The CIES Football Observatory has recently published an innovative study of football agent activity in Europe.
The report estimates that the yearly turnover for football intermediaries in UEFA member national associations is around €400 million. The study also highlights the great level of concentration in the player representation market: half of the footballers under contract with clubs of the five major European leagues are represented by 83 football agents or agencies.
Other key findings concern the demographic profile of licensed agents domiciled in the five biggest European football markets: England, Italy, Spain, Germany and France. A questionnaire survey carried out by the authors of the study, Raffaele Poli and Giambattista Rossi, shows that agents are on average aged 42. Only 3.4% of them are female.
Almost three quarters of agents hold a university degree, and 71% of them speak a foreign language at intermediary or above. Only 41% of licensed agents carry out the job full-time. The majority operate in other business sectors - primarily law and finance.
The study also shows that a minority of agents (46%) support their clients in personal care activities such as finding a house or flat, organize travel, helping family members, etc. This result shows that the general view of agents “baby-sitting” their protégés does not correspond with reality. The former are above all busy in “spinning webs” and brokering deals.
Only 42% of the players represented by the respondents of the survey are senior professionals. This indicates that most of the agents are mainly active in the search for young talent, in the hope of making money in the future. While promising players can also take advantage of this situation, the pressure that intermediaries may exert on them is a controversial issue.
The research also shows that collaboration between intermediaries is also a key aspect of the profession. Half of the agents directly represent players on behalf of colleagues. The main reason to enter into such partnerships is to introduce a player client into a specific national market. This reveals the crucial role played by agents for the setting up of transnational networks at a global level.
Conflicts of interest?
Sporting directors are clearly indicated as the most important business partners when placing players, followed by football managers. Almost 40% of agents have already represented at least one coach since starting their career. The great proportion of agents who manage the careers of both players and managers raises the question of conflicts of interest in the representation and transfer market.
The importance of this problem is even greater considering that more than 70% of respondents also assist clubs in buying, selling or scouting players. Moreover, 15% of licensed agents admitted owning or having owned shares in players’ transfer rights. All these figures reflect the existence of intricate situations and possible conflicts of interest.
The report also deals with the issue of players’ third-party ownership. It underlines that third-party ownership increases short-term speculative policies on the transfer market which do not take into account the sporting development of players and teams. Many studies by the CIES Football Observatory have shown that the best performing clubs are those with the most stable squad. Their ability to produce high level spectacle also depends on squad cohesion and, again, player stability.
Beyond sporting (level of performance) and financial aspects (level of spectacle), it is stressed that third-party ownership is a possible source of future problems, particularly from a competition integrity perspective. What would occur if an agency achieved a monopolistic position on a specific national market by controlling a vast majority of players?
Looking at the great level of concentration in the player representation business, this situation is not as fanciful as it might seem. For this reason, monitoring the evolution in the player transfer and representation market is crucial both from an academic and a football governance perspective. The authors are thus calling for more transparency.
The full 82-page report may be downloaded for free from CIES Football Observatory’s website at http://www.football-observatory.com/-Publications,18-