Five-time PGA-Tour-winning golfer Jason Dufner and his agent Ben Walter recently spoke to UM students as part of the Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law LL.M. program during Professor Peter Carfagna’s week-long course, “Representing the Professional Athlete.“
Jason Dufner and Ben Walter
The Key to Being a Good Sports Agent
Students interested in becoming sports agents themselves were listening attentively to Walter’s advice. “In any good business relationship the hallmark of it is going to be trust,” he said, “and it’s up to me to really fulfill that each and every day, because that’s what’s going to keep the relationship going.”
Carfagna, who is the Director of the Sports Law Track within EASL, added, “We’re right in the middle of negotiating representation agreements, and it comes down to honesty and trust.”
Dufner and Walter met in 2008 over breakfast while the golfer was playing a tournament, and at the end of a 45-minute conversation, they were able to put together an informal representation agreement.
At What Point Do Athletes Need Representation?
“As I started playing better there was more opportunity for me to earn income off the golf course,” Dufner said. “I needed representation to deal with these contracts and sponsorships and marketing.”
Walter recalls how casual the initial deal was: “When we put it together, Jason said, ‘I’m good, we just need a handshake.’”
“We became friends, and we’re still pretty close as friends but we also have a business partnership,” Dufner said, “which I think is a little different than most of the relationships I see out on the PGA tour.”
The two worked together under an informal agreement for five years, before Dufner’s first PGA Tour victory in 2013, at which point they put pen to paper.
Dufner Rise to World-Class Golfer
Currently ranked as the 44th-best golfer in the world by the PGA tour, Jason Dufner moved to Ft. Lauderdale at age 14, when he started playing golf competitively. He walked onto the golf team at Auburn University, and played as “an average college golfer,” before his game started to pick up in 2009 about 18 months after starting to work with Walter.
Today, he is known as one of the most consistent golfers in the PGA, having made 210 cuts out of the 291 events he's played. Dufner has accumulated close to $25 million in prize money throughout his career.
Agents Are Also Managers
Jason Dufner went on to talk about the management of his time in light of the many offers coming in.
“As you win these bigger events, there’s more time that people want from you,” he said, “and having representation, having someone like Ben try to navigate that and use prior experience I think was helpful.”
Walter added, “If it’s a 10, 12-hour day, the last thing he wants to do is spend time around people that he doesn’t know. So you’ve got to really try to strike the balance in between what amount of time makes sense.”
The golfer emphasized the importance of ensuring his performance doesn’t suffer due to giving away training or rehabilitation time when signing deals for public appearances.
“Generally speaking the guys that are winning tournaments and finishing high in the world, they’re the ones that are making the most money. So you’ve got to protect what’s driving the needle, so to speak, when you’re trying to work these partnerships and deals.”
In his parting remarks, Walter spoke to the future sports agents in the class: “At the end of the day, he and I have only been working together this long because he trusts me, and because we communicate, and we’re honest with each other.”
More on Sports Law Courses at Miami Law
Peter Carfagna’s short course “Representing the Professional Athlete” is the first in a series of three short courses taught by Carfagna this Spring. It provides students with an understanding of what the career of a sports agent entails. Topics include important legal doctrines relating to the athlete-representation profession involving intellectual property law, labor law, and contract law. Throughout, students are challenged by hypothetical contract negotiations and representation agreement drafting exercises. Finally, students’ skills are examined through mock litigation in which they drafted brief headings and litigation-related documents in support of the contractual positions taken during the contract drafting exercises.
Additional courses include “Negotiating and Drafting Sports Venue Agreements,” and “Purchase and Sale of a Minor League Baseball Team.” Sports Venue Agreements is set to be taught throughout two weeks starting in mid-February, while Minor League Baseball Team will take place over two days starting on February 23rd. The latter will host guest speakers Charles Baker and Irwin Raij on the first day, who are both Co-Chairs of O’Melveny’s Sports Industry Group; O’Melveny & Myers is one of the most selective and prestigious law firms in the world. Students interested in taking either course should enroll through Canelink.