By Dave Barr, Special for The Sports Rabbi
When the NBA game between Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz in March was postponed right before tip-off, a shockwave rolled throughout the sporting world. The game was postponed, so was the remainder of the NBA season and subsequently sports around the world. At the same time, Matt Slan’s cell phone began to ring.
Slan founded Slan Sports Management in Toronto, Canada in 2009. This season, he and team represented 30-players in over 20-countries from Hungary to Germany, Italy to Japan and in Israel, most notably Elitzur Yavne Canadian shooting guard Daniel Mullings in the Israeli National League get home from Europe. I was a bit confused and said what are you talking about? Where are you getting this information? He’s like Trump just held a press conference. I flipped on CNN and sure enough, Donald Trump makes a statement that says we are close to actually closing the borders.”
Later that statement was clarified and Americans who were living or visiting abroad were able to come back to the States.
“Over the next two weeks, I was in full go mode. Most importantly my number one goal was to get every client home to their family. Number two, it was to do my best to negotiate the best possible deal for each client getting as much money as possible into their pocket before and or after leaving.”
Slan’s work encompassed dealing with employment lawyers in the different countries in which players had contracts, doing research on client’s rights, what team’s rights are so that he could best negotiate for his clients.
“I have partners on the ground in certain countries who are extremely helpful. It pays off to have trusted partners especially those that are tougher to work in like Hungary, Italy and France. That was about two weeks of time to get every single client home. I currently have two clients still overseas, but they were there on their own accord. They felt more comfortable staying than leaving.”
Slan’s approach was one of being proactive in very uncertain times with his company’s primary tenant of client first at the forefront of every effort.
“I said, this is an emergency. This is now and I talked to a lot of people in the industry who said they were waiting and taking their time with this not knowing how this is going to turn out. I took a different route I said safety client safety number one. I didn’t and don’t like the direction it’s heading. I think it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Some clubs understood – some resisted. For the most part though, I was quite pleased with how clubs responded to the situation. I think people started to see sooner than later where this was going. One thing I preach when recruiting clients Is, we care for our guys like family and getting guys back to their family and working my butt off to get them there was just something that I’m very proud of.”
The vast majority of basketball contracts around the world outside of the NBA are one-year deals. Some have options and those lucky enough to have something more secure typically is no longer than three-years in length. This brings us to Phase two of Slan’s Coronavirus odyssey.
“This is unprecedented and we’re just trying to navigate through this situation. I’m going to do what I do, which is fight for my guys tooth and nail to get the best. The best deal that they could both last year and including the contract, and the same would be true to summer. So when you add all of these clients are now basically free agents. The way the market looks now and the way I’m operating as an agent is business as usual. I went from emergency recovery of all my clients into the college recruiting season. More importantly, I’m talking to teams about my current roster for next year and one thing that I think we also had some foresight about is, if everybody in the world is sitting in quarantine, what are the basketball junkie coaches and executives going do? When there’s no sports, they’re going be on synergy, they’re going to be watching film, they’re going be looking at play. So, we immediately went from recovery, to selling our clients early for next year. That’s already paid some dividends. We’ve got a lot of things on the horizon right now for some of our clients.”
Business as usual for agents, players and clubs still have a lot of unknowns. The largest is trying to project budgets for what could possibly remain for some to finish this season and especially for the 2020-21 season. To this point with the clubs Slan has spoken with, most don’t know yet what their budgets are going to be or how their budgets are going to be affected or if they will even exist next year. The bigger Euroleague clubs and a handful of others have fewer worries than second tier clubs. The degree of unknown among clubs varies. Slan estimates that only 10-percent of clubs in Europe are actively looking for players right now.
“They are I’m sure even the ones that don’t know that they’re going to exist next year. I actually do know are still watching players and watching film. But then we’ve got some countries that are moving on business as usual. So, and I think everybody’s mentality is this and I think this would probably best summarize it at the end of the day. Nobody knows what to expect. So, business as usual, hope for the best. Continue about your job and hope that we did this thing and that there’s basketball at some point when things are safer.”
All that being said – August could be like speed dating.
“As an agent what it looks like, from my perspective is 90-percent of clubs have no clue if they will even be an operation next year, that means July and August could be really interesting. In a regular year, that’s usually my busiest month, but I could perceive that being August and September this year and I don’t know this, but I think what you could end up seeing budgets slashed by (Sources telling me budgets are going to be significantly for some) as much as 30 to 40 – percent. That’s the read that I’m getting on the market on this early stage. But what I foresee are teams / leagues shortening their seasons. That would make the most sense in terms of financials because if you could shorten your season from 10 months to eight months by cutting out a month of preseason, It may be something teams look at.”
Slashed budgets and shortened seasons could be bad news for import players searching for their next club especially if the off-season is compressed like Slan anticipates.
“If teams that existed this year are not going to exist next year, and I don’t want to be dire, but if teams don’t exist, that’s a lot of import players off the market. So, we have to look at potential opportunities. Because our times are unprecedented – we have to look at different ways of marketing our players to what could be a much smaller market. I’ll tell you what I figured out, I don’t want to get into too many specifics about this, but I swear for where there is hardship I see opportunity for my clients and without giving up the tricks of the trade, I think that there’s opportunity. I think this is just leading to even more buying power for teams.”