It’s a common dream for young sports fans, often cast aside like other naïve ambitions: I’m going to be a sports agent.
Why not, right? Negotiate big contracts. Get rich. Party on luxury yachts with famous people. It looks fun on “Ballers” and “Entourage.” Just angrily hang up phones and use witty one-liners like Ari Gold.
Only it’s not that simple, not without connections.
Daniel Hazan, 25, found that out the way most have dared not venture, having built a sports agency from an idea in his Yeshiva University dorm room. Two years ago, the NYC product and his partner, Andrew Hoenig, became the youngest agents with a player on an NBA roster. Today, Hazan Sports agency — based in Manhattan — has 20 clients and negotiated 11 NBA contracts, including its first with the Knicks when Jamel Artis signed a partially guaranteed deal last week.
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The growth required resourcefulness, more than anything, because Hazan had no contacts. His networking methods included eBay bids for NBA business cards and utilizing Facebook.
“I just started adding athletes as friends on Facebook, guys who had jerseys on, and I tried to convince them to sign with me — even though I wasn’t an agent,” Hazan said. “I wasn’t certified in any way. Players started following me. I started taking them to D-League open tryouts, paying for their travel, it kind of grew, started learning the business, learned it all on my own.”
It wasn’t Hazan’s first foray in entrepreneurship. While also in college he founded a company with the innovative idea of selling advertising space on coffee cups. Hazan said he since sold his shares in that startup and is concentrating on the sports agency with Hoenig, 24, a longtime friend and former classmate at Salanter Akiba Riverdale High School in the Bronx.
They both decided to grow up fast and ditch the idea of a normal college experience.
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“One day on Facebook, somebody shared a picture of (Hoenig), like at a party and he’s holding a beer,” Hazan recalled. “We got into a huge argument about it like, ‘We can’t portray ourselves to be this way. Our Facebook image has to be changed. We can’t be these kids who are still in college and having a good time. We have to change our whole lifestyle.’… We had to grow up. We didn’t know anything about this business.”
With his marketing company New Generation Management, Hazan promotes events and products for Jonathan Simmons, JR Smith and Charles Oakley, among others. As a sports agent, his clients are mostly players in overseas leagues or the D-League.
The super agencies still control most of the money in the NBA and often win their battles, starting with CAA, Excel and Wasserman.
“It’s super intimidating. We’re recruiting kids since they were freshmen, then these big agents come in last-second and they swoop them up,” Hazan said. “They invest two weeks into recruiting a kid and we invest four years and we don’t get the kid. It’s tough. It’s super challenging. It’s frustrating. Like, ‘How do we succeed in this business? What is it that puts you over the edge?’ It’s tough. But you have to find your niche. We don’t need to be the No. 1 agency right now but we need to have our niche and be good at our niche, get the guys who are at the lower totem pole in the big agencies and help them out. And you look at our client list, you’ll see that. A lot of the guys are signing with us after leaving Wasserman, after leaving CAA. And that’s how we hope to grow.”
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Artis, an All-ACC forward from the University of Pittsburgh, represented Hazan’s first client invited to the combine. The 24-year-old went undrafted but impressed in Summer League and signed a training camp deal with the Knicks.
“With me, it’s not about the age of the agent, not about how many people you are representing. None of that. I wanted to give them a shot,” Artis said. “They were all focused on me. They were all about Jamel Artis getting in the right position. For me, that was very key. I wanted to be the focus. I didn’t want a guy who had 10 guys he has to worry about. Daniel has other guys he has to worry about, but I’m his primary focus.”
Artis now has a chance to make the Knicks’ roster or, more likely, secure a two-way contract, meaning he’d mostly play with the Knicks’ D-League squad in Westchester. For Hazan and Hoenig — lifelong Knicks fans — it’s a potential step toward realizing their lofty goals.
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