Leigh Steinberg is a long-time sports agent who has represented over 300 athletes across major American sports. He has represented a record eight No. 1 overall NFL draft picks and 12 NFL Hall of Famers, and is also renowned as a philanthropist and author. Steinberg is often credited as being the inspiration behind the 1996 film Jerry Maguire. He currently runs The Agent Academy for aspiring sports agents or those who want to gain an immersive understanding about NIL Marketing and Representation.
We caught up with Leigh for this week’s Friday Five…
Editor’s Note: Find the Extended Version of Nate Boyer’s Friday Five Answers on The 33rd Team Youtube Channel
Who is your biggest mentor?
My father raised us with two values. One was to treasure relationships, especially family. The second was to try to make a meaningful difference in the world and help people who couldn’t help themselves. So, we had clear direction. I’ve always judged myself by: Did I cure pain and suffering? Did I deal with issues? Was I a good father, good son, good brother? Was I good for friends in times of crisis? So, he viewed my brothers and I with those values, and I’ve continued to live by them.
How has the sports agent industry changed the most since you started in the 1970s? How are the biggest ways it’s remained the same?
What’s remained the same is our philosophy of role modeling and having athletes retrace their routes from the high school, college and professional community with programs that enhance the quality of life with the understanding that sports can make an impact. I have Lennox Lewis, the heavyweight champion, tape a public service announcement that said, “Real men don’t hit women,” and that could trigger imitative behavior in rebellious adolescents that 1,000 authority figures never could.
What’s changed is everything else. TV money back in 1975 When I started was $2 million per team per season. Last year, that number was $200 million and in the midst of a cratered pandemic economy, we had Fox and CBS negotiate new TV contracts that went up by 83%. So, we’re rolling in money.
The rate of change is happening exponentially. It’s not linear. It’s jumping and leaping and changing so rapidly. For a concept like NFT—if I had told you five years ago that someone would spend $500,000 buying a piece of art with somebody’s name on it, and it only existed on the computer and it didn’t have a real-world existence, you would have looked at me incredulously…
Give us your best Jerry Maguire story.
Oh, there’s so many of them. The quarterback in the film was played by an actor named Jerry O’Connell. One day, I was out on the field, and I saw that he couldn’t throw very well. I went up to him and he said, Well, you know, I went to NYU, and they didn’t have a football program. So, I showed him how to throw a spiral.
For the film. I took Cuba Gooding Jr with me down to the Super Bowl in Phoenix. He had to stay in his role as a wide receiver client of mine. He hung out with Desmond Howard and Amani Toomer and with our actual clients.
You’re one of the godfathers of the Los Angeles Rams movement, now that the Rams are back in Los Angeles and Super Bowl champions, how does the team build and maintain a thriving fan base that has your passion?
My dad took us to Rams games in the Coliseum in Los Angeles. We sat so high, we needed a telescope to actually identify the players, but that’s how I fell in love with football. I had just done a stint where I helped the mayor of San Francisco keep the Giants from moving to Tampa Bay, and I’d helped with the effort to keep the Oakland A’s up there. So, when the team was going to move, I asked, “What are we passively sitting here for?” If teams move, they destroy the artificial concept that this private business, you owe allegiance to. So, they’re your LA Rams. You have the obligation to stick with them through thick and thin, but they can’t just move.
Now, the best thing you can do in Los Angeles, for a team, is win. So, the most dramatic thing they could have done is win the Super Bowl when the Super Bowl was in Los Angeles. So that created a whole new generation of fans. The second thing we love is stars. We’ve got Cooper Kupp, and we’ve got Aaron Donald. I think that you’re going to see a massive expansion of the fanbase following the Super Bowl.
If you could invite any three people to dinner—living, dead or fictional—who would they be, and why?
Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and maybe Barack Obama. The reason why is that these are people that I admire because they had the courage of their convictions. My dad used to say to me: If you see a problem as minor as picking up a piece of paper off the ground or as major as climate change or racism, the tendency is to wait for “they” or “them” to solve the problem. He would look at me and say, “you will wait forever.” They had the understanding that one individual can make a major difference in the world and change the arc of history.