NEGOTIATE LIKE THE PROS: A Top Sports Negotiator’s Lessons for Making Deals, Building Relationships, and Getting What You Want. By Kenneth Shropshire. McGraw-Hill. October, 2008. 224 pages. $19.95.
Professor Kenneth Shropshire is a former all-state athlete who grew up in inner city Los Angeles and attended Stanford on a football scholarship. He is a sports fan who can discuss ESPN news with enthusiasm and will knowledgeably forward his opinions on shady college recruitment practices and sports agent scandals.
He also made his career, and his reputation, examining sports from a business perspective.
In the numerous books business professor and consultant Mr. Shropshire has written and cowritten over the past two decades, he deals with the business curriculum basics — management, economics, finance and especially marketing — all in the context of the sports industry.
Mr. Shropshire is the director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative which, according to the lawyer turned professor/author, is the only program of its kind in a top tier MBA or undergraduate business school. The popular program is helping attract new students to the prestigious business school, he said, adding that the program is firmly rooted in traditional business curriculum; the focus is equally on preparing young entrepreneurs for careers in the sports industry and on using sports agents’ traditional negotiating skills to further other pursuits.
Mr. Shropshire cites the O’Malley dynasty as an example of a self-made family whose business acumen both allowed for the purchase of a sports franchise and turned the Los Angeles Dodgers into a financially viable investment.
His books, all published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, tend to examine sports as an industry and professional athletes as marketable commodities.
In his most recent work, Negotiate Like the Pros, Mr. Shropshire has deviated some from his scholarly approach and historical analysis, to treat his favorite topics in the form of a business and lifestyle advice book. The Ivy League professor applies the strategy of sports salary negotiations to handling your own business relationships while carving out your place in the pecking order of life.
Many of us may not be our own best agents, but Mr. Shropshire’s latest book, The Business of Sports Agents, scrutinizes the role of the superagent in athletics. He uses the book both as a lesson in marketing, and as a cautionary tale about sports and ethics.
The author-professor talks about one of the original superagents, J. William Hayes, who represented both Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale in the 1960s. Part of Hayes’ groundbreaking strategy was to package the two Dodgers pitchers, to increase his bargaining power. Mr. Hayes was also a movie producer, and when Dodgers management balked at his two-for-one price tag, Mr. Hayes countered with a threat to switch the superstars’ careers over to Hollywood. The Dodgers were forced to recognize the star power of popular athletes and signed the deal, but not before Don Drysdale made a few television appearances in which, as Mr. Shropshire puts it, “He acted like an athlete.”
Since then, professional sports agents have used players’ off-field celebrity to leverage multi-million dollar deals. Agents have become entrepreneurs and impresarios in their own right. The pro sports industry has become populated with unscrupulous wheelers and dealers as well as Jerry Maguire-type heros. Mr. Shropshire uses his study of the businessmen who rule professional sports to advocate for regulation of agents and college recruiters.
In an industry steeped in statistics, Mr. Shropshire presents a few interesting stats of his own regarding the earning power of professional athletes. He notes, “This is the first generation of football players averaging over a million dollars a year, and the average pro career is four years ... It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the post-play futures of sports stars.”
The Business of Sports Agents, also published last year, is a natural follow-up to Mr. Shropshire’s 2007 book, Being Sugar Ray. In that book, Mr. Shropshire delved into the modern phenomenon of the sports superstar by using the example of the champion boxer he describes as “the first celebrity athlete.” The Business of Sports Agents scrutinizes the role of the superagent in athletics, both as a lesson in marketing and as a cautionary tale about sports and ethics.
Included in the author and former Olympic executive’s body of work is an examination of how basketball is fast superseding baseball as America’s contribution to the global playing field. Basketball Jones discusses the surge of interest and the recent worldwide recognition of the sport which was fostered, in part, by the controversial Soviet/American duel during the Cold War atmosphere of the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Mr. Shropshire will be in Chilmark on Sunday to discuss his many sports and business related works and will also, no doubt, be available to discuss his cherished LA players, as well as the Philadelphia teams, which he confesses, are slowly winning the Wharton professor’s allegiance.