts
In our 4th spot is Excel Sports Management. The multi-sport agency is best known for its basketball division, but also has a strong roster of baseball clientele. Led by agents Jeff Schwartz, Casey Close and Mark Steinberg, Excel represents all-stars Blake Griffin of the Clippers and Deron Williams of the Nets, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke as well as New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and first baseman Mark Teixeria. While not factored into the rankings, Excel has one of the top golf practices in the world, anchored by Tiger Woods, Matt Kuchar and Justin Rose.
The second half of the world’s most valuable sports agencies list is populated by predominately one sport agencies. At the #5 spot is Boras Corporation, led by Scott Boras, the single most successful sports agent in the history of the industry. Well known and often feared by MLB front office members, the notorious Boras has negotiated over $1.2 billion in current contracts with estimated commissions over $60 million, single handily leading his agency to the top echelons of the business.
In a three way tie at #9 is baseball agency ACES and football agencies Athletes First and Rosenhaus Sports Representation (RSR). While ACES $660 million in negotiated contracts is significantly less than the $1.08 billion that both Athletes First and RSR currently manage, the higher allowed commission rate in baseball (5%) compared to that of football (3%) bring all three agencies’ earnings to approximately $33 million. Led by David Dunn, Athletes First has long competed head to head against Drew Rosenhaus and RSR. The agencies represent over 400 NFL players between the two of them, almost a quarter of the league.
The valuations in these rankings were compiled through extensive research into the client rosters and contracts negotiated by each agency in the team sports of basketball, football, baseball and hockey. The total contract value under management for each sport was then multiplied by the maximum agent commission (or average where no maximum exists) as allowed by each respective players’ association. Such rates are as follows: NFL (3%), NHL (4%), NBA (4%) and MLB (5%). Thus, agencies are ranked in order of the maximum commissions obtainable from the negotiated contracts, instead of the total value of the contracts.
Due to the small total MLS league payroll and the lack of credible information concerning overseas agency rosters, soccer was not factored into these valuations. While potentially quite lucrative, sports such as tennis and golf were also excluded because of how wildly earnings for players in each of these sports vary from year to year. While agencies also earn income from negotiating marketing and endorsement contracts for their clients, the overall value derived from any such deals is negligible for the average player. While no concrete data exists, Forbes estimates that average professional athlete may make an additional 1-2% of their overall player contract in endorsement earnings, and their agent(s) earn just 20-25% of that.
Special thanks to research assistants Vijay Kalra, Alyssa Kelly and Thomas Matschiner