Like any sustainable franchise, the Canadian Football League has made some significant steps over the years to develop as a brand. The league is still working hard to present a product that highlights its unique qualities and entertainment prospects, but there’s one aspect of OUR GAME that is light-years ahead of where it was not too long ago…The players on the field are getting A LOT better.
With the increased level of talent coming into the CFL through the United States, or the CIS and Junior programs, there’s also been a notable change to the business side of the game. Players are getting paid more, they’re developing themselves and their brand through social media avenues like never before, and guys are learning about the business side of professional sports at an earlier stage of their careers.
Now keeping with that thought, there’s no bigger opportunity for a young CFL prospect to make an impression on this business than during this weekend’s CFL Combine in Toronto. The lucky few that have been invited to showcase their individual talent have the entire league watching and taking notes, and for many of these players they also have someone there to support their professional aspirations, the CFL agent.
Instead of diving into the mind of the players at the 2016 Canadian Football League Combine, we’re going to take a look at this weekend’s proceedings from the ProPerspective of the professionals who are entrusted with “the big picture” when it comes to the careers of the players on the field. There’s going to plenty of speculation from “experts” as to who’s moving where, which guy’s doing what, and how teams are thinking about drafting so we thought it would be good to avoid all of that.
It’s a HUGE weekend for all involved…The business of sport is front and centre.
I recently had a conversation with Rob Fry, a partner with Gil Scott Sports Management, regarding the process that an agent may go through during their client’s evaluation process this weekend, and as they look forward to the 2016 CFL Draft.
For many player agents, like Rob, this draft process started about a year ago. Agencies like Gil Scott Sports Management will have identified the players that they’d interested in representing by the summer of the recruits draft eligible season.
From there Fry states that the major focus is on, “building trust, and building a relationship; it’s such a people business…”
To put it in perspective, Fry went on to explain that at the end of the day a player wants an agent who’s able to handle all of the business related scenario’s that he’s going to go through during the duration of his career, and part of the recruiting process is “explaining the whole process to them, and their families”. Everything from the combine, to the draft, and their first contract needs to be explained in detail.
The role of an agent is provide that education in Fry's eyes.
One of my first questions I asked Rob about is a topic that’s been tossed around be many CFL fans as of late, what’s the real significance of the regional combines?
Fry did a good job of positioning the combine from the player’s viewpoint.
“Regional combines are good for the guys that have flown under the radar, whether it’s a case of them being injured during the year, maybe they’ve transferred (from school to school) or they might be a guy that has been under-utilized.”
The regional combines are a great chance for those players to get “marketed” to CFL scouts, and if they do well enough, there is a voting process that may earn them a chance to perform again in the main combine.
Coincidently these regional combines actually highlight one area where having a representative may be the determining factor on whether or not a player even gets an opportunity to show his stuff.
One of the 16 players that Rob Fry is representing in the 2016 combine is Shaq Johnson out of Western. Johnson almost fell through the cracks because of a paperwork issue, and without the work of Fry and GSSM, he may not have been eligible for the regional, or the main combine at all. Fry admits having “to push, and do some damage control to get him in (to the regional)” but thanks to Johnson having that person working for him behind the scenes, it all worked out IN SPADES. The Western WR ended up wowing onlookers at the regional combine in TO by running a 4.39 forty time and will look to continue to gather followers during individual drills on Sunday.
Speaking of Sunday, mixed into the crowd of coaches and scoutswatching for Oline hand placement, or diagnosing route ability, there will be a number of player reps floating around that are equally as invested as the team personnel.
Part of an agent’s job during the combine, and moving into the 2016 draft is to be that realistic voice that a player needs regardless if the results of the performance were good or bad.
“We’re not hired to be these guys’ friends, they’ve got enough friends. They’ve hired a representative to keep the picture real to them”.
If a player has an outstanding weekend, Fry asserts that one of the values that he can bring to the player, that’s probably on cloud nine, is to celebrate the success but also help the player focus the things he has to control ahead of him in order to be in top form going into June.
“A good day on Sunday doesn’t mean it’s done…There still going into camp as a rookie, and they’ve still got a long way to go, so it’s important to keep guys focused on the training aspect.”
On the other end of the spectrum, if the weekend does not go according to plans, the value of an agent is having a problem solver at the player’s disposal.
A good agent “needs to do his homework on what the overall performance looked like IN THE EYES OF THE PROFESSIONAL SCOUTS and teams.” Players can’t forget that their game film is their biggest asset.
A player that isn’t necessarily happy with their combine performance needs to understand that it’s still early, and a big part of what Rob does is help an anxious player, “Fly the plane straight.”
“Let’s focus on football…The best part of the combine is that a guy is never going to have to run that 40 again. Some guys just aren’t testers, and sometimes their film is going to be the overall winner anyway.”
Fry's job and any other player rep at the combine in Toronto this weekend is to continue to give the player a realistic perspective of their situation.
To close, Fry gives every player that is going into this weekend some advice that is absolutely imperative in professional sports,
“HAVE FUN!...Guys have been working their whole lives for this…The work’s in. CFL people want to get to know the real player, so guys have to be themselves. Everything will take care of itself if guys come out and be themselves.”
I really enjoyed the conversation with Rob. One of the more interesting parts of our discussion centred on the appetite that some of the NCAA guys come up to the CFL combine with,
“This is their chance to go pro. A lot of their buddies are going through the NFL combine and that process, so the NCAA guys come up here hungry…they really understand the gravity of the time.”
Things are really going to open up on Sunday. After all is said and done, the experts are going to do their mock drafts, and try and pinpoint where certain guys will end up etc etc. Players will go back to their training centres or schools, and we’ll be full steam ahead towards the CFL Draft.
Before prospects know it, it will be June, and for some, things will start moving at a mile-a-minute.
It will be all about the football then. Contracts will have all the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed and players will be tweeting about their specific brands of protein supplements and recovery shakes.
Rob Fry and professionals like him can then shift into facilitating their clients in a different aspect, but on Sunday, there’s going to be a fair amount of nerves going, both on the field and off.
The CFL is alive and well. Our game will flourish and the business of sport will follow suit. For every top prospect on the boards of the various CFL teams, there will be a substantial amount of off the field variables that need to be addressed.
Cheers to everyone at the combine on the sideline, and on the field. It’s an exciting time for EVERYONE involved.
Some players will be introduced to the business side of this game at different stages. Other players choose to be proactive and let someone else handle the white noise.
As someone who has been a youngster trying to find their way in professional sports, I just hope that all the athletes out there in Toronto have some type of support system around them.
Football players need to focus all of their energy on the football field. At the CFL combine there's going to plenty of guys behind the scenes trying to ensure that all of that happens.