Thursday, December 20, 2012

Storm Kirschenbaum...a sports agent providing a personal touch

When you think of a sports agent, you typically think of Tom Cruise’s character in Jerry Maguire…before he wrote his manifesto and turned into a caring agent.

Most are cutthroat and only devote their time to their top, money clients.
In real life you may think of baseball agent Scott Boras. Rumor has it Boras was a major reason Stanford pitcher Mark Appel, who was predicted to go first in the baseball draft last year went eighth—teams did not want to negotiate with Boras. Appel ended up back at Stanford for another year.
Storm Kirschenbaum
However, not all agents fit this mold. Storm Kirschenbaum of Metis Sports Management is one of the good guys.
He prides himself on serving his clients with a personal touch and exemplifies honesty, integrity, and loyalty in his work.
He was recognized this year by Crain’s in its 40 under 40 list; and his agency was named by Masters in Sports Administration as one of the Top 100 Sports Agencies Scoring Big in 2012. He is the co-founder of the Michigan Boxing Hall of Fame and sits on the board of the Inner City Exposure Foundation.
On October 22 of this year he was inducted into the Michigan Jewish Sports Hall of Fame for his stellar collegiate baseball career. He played for the then No. 1 ranked University of Florida alongside teammates David Eckstein, Brad Wilkerson, Mark Ellis, and Josh Fogg (all major leaguers), hitting .312. He played his last two seasons at Long Island University – C.W. Post (Division I), and continued hitting at a good clip, finishing with a .306 batting average.
Storm joined Hank Greenberg, Aaron Krickstein, and his dad (who served as Michigan’s boxing commissioner from 1981-92), among others in the Hall of Fame.
Kurt David, a transition consultant for professional and Olympic athletes, an author, a TV host, and a speaker, who was featured in this blog at the end of March, commented on Storm’s recent honor:
“Storm’s induction into the Jewish Hall of Fame solidifies a long string of honors bestowed upon him over recent years. What’s amazing is the fact that he’s accomplished so much already in his life, and will no doubt continue to positively impact others. I consider myself fortunate to have Storm in my corner.”
His agency serves both current and former athletes offering a range of services. They currently represent 70 professional baseball players−15 who are vying for spots on major league rosters this spring.
I talked to Storm about life as a sports agent.
PJ: As an agent what is your role going up to the NFL draft?
Storm: When we have a player who is going to be drafted and he is done with his last college game we meet and he signs a contract. Then he takes a day or two off to gather his belongings and goes to training to prepare for the NFL combine and Pro Day. We invest in them at this point. We pay their housing; give them a car and an allowance, while in training.
From their last game to the draft, our job is to put them on the map…get them in the best shape possible and talk to teams, and set up visits with teams. We develop depth charts on each team to see where the player with their skills fits.
The draft is out of the agent’s hands. It is a misconception that agents manipulate. We generate an interest level. Teams draft players. All we can do is help them.
PJ: There is a lot of money involved. How and when does an agent make their portion?
Storm: The reality outside the signing bonus is that there is no guarantee. Form the third round down players will be competing for a spot on the roster. As agents we only get paid when the player gets paid. We invest between $5,000 and $50,000 up front depending on the round the player goes in. Yes, the model in football is a poor model. It’s high risk on our end. We front a lot of money. We take care of them…they are broke college kids hoping to make it.
PJ: How do you make money on players that are undrafted free agents?
Storm: Our fee for undrafted free agents is $10,000. We break even only if he makes a team and plays every game during the season. It could be a losing venture. For the undrafted, we generate a lot of interest from certain teams (Saints/Lions/Colts, etc., who are known for signing undrafted free agents). We try to make sure the player gets calls after the draft and can choose which team he goes to. We send film to teams and scouts who attend Pro Day. We do interviews with players and show how he comes across in a one-to-one setting, so they can see his character, etc. And, make lots of phone calls. During this time we have a high phone bill!
PJ: It must be hard for these players to watch the draft and not be selected. How do you help them through this?
Storm: It’s natural to watch the draft and think…I played against that guy and I am better than him and he got drafted. My job is to curb expectations. I tell them from the fifth round down you never know…a lot of things can happen. Be ready for whatever gets thrown your way. And, that them vs. a fifth round pick is the same. They aren’t getting paid a base salary because they are not playing yet.
PJ: What happens with these undrafted free agents?
Storm: Some guys are late bloomers and might make up for things with character, classroom knowledge and impress a coach. This is what you hope for. I pick character guys, students of the game, who work hard, always have a chip on their shoulder, and are always competing. A lot of variables come into play. Look at the Colts, Saints, and Jags…teams that take an undrafted free agent every year. A great example is Victor Cruz of the Giants. He was undrafted and now he’s a stud.
PJ: You also handle baseball players in your firm. What is your typical investment in a player?
Storm: We spend up to $1,500 in the beginning for bats, gloves, shoes. The bats that the team gives them are not great…guys what their own bats with their names on. We get equipment deals with Rawlings, etc. The team gives undershirts, maybe batting gloves, and shoes, if you are lucky.
We provide guidance to the players. There are a lot of off-field things we take care of. Remember, these are high school kids lacking in real-life skills. We coach them and are there for them. We help them get contracts for winter ball; obtain jobs for them in the off-season, and do public relations. This is similar to the investment side in football.
PJ: What other challenges do you face?
Storm: Maintaining clients and providing enough services so they are satisfied. So, if they do make it, they won’t leave. We are battling sharks and there are a lot of sharks out there. We try to make it a team approach so they trust what you’ve done in the past to get them a good contract.
I had represented a player for six years. We had a strong relationship, we were friends. At arbitration he switched to another agent. This was a hard, gut-wrenching call. But, I’ve learned from it and hope to prevent it from happening again.
PJ: How do you try to differentiate your firm from others and stop the migration of your clients?
Storm: It’s a shame when kids sign with bigger agencies. It sounds good, but you will be low man on the totem pole and when you need them they won’t be there. With us, a boutique firm, you get personalized attention. We strive for our services to be better than the big firms. We are in communication with our clients all the time. The locker rooms are small and when guys see our clients on the phone with us a lot, you can only hope they are interested in knowing more about us. It’s the little things that set us apart from the competition.
We signed around 45 new players this year and I like to think we are the fastest growing agency in the country. We are moving pretty quick.