Young Money APAA Sports’ Nicole Lynn provides some much-needed game on how young, passionate people can break into sports management.
On Thursday, April 25th, NFL sports agent Nicole Lynn could make history. Lynn is the agent for 21-year-old Quinnen Williams, a defensive tackle who played for the University of Alabama last year. In almost all NFL mock drafts, Williams is a top three pick.
Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray is seen as the likely first pick. But there is a chance that the Arizona Cardinals — the team that holds the number one pick — could flip the script and draft Williams.
If this happens, it would mean that Lynn would become the first Black woman to represent an NFL number one pick.
Not a bad accomplishment for someone who still has a full-time day job as a lawyer.
Nicole started as a financial analyst on Wall Street, with the intention of helping athletes maintain wealth and longevity after football. Her goal — providing guidance and ensuring her clients reach their milestones — has never changed. Nicole is a practicing lawyer by day, before jetting off to college and NFL games on the weekends.
Sports management has long been an overly white, male-dominated industry, with roughly around 5% of women being certified. Nicole Lynn acknowledges that women are needed at the table, so she carved her own space, as one of the first female agents for Lil Wayne’s sports agency Young Money APAA Sports. (Random, fun fact: one of Lynn’s clients is 11-year-old rapper That Girl Lay Lay.)
The NFL draft is kicking off tomorrow. So we thought it would be the perfect time to speak with Lynn about her career path and tips she’s learned on the way.
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Starting out? You should get a postgraduate degree. And a lot of money.
In order to be an agent if — you want to do the contracts — you have to have a postgraduate degree. It doesn’t have to be a law degree, but it would have to be a Masters or something to that effect. Having a law degree can be helpful, and I think it’s becoming more of the trend because we view and negotiate contracts. So, my recommendation would be for someone to go to law school, then they have to sit for the agent exam, which they have to pass with at least 75%. You have to learn the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA, that’s your second step. That exam is only offered once a year. It’s in July, but you have to sign up for the exam in January. But you can’t sign up for the exam until you’ve got that postgraduate degree. So there’s a lot of hoops you gotta jump through. Then once you’re registered with the NFLPA for your certification, you have to get registered in every state you want to recruit in. In Texas it’s $500. In Oklahoma it’s $1,000. I recruit in Texas, one of many states. I have to get malpractice insurance there. I have to get a $50,000 surety bond there. Then I have to register with every school that I want to recruit in.
There are so many hoops it’s not even funny. We’re talking about a year of work, probably $15,000 a year of just registration fees. Plus you have to pay $3,000 to the NFLPA to register. All this before you can even recruit a player. Then once you recruit it’s even harder. My recommendation to others is, are you sure you want to be an agent? Are you sure you don’t want to work with just athletes? If you just want to work with athletes there’s a million jobs you could do, for teams, for the players association. The agent life is so cutthroat and very, very expensive. I always recommend people do their research if that’s really what they want to do.
Overall it costs over $50,000 to be an agent, and if you don’t sign a client and you’re just doing it for fun, it’s not worth it. And when you work for agencies, the agency does not pay for this. Every sports agent is an individual business. I am an entrepreneur, so every penny paid comes straight out of my pocket. No agency pays it for me. So my biggest thing in life is making sure that people want to be an agent.
[The cost] is a huge deterrent for women and minorities. It’s a business of white men and a lot of privilege because it takes a lot of capital to get in and it definitely deters people because of how exclusive it is, and a lot of times the return is not always there. Sometimes you get nothing. For me, that’s why I continue my law job.
[Juggling a fulltime job while doing sports mangement] is not something I necessarily recommend. I don’t think it’s a long term solution, but the world of being a sports agent is so expensive and a huge gamble and risk it’s almost like real estate. It’s nice to have a career with a salary that comes in, but…my personal life has to sacrifice. In my mind, it’s just a season that I’m in: a couple of years where I have to have two full jobs and grind it out where eventually I’ll be able to do just one full time.
You want your first client? You need to get creative.
It’s really about reaching out and trying to create a relationship. So I will call their phone; I will text their phone. But that’s even difficult because you don’t have their number, so you have to get creative with finding their number. Or I’ll slide in their DMs on social media. I’ll show up to their football game and wait outside in hopes to meet them. There is no easy way to meet the guys but I just do everything I can to get in front of them and try to convince them to let me sit down with them for a more formal meeting. And then once you sit down for a formal meeting then they usually interview several agents and you kind of put on a presentation and you’re just a salesman. Like you’re trying to sell yourself. They’re able to sign with an agent after their last [college] football game, so they’ll make a decision once they walk off the field and that’s kind of the process.
I want to represent players that I believe in because it’s hard to represent someone you don’t believe in. I want to make sure they’re good players. I always want to represent high character guys. You know in this business, it’s important to have clients who have high characters. So I’m pretty picky about the type of guys that I’ll take. If they have off the field issues, I’m usually not going to take them. All of my guys are just really upstanding, good citizens.
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Relationships are important.
I do more than just the contract. Like most agents on the job do contracts. But I’m a life coach for my guys — a friend, a mentor, a personal assistant — I do a little bit of everything and so anything that they need, they know that I can be their number one call. I want to be the agent where [if] they get in a car accident, or they get arrested, their wife goes into labor, I’m call one. I think I’ve become that for a lot of my guys and I don’t think there’s many agents in that position. I think that it’s uncommon.
I want to see our guys find a way — especially our minority men — to retain their wealth. I want to see more education around financial awareness through the NFL and finding more programs that can help these guys retain their wealth. There was a statistic that came out that said, 75% of all players file some type of bankruptcy within 2 years of leaving the NFL, or [they] have some type of financial hardship. It’s a very staggering statistic and my hope is for that to change.
Know your shit.
Just know the game of football. People are already going to question your credibility and your knowledge, so just make sure you know the game so that no one can test you. You know what you’re talking about. I have my mentor who always says, “Excellence is you best currency.” No one can do or say anything to you when you are excellent at everything that you do. If you know the game, know your facts. That would be my biggest advice.
Yannise Jean is a freelance writer from Brooklyn. You can follow her @yjeanwrites