An interview with Herbie Zucker
Curious to learn more about the Zucker Sports Management Group, including the company's history and recent transition to a baseball-only focus? Check out our interview with Herbie Zucker (President), as he weighs in on how Zucker Sports has distinguished itself as a premier sports management company.
Q: What is the story behind Zucker Sports Management Group being formed?
Herbie: In 1981, my father Steve was practicing law in Chicago. Jim McMahon was in Salt Lake City at the time, a senior at BYU and an All-American quarterback on his way to setting 70 NCAA records. Jerry Argovitz, a dentist-turned-sports-agent and a college friend of mine, signed McMahon, who was drafted in the first round by the Chicago Bears. In fact, Jerry and Jim stayed at our house briefly when Jim was drafted in 1982. They built a lasting friendship. When Jerry later bought the Houston Gamblers franchise in the start-up United States Football League, player representation became a conflict of interest for him. Jim came to Steve - a Chicagoan, a lawyer, and an avid football fan - and asked him what he thought about representing him. Steve admitted that he had never negotiated a football contract before, but that he knew that he was at the threshold of a new and exciting opportunity. When Steve agreed to represent Jim, ZSMG was born.
Q: You have had an amazing client retention rate. Talk about the success behind that.
Herbie: I don’t treat my players like clients. They are my friends. I listen to every pitcher’s start on my computer. Win or lose, I call them after every game and discuss what happened. I try to go beyond performance to find out if there’s anything going on in their lives that’s bothering them. Maybe there’s some way I can help. I do what any good friend would do. But it’s not just the pitchers; I talk to all of my players three to four times a week. Sometimes we grow so close I think of them as younger brothers. Retention is not an issue when you genuinely like your clients and treat them as real people, not as ATM machines.
Q: Why the switch from representing clients in multiple sports to focusing on just baseball?
Herbie: Baseball is my passion. For my father it was football. He also had clients in baseball, basketball, hockey and entertainment. That diversity worked for him. I prefer to focus on the game I love. There are also practical considerations. Baseball is a year-round game. Spring training is followed by the regular season, the post season, Fall ball, Winter ball. After the last out of the World Series, free agency begins. I wouldn’t be true to myself or my players if I were discussing a contract issue with a defensive tackle instead of monitoring a minor league game where one of my players is struggling or, better yet, hitting for the cycle.
Q: What is it that separates you from other advisors and agents in the business?
Herbie: I believe it’s the productive, honest relationships I establish with my players. I never want the business to grow beyond what I can handle myself. It matters to me that I treat a 30th round guy the same way I treat a first rounder. If I ever had even one player too many I’d know it and my players would know it. They’d sense that my devotion to them was somehow diminished. Unlike many other agents, I'm committed to maintaining close relationships with every player, even if it means limiting the size of my roster.
Q: What are the most important questions a prospective client should be asking when they are choosing an agent?
Herbie: They should ask, Will I be getting someone who is going to be involved with me and my career 24/7, 365 days a year, someone who is available every time I call, even in the middle of the night? Any agent can be a part time consultant. Players need more that. I help guide my players' lives as well as their careers.
Q: ZSMG has been in business for more than 25 years. What has been the key to your success?
Herbie: It’s our vast array of contacts. My dad and I both believe in developing solid working relationships with every level that exists in sports: scouts, farm directors, trainers, equipment managers, GM’s, coaches, and managers. This is, of course, in addition to our commitment to keeping our players happy. We work at becoming friends with everybody.
Q: Some agents treat their clients differently based on their success. How do you view that kind of attitude?
Herbie: I give everybody the same amount of attention. Since every player is a different personality, that attention manifests itself in slightly different ways with everybody. The big money guys may have more complex needs. But they aren’t any more of a friend.
Q: Values seem like a "made up" word in the sports agent business. How do you stay true to yourself and your moral fiber?
Herbie: What separates one person from another in any walk of life is their values. I believe there is a link between values (who you are) and how you feel about your success. Sure, some agents build successful businesses through sneaky, bad-mouthing, cut-throat, player-stealing activities. I couldn’t live with myself if I was that kind of guy. It’s why I don’t call myself an “agent.” Call me naive but I believe the good guys win in the long run.
Last Updated: September 27, 2011