Agents: A Look at Their Fees and the Services They Provide (Part One)

“I Gotta know what you think, so I can make you think what I think – Jeremy Piven as Ari Gold”

As a profession, being an agent inherently carries a stigma that rivals lawyers, stock brokers and some of the grimiest of business men.  In some situations those assumptions are correct and in other instances they are wide of the mark.

Within the realm of soccer, much of the discussion regarding agents tends to focus on the divisive topic of the fees they garner. The topic becomes increasingly controversial with the perceived lack of transparency in the sport, exemplified by the fact that out of the one hundred and fifteen transfers that occurred in the Barclay’s Premier League this summer only five involved transfer fees that were publicly disclosed.  The lack of disclosure of the total transfer fees only compounds the inability to discern from that number what amount was paid in agent fees.

The increasing amounts of money paid in agent fees has been brought to the public eye more and more recently with such high profile transfers of Samir Nasri and Eden Hazard.  Sir Alex Ferguson came out publicly shortly after Belgian winger Hazard signed for Chelsea for a reported £32 million and harped on how much money was spent, claiming that £6 million was spent on agent fees alone.  Samir Nasri’s transfer situation was similar in that negotiations with Manchester United stalled reportedly over the negotiation of agent fees and his eventual move to Manchester City almost fell through as well for similar reasons.

Usually there isn’t smoke without a fire and for there to be the amount of discussion on the topic as there is, it seems reasonable that agents more and more are using their position of power to make sure that while their client gets paid, they are also reaping certain benefits.

Premier League agent fees by year  breakdown - Data courtesy of PremierLeague.com

Premier League agent fees by year breakdown – Data courtesy of PremierLeague.com

This becomes more evident now with the annual publication of total fees paid to agents by Premier League and Football League clubs.  Since the 2009/10 season, the Premier League has released data on the previous year’s breakdown of fees paid to agents by Clubs.

The Football league, which includes the Championship, League 1 and League 2 in England also releases data annually on fees paid to agents by clubs and have been doing so since 2004.  The table above shows how astronomical these fees can get for a club, with some teams like Manchester City paying more in agent fees than others have for their whole transfer budget.

While the information does bring about a degree of transparency that many fans are looking for across the board in the sport, there is a reason why the table only includes 11 clubs.  Information is released for all the clubs participating in the Premier League and Football League, however that table for consistency’s sake, only includes clubs who have been in the Premier League every year since the 2008/09 season when the publication started. The reason being that when the Premier League releases data on agent fees, they do so by calendar year, not by season.  They release the data in late November and the it covers a timetable of October 1st, until September 30th.

There are no transfers allowed between the summer and January transfer windows which means that the time period realistically covers January to September of a single year. This time period involves the January transfer window of one season and Summer transfer window for the following season.  The Football league, on the other hand, releases their agent fee breakdown by season and have been doing so since 2008 (coincidentally in line with when the Premier League starting publishing agent fee data).

This makes it almost impossible to track fees paid by teams who have spent time in both leagues, like West Ham and Newcastle United for example who both were relegated for a season before achieving quick promotion.  Without a completely consistent timeline of data, it becomes difficult to compare these figures to published financial reports requisite of Premier League clubs so as to determine an exact proportion of transfer fees paid compared to agent fees paid. Despite the inconsistencies, it is still obvious that agents are certainly making quite a living negotiating deals for their clients.

Another important detail is that agent fees are not only paid as percentages of transfer fees, but also as percentages of annual salaries when the negotiations involve extensions of contracts as opposed to transfers between clubs.  A European Commission study in 2009 states that standard agent practices in soccer involves 5-10% fees on Transfer figures as well as 5-10% fees on negotiated annual salaries.  This helps to explain why Arsenal, who in recent years have come under intense scrutiny over their lack of major signings, still maintain large amounts of paid agent fees. That detail opens up the discussion of what agents really do for their clients that make them worth the amount of money they are getting.

Look for the second part of this inspection of the representational market in the business of soccer,the relative transparency, or lack thereof, in what agents are paid, which serves to question whether their compensation justifies the services they provide the players and clubs they work with.

What do you think about the transfer and agents fees paid by clubs in British football? Let us know in the comments section below or via Facebook or Twitter.

Reporting on the business side of the world's game.