Mark Mascarenhas of WorldTel

Mark Mascarenhas of WorldTel, who sent Sachin Tendulkar's commercial value soaring

© Getty Images

Feature

The rainmakers

Talent spotter, brand manager, publicist, PA, troubleshooter, friend, guide - it's all in a day's work for the player agent

Will Macpherson |

Reg Hayter was a one-off. A long-time cricket correspondent for Pardons Sports Agency and Reuters, he was, from 1955, the central nervous system of the famed Hayters Sports Agency, and mentor to many of the finest sportswriters in Britain. Twenty-two years after his death, tales of Hayter remain two a penny in press boxes across the land, while his paw prints are all over the sports pages of every newspaper, where his former charges ply his trade.

Hayter loved cricket and, in less formal times, transcended modern sport's homespun boundaries - players, administrators, press and PR - in a manner not to be seen again. He would bowl in the nets for England's batsmen; was thick as thieves with many top players and administrators; was involved at his north-west London club Stanmore CC as player, umpire and president until two days before he died - when he discharged himself from hospital to address the club dinner at Lord's; and also ran his own team, the El Vino's, where as captain he was known for using his stammer to simultaneously call heads and tails. He partied hard and never retired, and his life's work - and play - is commemorated with the Reg Hayter Cup, awarded to the Professional Cricket Association's Player of the Year, and a plaque on the wall of the Lord's media centre.

In keeping with his habitual multitasking and penchant for crossing boundaries, Hayter came up with the concept of the cricket agent. Aboard the ship bound for South Africa to cover the MCC's 1948-49 tour, he noticed that his great friend Denis Compton had an extra suitcase. Hayter was invited to Compton's cabin to inspect its contents, which turned out to be masses of mail. Compton was not inclined to open it, assuming they were simply requests for autographs. This was a habit; Compton's third wife Christine once said she had to empty a drawer full of letters so she had somewhere to store their clothes after they were married.

Throughout these many conversations, agents talked in euphemism and grumbly, occasionally sweary mutters about dealing with the Indian board

Sifting through the suitcase, Hayter found plenty of fan mail, but endorsement offers and commercial opportunities too. The News Of The World had written, at first offering to pay £2000 per year for a column, then a month later posing the same question, before writing once more to withdraw their offer. "Denis," said Hayter, "you want looking after."

Initially Compton wanted Hayter to take on the job himself, but Hayter introduced him to an understated and soft-spoken Irishman, Bagenal Harvey, a theatre agent. After some umming and ahhing, Compton signed with Harvey. Hayter represented Compton too, offering advice, sourcing media and literary opportunities, and ghosting books and annuals that were lapped up by a ration-run post-war public short on heroes; as a star not only for England and Middlesex but Arsenal too, Compton fit the bill. Harvey introduced him to the Royds advertising agency and set up the deal with Brylcreem, the first of its kind and worth £1000 annually for nine years until Compton retired. A trail had been blazed.

Hayter represented many more sportsmen in a similar capacity. He ghostwrote and set up book deals for Keith Miller and Ray Lindwall, acted on behalf of Compton's great friends Bill Edrich and Godfrey Evans - whom he would also make a Brylcreem Boy. The boxer Henry Cooper and footballers such as Bob Wilson, Johnny Haynes and Malcolm MacDonald - with whom Hayter used to visit Luton Town Football Club to drink with club president and famous comedian Eric Morecambe - were clients, and many others bent his ear for advice.

Smooth like Compo: thanks to Reg Hayter, Denis Compton was hot property in his time

Smooth like Compo: thanks to Reg Hayter, Denis Compton was hot property in his time © Getty Images

Typically Hayter's role was that of the publicist, although he handled sponsorship too. He found it fruitful, fulfilling and fun, and enjoyed loose client-agent relationships, often without a fee for his services, and only occasionally with contracts.

Three decades after he first acted as a player-agent, Hayter's relationship with two of his final clients ended sourly. First Tony Greig - because he failed to inform Hayter about being approached for World Series Cricket, a concept that offended Hayter's traditionalist sensibilities; then, in 1984, Ian Botham, because he left for another agent, the disc jockey Tim Hudson laughed at the deals Hayter had in place for Botham - whom he described as "the greatest British hero since Wellington or Nelson" - and took him to Hollywood to make him a star. Botham wanted Hayter to continue handling his press commitments and Hudson his commercial dealings, but it ended bitterly in both directions. Hayter simply said no, and Hudson was fired within six months.

Fifteen years after working with Hudson, Botham was looking for a pilot. A mutual friend handed him a number for Adam Wheatley, a GB bobsleigh international who had played first-class rugby and had served in the army. When Botham called out of the blue, Wheatley picked him up from his home and flew him - as Wheatley remembers - to Cardiff. "It was all rather random. It started with me just saying, 'What can I help with?' and it went from there." In April 2004, Wheatley set up Mission Sports Management, with himself as managing director and Botham as chairman. Some first client.

Denis Compton's third wife Christine once said she had to empty a drawer full of letters so she had somewhere to store their clothes after they were married

Some second client, too. About two years earlier, when Wheatley and Botham were filming an advert in Australia, they hit pay dirt. They were aware of a young South African called Kevin Pietersen, who played for Nottinghamshire and was spending his winter with Sydney University CC. "We invited Kevin to come on set," says Wheatley, "and the pair of us told him he would need representation moving forward. He agreed, and we got on immediately, and it's not worked out too badly since!" Botham has since moved on - amicably, this time - and now Pietersen is a director with Mission Sports and has been joined in the stable by Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara and Jason Roy, as well as athletes and broadcasters from cricket and beyond.

Between Compton, Botham and Pietersen - and two agents (Hayter and Wheatley) - we jump from 1948 to 2016. Much, naturally, has changed. Hayter was merely doing a mate a favour, whereas Wheatley carries out what those in the industry call "total management" for Pietersen. In the last couple of years alone, Mission Sports has set up deals for two books, a documentary, a newspaper column and various broadcasting stints. They have established a foundation and an academy, overseen four major sponsorship deals, and put in place various business commitments for Pietersen (some in partnership with Wheatley), all the while arranging playing contracts for seven different cricket teams around the globe and orchestrating a PR battle against and negotiating a severance package with the ECB. This game has come a long way since Compton headed to South Africa with a bit of extra baggage.

In the early 2000s, Mahela Jayawardene had a growing commercial diary and no means of managing it. The sports-management market, by that stage booming in some parts of the world, was barren in Sri Lanka. Muttiah Muralitharan and Sanath Jayasuriya had fruitlessly tried working with overseas companies, but there was nowhere obvious for Jayawardene to turn.

Virat Kohli, co-owner of FC Goa, at an event for the club, with Robert Pires (far right) and Zico

Virat Kohli, co-owner of FC Goa, at an event for the club, with Robert Pires (far right) and Zico © Getty Images

So, like Compton all those years earlier, he called upon a journalist who had become a friend. Charlie Austin was then Sri Lanka country manager of Cricinfo and agreed to help Jayawardene on a part-time basis. Six months later Kumar Sangakkara called too. With more agency work coming in (Lasith Malinga joined the stable in 2005) and Jayawardene now national captain, Austin ceased writing in 2006, and then left Cricinfo not long after, the conflict of interest clear. A decade on, he has just about anyone worth managing in Sri Lanka on his books. Life as an agent has been good to Austin, who has other businesses too; Jayawardene is said to joke with team-mates that upon visiting Austin's house he realised he should have pursued management, not a playing career.

"We're of similar age, we have all grown up and learnt together and have similar interests and all became good friends," says Austin. "The trust is there and we basically do everything for them, including their travel and all the logistics. Beyond contracts and negotiations, we have secured land, assisted with their businesses, run their charities. We become their PA."

Sri Lanka remains a comparatively primitive market. There is no agent accreditation like there is in England, Australia, New Zealand or Pakistan. Even players on the fringes of the national team may not have an agent, whereas every first-class player in Australia would, whether he needs one or not. Unlike those in what Austin describes as "more mature and developed economies", Austin Management Limited has no other revenue streams, such as the selling of commercial rights and sponsorship and hospitality services.

The money Tendulkar made was exceptional. Now, in a post-IPL world, a million can be a month's work

Austin turned agent just after one cricketing boom and a few years before another. First, money flew into cricket thanks to WorldTel boss Mark Mascarenhas. He negotiated the groundbreaking TV rights deals of the 1990s, but as an agent also made Sachin Tendulkar the sport's first millionaire.

The second tipping point arrived in 2008, with the advent of the IPL. The money Tendulkar made was exceptional. Now, in a post-IPL world, a million can be a month's work. "When I first started [in 2004]," says English agent Darren Long, "it was all about international cricket, and then after that, the overseas slots in county cricket. Eighteen counties, 36 overseas slots, and as soon as one of them became available, I could have 10, 15, 20 players who wanted to fill that slot. The IPL smashed that."

With the growth of opportunity, the agent's job became more challenging. Playing contracts were more plentiful and a whole new commercial market had emerged, along with the opportunity for first-class players to become major stars globally. The financial stakes rose tenfold.

The Weet-Bix boys: Shane and Brett Lee at a sponsor event in 2000

The Weet-Bix boys: Shane and Brett Lee at a sponsor event in 2000 © Getty Images

If Hayter was a publicist and Austin a PA, then Neil Maxwell, who manages Mike Hussey and Josh Hazlewood, likens himself to a brand manager. He signed Hussey because he spotted an opportunity to promote him to the burgeoning Australian corporate sector. He sees the deals he set up with Channel Nine for Brett Lee and Hussey as the most satisfying of his career.

"I'll never forget one of the first bits of advice I got from a brand manager of a cereal company, when Lee became the first Weet-Bix Kid here in Australia," he says. "What she said was: 'I recommend when Brett has a photograph taken, he is always smiling.' There were brands that wanted a fierce representation of Brett and that struck a chord with me because [on screen] everything was personified as being happy, and then you go and try to be the rugged tough guy - it contradicts your values."

It is no surprise that nobody spotted the opportunities offered by the IPL quicker than Maxwell. Lee - who had released a duet with legendary Indian playback singer Asha Bhosle in 2007 - was presented as more than a cricketer.

"Virat is feisty and wears his heart on his sleeve, is fearless and is not afraid to speak his mind. All these traits are the traits of the youth of our country" Bunty Sajdeh

"Everyone was looking to market to the IPL franchises in the early days. They were sending through stats and videos. But that information is readily available. So what we did was, we communicated the value of Brett as a marketing property for the franchise. We sent pictures of him in suits and formal attire. We sent things where he connected with the Indian community. That set him apart and worked because the franchises were looking at how they would market themselves as well as how they would perform on the field."

Maxwell flew out of the blocks into cricket's new world. Seven years on, and not long after the release of his first Bollywood film, Lee would surely vouch that it worked.

"He was a little fattie!" Bunty Sajdeh shouts down the phone from Mumbai, with the cackle of a cartoon villain.

Bunty Sajdeh, the man in charge of India's hottest cricket brand

Bunty Sajdeh, the man in charge of India's hottest cricket brand © Getty Images

The "he" Sajdeh refers to is 19-year-old Virat Kohli, who he signed up at the Under-19 World Cup in 2008, despite the fact that he "didn't see him score any runs". What Sajdeh did see was a "spark".

If, as Maxwell says, agents are brand managers, then there is no greater cricketing brand to be managed in the second decade of the 21st century than Kohli. "He is somebody who has become bigger than the sport," Sajdeh says breathlessly, now speaking at the speed and volume of a man with places to be. "He is a brand in himself, he is a youth icon, and the appeal he has in this country is unparalleled. He is the most marketable person in India, even more than Bollywood."

Sajdeh has set Kohli up with the largest bat deal in history with MRF, and Kohli currently has 13 endorsements worth approximately 50 crores, or about $7.5 million. He is a part owner of FC Goa in the Indian Super League, and of UAE Royals - Roger Federer's team - in the International Premier Tennis League. He has a clothing line, Wrogn, a range of gyms called Chisel, and has backed London-based social media start-up Sport Convo. The Virat Kohli Foundation was set up in 2013. Hell, a Virat Kohli animated character is on its way, sent to earth to connect with Indian kids. It will be the star of a kid's clothing line and a TV show.

"The only reason agents want you is to sign a long-term contract so they can work out if you'll be any good. I just don't think it's necessary for young players until they are close to national selection" Neil Maxwell, Mike Hussey's agent

Despite admitting he had no idea how big Kohli would become, Sajdeh has a way of making it all sound rather natural. "Everything that Virat has achieved is because of him," he says easily. "He knew he had to work on his game, flaws, fitness, discipline. He did it all by himself and he is what he is because of that dedication and sincerity and hard work."

Sajdeh (and his agency, Cornerstone Sports & Entertainment) has played his part too. Kohli's brand has been sculpted down to the finest detail. Sajdeh consulted those who work with Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar, and is highly selective with endorsements; he says Kohli could have had 50. As Kohli's brattier side reared its head, Sajdeh spotted an opportunity. Rather than smoothing the rough edges, he embraced them, maintaining a spikier look that spoke to - no, shouted at - generation IPL. "I got a phone call every other week asking if I should curb him," he says, returning to super-speed, "My only answer to these people was: is he not performing? Is he not slamming hundred after hundred and breaking records every month? Virat is feisty and wears his heart on his sleeve, is fearless and is not afraid to speak his mind. All these traits are the traits of the youth of our country. Seventy per cent of the Indian population is below 35 and are like that, which is why they relate to him. Why would I curb that?"

Rohit Sharma, then Shikhar Dhawan followed Kohli to Cornerstone. Murali Vijay and Ishant Sharma are also with the agency. Each has their own manager (Rohit's manager, Ritika Sajdeh, who he recently married, is also Bunty's cousin), and each brand is as specific, and there are elaborate portfolios on the company's website to confirm this. Rohit's is smooth and sophisticated, Dhawan's rugged and wild, which Sajdeh believes actually belies his gentle personality. Sajdeh admits all his "boys" are spoilt, and explains how their appearance - clothing, hair, even make-up - are carefully managed for public appearances. Fresh suits from designer Nandita Mahtani await them at their hotels, and Apeni George, actor Hrithik Roshan's hairstylist, flies in to fix their hair and make-up.

Agent Jonathan Barnett, seen here with Brian Lara, has been credited with shepherding boxer Lennox Lewis to the big time

Agent Jonathan Barnett, seen here with Brian Lara, has been credited with shepherding boxer Lennox Lewis to the big time © Getty Images

The aim is clear. "My job is to make Virat bigger than Sachin," Sajdeh says. Still, he has already identified who is next on Cornerstone's conveyor belt of talent: Shreyas Iyer signed on last year after a breakout season, while another young Indian star is set to join in the coming months. "We signed Shreyas on young so we can guide him in keeping his feet on the ground and grow with him, evolving together," Sajdeh says, giving a hint of his modus operandi. But it is this, about Iyer, which gives the game away: "He's a good-looking boy and we're going to see what we can do with him." Watch this space.

Former India left-arm spinner Murali Kartik told ESPNcricinfo last year, "Whether they do anything or not, every player likes to have an agent. That makes them [players] feel good about themselves. It's like a clamour. I would like to have one who will make me feel important." The effect of cricketing megastardom has been that ever more, players believe they need an agent.

Just as not every cricketer is Kohli, not every agent is Sajdeh. Where there are haves, there are have-nots. Tales of agents manically calling teams and sponsors, desperately offering the services of their player, are far more common than the nonchalant cashing of zero-laden cheques. After all, agents pocket 3-5% of playing contracts - up to 10% for a renegotiation or more, and 20-25% for sponsorship and endorsement deals. Small deals, small commissions.

Among many other reasons, the BCCI's conflict of interest guidelines announced were notable for being the first time Indian cricket had officially acknowledged the existence of player agents

Most agents espouse a Jerry Maguire-esque, boutique style, with few, high-end clients, and indeed the tailoring required makes managing more than a handful of big names tricky. Maxwell believes the four he looks after is too many.

More often they play the numbers game. In the early 2000s, David Ligertwood was said to represent a third of the first-class cricketers in England, and many more overseas. Maxwell shares a telling tale from Sydney. "There was a group of guys at the racecourse," he says, "and a guy was introduced to him and he said, 'Yes mate, I know who you are, you're my manager!' The agent has 130 people on his books and doesn't know them all and is just hoping to make a few per cent out of everyone. Ridiculous."

Maxwell is blunt about the situation in Australia, which holds true globally. "At first-class level they wouldn't have any commercial value. It's just the international players who do. Successful BBL players like Chris Lynn see their contract value rise but not their commercial value."

Ex DJ Tim Hudson (centre) didn't quite manage to make Ian Botham a Hollywood star, but he tried

Ex DJ Tim Hudson (centre) didn't quite manage to make Ian Botham a Hollywood star, but he tried © Getty Images

As a result, he actively tells young players that they do not need management. "The only reason agents want you is to sign a long-term contract so they can work out if you'll be any good. I just don't think it's necessary for young players until they are close to national selection." After giving such a talk for young cricketers at New South Wales, Maxwell soon had Pat Cummins - who had just made that step to Australian selection and was impressed with his anti-agent, old-school style (Maxwell has never had a contract with a player) - asking for representation.

At the bottom of the market, the scrap is for the next superstar. Agents insist cricket is not like football, the catty, clandestine house of the highest bidder. But there are other methods employed beyond simple word of mouth and scouting. One former first-class cricketer in England recalled setting up a meeting with his agency, ostensibly to discuss how they could help him in retirement, only for the agent to spend two hours picking his brains on the top young talent. Agencies have distributed flyers among players, and if a youngster has a breakout moment, he can expect weeks of wining and dining from the top agents, showing off their IPL contacts.

"There was a group of guys at the racecourse, and a guy was introduced to him and he said, 'Yes mate, I know who you are, you're my manager!'"

Former pros in England believe too many players are giving too much of their paltry salaries away. The PCA even offers a substitute: a free contract-negotiation service. Run by assistant chief executive Jason Ratcliffe, the scheme has helped 400 players in the last five years. He believes accreditation keeps agents accountable, and agents generally agree. With barely any commercial value, many players need little more from their agent than the county contract negotiation offered free by Ratcliffe.

Often agents can be cagey and brusque, and many declined to be interviewed for this article. Those who did, described their players like proud parents talking about their wards, although some, in England particularly, didn't want to talk about their clients, perhaps because some players call on the services of more than one agent. Samit Patel's face appeared on one company's (up-to-date looking) website, while an entirely different agent crowed about a deal he had done for him. The Australian Cricketers' Association has a simple workaround: they publish who each player's agent is on their website. "I think sometimes the agency space has suffered in that it's all behind closed doors and top secret," says Tim Lythe of the ACA, "but our aim is be fully transparent and honest."

Throughout these many conversations, agents talked in euphemism and grumbly, occasionally sweary mutters about dealing with the Indian board. Agents' buzzwords are "accountability", "trust" and "honesty"; until now, they are not words that could be applied to the BCCI's attitude towards agents. Sajdeh explains how he cannot be involved in negotiating Kohli's playing contracts with the clubs and franchises he plays for; he only deals with commercial and logistical aspects. Among many other reasons, the BCCI's conflict of interest guidelines announced last year were notable for being the first time Indian cricket had officially acknowledged the existence of player agents. Now every player simply has to let the BCCI know who his agent is.

All-purpose go-to guy: Charlie Austin with Mahela Jayawardene

All-purpose go-to guy: Charlie Austin with Mahela Jayawardene © Charlie Austin

But the BCCI is yet to lay down strict guidelines. The idea of accreditation has been mooted for some time to tackle India's vast "unorganised sector", the unruly cabal of friends, agents and advisers who shadow the sport. Despite not being officially recognised, agents have long been briefed and copied in on official BCCI communication, and are often booked in team hotels too. As Austin says, "the public view is one thing but I suspect actually beneath the surface, there's quite a lot of getting on with it and working together [between the BCCI and agents]."

Perhaps that transparency is on its way. After all, Jiju Janardhan posing as Sreesanth's agent in the corruption scandal of 2013, provided India with their Butt-Majeed moment. If almost every player is going to have an agent, the need for accreditation and accountability is acute.

When the England touring party disembarked that ship to South Africa in 1948, Hayter was stood next to John Arlott as he famously replied "human" when quizzed about his race. Two decades later Hayter served as Basil D'Oliveira's sounding board, publicist and agent. He helped secure him work in England and fielded the call from Tienie Oosthuizen, the tobacco magnate, who offered D'Oliveira £4000 per year to coach in South Africa, thus rendering him unavailable for England's 1968-69 tour. Hayter pulled the PR strings, becoming a great friend and invaluable source of support through the sordid affair. One final lesson from Hayter, then. It is in these tough times that an agent's value truly shows. Now, with more money, there are more problems and ever more crises.

"When I first started [in 2004], it was all about international cricket, and then county cricket. Eighteen counties, 36 overseas slots, and as soon as one of them became available, I could have 10, 15, 20 players who wanted to fill that slot. The IPL smashed that" Darren Long

While Wheatley orchestrated Pietersen's PR battle with the ECB in the aftermath of his sacking, the two most fascinating cases of agents as problem-solvers in recent times have come from Pakistan. Saeed Ajmal enlisted the support of Moghees "Mo" Ahmed when he was banned from bowling. Ahmed worked to help fix Ajmal's action, then to prove his innocence. He worked with Saqlain Mushtaq and spoke to Paul Hurrion, the pioneer of the 15-degree rule. "We consulted so many," says Ahmed, "because we wanted to understand what it was all about - why he was suddenly banned and how can this happen, the legality of it?

"It was my responsibility to try and fix this and this was the hardest thing I had to deal with as an agent. The most important thing was to understand the science." Once the legality of his action had been proved, the next stage was PR - getting good press in all corners of the cricketing world. Ahmed acted as interpreter for Ajmal's English-language interviews, where he explained that all his deliveries were legal.

Remembering Reg: the Hayter Cup, held up by Chris Rushworth, the PCA's Player of the Year in 2015

Remembering Reg: the Hayter Cup, held up by Chris Rushworth, the PCA's Player of the Year in 2015 © Getty Images

Mohammad Amir hired Fara Gorsi - the first female accredited agent in the UK - and Pakistan-based Syed Noman to help his rehabilitation. Gorsi namechecks the interviews she lined up in the UK press - there did seem to be a different one every week - where Amir expressed his remorse and sorrow, as he tore through domestic batting line-ups in Pakistan. Noman was simultaneously playing the same role as Gorsi back home, relaying highlight reels of Amir's performances to groups of journalists globally via Whatsapp, with backing tracks from Rocky and Wiz Khalifa among others. Gorsi lined up a deal for the Bangladesh Premier League - where Amir duly shone - and discussed moves with English counties.

"Everyone has an opinion on Amir," says Gorsi, "and it's a mixed bag, which they are entitled to. It's very challenging because we have to be very careful in how Amir is portrayed. The way we do things it's all very precisely planned and we work as a team to get as much done in different parts of the world as possible."

As Gorsi and Ahmed's exhaustive efforts indicate, for an industry founded on happenstance, nothing is left to chance, and no stone goes unturned. Amir's return went from strength to strength, but the same could not be said of Ajmal, whose fizz seemed absent with his remodelled action. "We are very pleased with how it [the PR campaign] is going," Gorsi says. "He's playing well and that makes our job much easier." 'Twas ever thus.

Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp

 

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