Inside Man: Going Behind the Curtain With a Distinct NFL Agency
This was not an accident.
The Torell Troup media blitz was a calculated move planned by Rob London, part of Troup's agent team, to get the fan bases of his potential teams familiar with him weeks before his name was even called. Buffalo was just one of a few cities where they placed him.
"We strategically had Torell do interviews around the country on radio stations in the markets we thought he might end up in," London explains. It's not as sneaky as it sounds; London just wanted the fans to get to know Troup -- a well-spoken gentle giant with a compelling back-story -- before they blindly booed him during one of the biggest moments of his career. London brings up the example of Donovan McNabb getting booed on draft night by Eagles fans, and says if he had done a Troup-style media blitz, Philadelphia would have embraced the lovable McNabb right off the bat.
London isn't just a new type of agent; he's pretty much the only one of his kind. He is a vice president at Dow Lohnes, a 92-year-old nationally recognized law firm known more for its respected business law expertise than its extravagant Super Bowl parties (they don't have one). About 10 years ago, his old football teammate at Delaware State, Adisa Bakari, convinced the higher-ups at Dow Lohnes that the firm, which had only represented NFL owners up to that point, could benefit from taking on some of the NFL's more stand-up players as clients.
The company's roster isn't as large as those of some super-agents, but that's the way it was designed, as it affords them time to foster relationships with their hand-picked clients. It's not exactly as cut-and-dried as "Jerry Maguire" -- Jerry wasn't coaching Rod Tidwell on how to most effectively tweet -- but in light of the curtain being drawn back on sleazy agent activity lately (Reggie Bush, O.J. Mayo, the Miami party), it's refreshing to see a couple of guys who want to deal with only the right players, and then offer them ways to survive after their playing days are over. Dow Lohnes now represents some of the league's most media-savvy and well-liked personalities, from Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew to Bears running back Matt Forte.
Part of the success of London's "sports practice" agency is based in its clandestine nature, ironically embedded in one of the country's most prestigious and respected law firms. London admits that they have a "Men In Black" quality to them. "If we don't sit with you and outline our unique business model, you may never know that this exists," he says. London, 36, travels the country and blends in with other fans in the stands at college games in order to scout players, meet with families, and assess what kind of person the player is. He even watches how the player comes out of the tunnel before the game and how he interacts with his teammates. During college football season, London's schedule includes attending games and meetings with families from Thursday to Monday, then watching film ("YouTube is the greatest thing when it comes to recruiting," he says), changing out his suitcase, and meeting with players the other two days.
Once a player passes London's scrutiny, he's pretty much treated like Dorothy and her friends when they're let into Oz. "You sign with us," London says, "and from head to toe, you better believe anything you need is going to be handled by a team of the best lawyers in the world."
Outside of having Dow Lohnes' legal team at their beck and call, financial planners help steer the players into sound investing and money management strategies, which have them geared up for the looming lockout that may threaten the 2011 season. London says that he has his clients well-positioned for losing an entire year of work, as their finances have been stewarded by the agency's best and brightest. "We wouldn't be worth what we were selling if we didn't plan for this," he says. He already has gears in motion -- through the firm's entertainment connections -- for the players to do television, movie and radio appearances should the strike drag on.
"We put this large investment in our players because we want to be their business law firm for 30 years, not just the five or seven years for the time they're an NFL player," London says. His clients all fit a certain mold that London and Bakari target: strong players on the field, and strong character men with good families off the field. It's rare in today's NFL for an agent to be able to rattle off more charitable works than arrests from his roster of talent; the Dow Lohnes clientele can do that and more. Colts All-Pro defensive back Antoine Bethea, for instance, just donated the largest amount of money ever given to his alma mater, Howard University, by an athlete. Forte, a Louisiana native, has made it clear to London that he wants to do anything he can to help with oil cleanup in the gulf, even if it's on an off-day during the season. "I told him if the flight isn't too long and taxing for him, then I'm all for it," says London. "I'll even assist with the efforts."
London also casually reveals that Forte played with a sprained MCL and a partially torn hamstring in 2009, but never said anything to the press, or his frustrated fantasy owners, about the extent of his pain, which produced disappointing numbers in his second year after a huge rookie campaign. "That's just the kind of guy he is," London explains. "He worked out harder this offseason than anyone I know."
London also gives tips to his clients on how to effectively tweet. "There's a distinction between having a Twitter account, having guys say, 'OK I brushed my teeth right now' and what we preach. It's being strategic in how to use it; make it so fans interact with you." In July, for instance, after announcing his fantasy radio show on Sirius XM's new fantasy channel, Jones-Drew asked fans to vote on a name for his show. He later asked for help on choosing a facemask to wear.
For all the perks of the agency, London prides himself most on having chosen the right clients; ones who won't pay for college players to go to Miami beach parties at agents' houses or show up on ESPN's Bottom Line for DUIs. He cites a recent Newsweek Executive Forum that he attended in Washington, DC, with Jones-Drew, where Michelle Obama was giving a speech on childhood obesity (Jones-Drew spoke on the topic as well). There's a picture from the event posted on London's Facebook page. It's of London, Jones-Drew and the ambassador to Kuwait.
"Maurice is a great football player, but it's just nice to have clients who are savvy about everyday issues that you can put in front of other important people, as well." London says. "I believe that speaks to who Maurice is as a person, not just a player. And that's what makes this job worthwhile."