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Legendary sports agent speaks about storied career

By Aroushad Tahsini

If you want people to like you, don't look for a job in the sports industry.

That advice came from Michael Jordan's former sports agent, David Falk, who runs the FAME agency and was a guest speaker at the University of South Florida Marshall Center Oval Theater as part of the second annual USF Sport & Entertainment Lecture Series.

David Falk Photo by Bodi Karsono

The 64-year-old industry leader spoke to audience members about his experiences as a sports agent, gave advice to students and discussed the industry's drastic changes from when he started 40 years ago. A few of his accomplishments include negotiating the first $100 million contract in professional sports and developing the "Air Jordan" concept.

"Create a skill set for yourself," he told the audience. "This is a business where you have to reach and grab what you want."

Michael Jordan served as Falk's big break in the 1980s. At that time, team sport athletes had to be superstars in order to attract commercial opportunities. Falk soon realized the concept and power of branding when he made Jordan a deal with Nike. Nike asked Falk to develop a name for the new line, and he said Air Jordan because Michael Jordan flew through the air when he played basketball.

Falk said he revolutionized the industry because 30 years ago many companies did not "believe African-American team sport players could be national names."

While his innovative thinking made him a fortune, he said it also opened the door to criticism. When the interviewer, Abe Madkour, from Sports Business Daily, asked Falk if, when he made large deals for his clients, some people saw him as "greedy, arrogant, and holding teams hostage," Falk admitted it was a risk agents take.

David Falk Photo by Bodi Karsono

Falk explained that his work mentality did not reflect his personality. A good friend reminded him that while it feels nice to have people always like you, it is not a priority in business. Falk said that while his client's best interest was not always well received, the fact that he always held that as his first priority garnered respect.

Falk credited determination and his ability to master marketing concepts for his success. In law school, he applied for a position in a prominent law firm and did not receive a response. He called the office 17 times until the receptionist ran out of reasons why the lawyer could not answer. Falk finally received an interview but was told his credentials and background were not strong enough. He offered to work for free and got an internship.

He advised students to specialize in one aspect of sports management such as digital marketing, managing venues, event planning or public relations. At the end of the session he left student with a final thought: advice he received from his mother.

"Always shoot for the stars and never settle for less," he said.

Krista Bye-Nagel, a first year student in the USF Sport & Entertainment Management Program talked to Falk before the lecture started and hopes to see more speakers in the future.

"I came to the USF program for opportunities like these," she said. "My favorite part was hearing about his experiences and determination. It instills confidence in me."

Falk was the fourth and final speaker at the two-day lecture series. The USF Sport & Entertainment Management Program hosted the free lectures with the Tampa Bay Lightning and FOX Sports Florida.