Ron Shapiro is one of the most admired sports agents in all of baseball. Ron has published 4 books, including his newest book titled THE POWER OF NICE: How To Negotiate So Everyone Wins – Especially You! and was named “one of baseball’s most respected agent-attorneys,” by USA today. Ron also founded Shapiro Negotiations Institute, a negotiation, sales, and influence training and consulting firm that has trained over 350,000 professionals in the art of negotiation, dealing with difficult personalities, and enhancing preparation and listening skills. I had the honor to speak with Ron and hear first hand what it’s like acting as an agent for many baseball legends including Cal Ripken, Jr., Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, Kirby Puckett, Eddie Murray. Here’s what Ron shared with me.
Jay: You have been an agent for some of the great baseball legends such as Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken, Kirby Puckett and other players. You’re also a special advisor to the owner of the NFL Baltimore Ravens as well as to the General Manager of the NBA San Antonio Spurs. How did you earn the trust of so many players and managers in sports to be considered one of baseball’s most respected agent-attorneys?
Ron: I never imagined that sports would be my career. I was not even much of a sports fan. My plan was to be a civil rights lawyer, and out of law school I went to work for a Baltimore firm suing pro bono to desegregate housing developments. The firm also asked me to take over a few securities cases to earn my keep. Later, I was named Securities Commissioner for the State of Maryland. During my time as Securities Commissioner, I saw many prominent, wealthy individuals having severe financial trouble. Television, film, and sports stars were constantly being lured into bad “tax shelter” deals. Many of these “celebrities” were smart, but they rarely had business experience dealing with this kind of money. What I quickly learned was that these public figures were becoming targets. Their visibility within society resulted in constantly being badgered by friends and family to invest in big deals that really made no sense. These bad deals were compounded when the stars were asked to “share” their wealth with friends and family who needed money for personal deals. My desire was to help these individuals secure a more stable financial future.
Jay: So how did that turn you into becoming an agent?
Ron: As a result of my background in business law and securities law, the Baltimore Orioles asked me to help Brooks Robinson — now a Hall of Famer — who was dealing with serious financial difficulties. After I successfully represented Brooks, he asked me to negotiate his last baseball contract. I did. Then all of a sudden other players began asking me to negotiate their contracts. From there, I set up a sports agency, separate from my law firm, which negotiated contracts and managed finances, initially, for Major League Baseball players and then subsequently for broadcast television personalities.
Jay: What are some of the challenges players deal with during and after their careers?
Ron: On a certain level, professional athletes are at a tremendous disadvantage, and that’s because in order to play sports on a professional level, whether it’s in the MLB, the NFL or the NBA, players basically give up their collegiate education. During the time they play sports, many of them become famous and many times wealthy. However, as soon as the lights go out they have a serious game of “catch-up” to play. Even the players who made a considerable amount of money during their careers often had nothing or close to nothing left by the time they were done.
Jay: What was some of the key points of advice you gave the players you worked with?
Ron: You know what Jay, it really boils down to being conservative. If you spend money at the same rate that you earn it, then when your career ends in your late 20’s or early 30’s, you’re faced with a huge problem. You’ve developed a spending life style, and now you’ve got no way to bring in the income to keep going. What I tell players is to put away at least half the money you make during your career, if not more. That way when you retire you have enough money to support your family or get into another type of business. Plus, if you do that you’ll be trained not to overspend and you’ll be able to take advantage of the money you’ve made.
Jay: Although players have a disadvantage in that they may not have the education, are there some aspects that give players an advantage in the business world?
Ron: Absolutely, and I would say it’s all about preparation. The overwhelming majority of professional players spend countless hours preparing for their sport. In order to play on such a high level, you have to be extremely prepared. That same type of preparation is needed in business as well; failure to prepare is preparing to fail. Physically working on your craft, mentally coping with success and failure, and understanding your opponent are all skills that are important in business.
Jay: Would you hire a former player over a candidate who was not a sports player?
Ron: That’s a tough question to answer because like I said, many players lack the education or experience necessary for a non-sports based job. Just because a former player knows how to prepare does not make them a direct match. However, if all things were equal and I had an opportunity to hire a former player who had that mentality, I think he or she would have an advantage.
Jay: How has the dynamic of sports changed from the days when you were working with Brooks, to the Cal Ripken days and what are your thoughts on its evolution to today?
Ron: In many ways, the dynamic of sports has changed. The physical stature of players today is at a much higher level. Players today are bigger, faster, and stronger than they ever were. It’s not a slight on any previous player because in those days they didn’t have access to the same facilities that players have today, but in that sense it’s certainly different. There’s also a tremendous pressure for gratification in today’s generation. It used to be that unless your game was on national television few knew who you were. Today with the reach of social media, whether on national television or twitter, players are constantly in the spotlight. I remember when Cal and I discussed endorsement opportunities, and at that time Cal had an offer from Jockey underwear and American Milk Association, Cal wanted advice on what he should do. My suggestion was to take one endorsement and stay out of the spotlight as much as possible. Much of his decision to go with American Milk Association hinged on the values his parents instilled in him to focus on the game as much as possible and minimize his exposure. Today with social media, athletes are praised and heavily scrutinized on a daily basis. Many of these athletes are given a tremendous amount of attention and money at a young age, and it’s troublesome because we expect them to make mature decisions.
Jay: What are some elements that haven’t changed in sports?
Ron: Like I said before Jay, preparation is a key to success. Look around at some of the greatest players, whether it’s Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard or any other. It’s all about preparation. Bryce Harper is a preparation machine, and much of that is because he had great guidance from his parents who drove him to prepare at a young age. Whether you’re old school or the present generation, if you want to succeed in anything in life – make sure you’re well prepared!
Expert Negotiator, Attorney, Sports Agent, Educator, New York Times Bestselling Author, and Civic Leader, Ron Shapiro attended Haverford College and graduated Cum Laude from Harvard Law School in 1967. USA Today called Ron Shapiro “one of baseball’s most respected agent-attorneys,” and The Sporting News has named him one of the “100 most powerful people in sports.” His impressive list of clients includes more Hall of Famers than any other agent, including Cal Ripken, Jr., Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, Kirby Puckett, Eddie Murray, and 2009 American League MVP, Joe Mauer, who have benefited from the more than one billion dollars in contracts that Mr. Shapiro has negotiated. In addition, Mr. Shapiro is the Special Advisor to the owner of the NFL Baltimore Ravens and to the General Managers of the NBA San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.