Sports Agent Darek Braunecker On What He Looks for Athletes, Changes in the Business

Darek Braunecker, a former minor league pitcher, started representing athletes after going to work for Stephens Sports Management Inc. in 1997.

Braunecker, 43, was a high school pitcher in Effingham, Ill., and was drafted by the Kansas City Royals out of high school in 1987. He declined the offer and played junior college ball in Indiana. He signed with the Montreal Expos in 1991, but his playing career ended with a shoulder injury after he joined the Cleveland Indians in 1994.

He got his start representing athletes with Stephens Sports Management Inc. of Little Rock in 1997. He was hired to develop the baseball side of the business. When Stephens left the sports management business in 2001, Braunecker started his own firm, Frontline Athlete Management. 

Q: What attracted you to the sports agent business?

A: Simply the business of sports and a somewhat inherent interest in negotiating deals, of any sort, for a living. I’ve also always respected the collectively bargained rights of an individual in team sports and was interested in being an advocate for those individuals.

How has the role of sports agent changed during your time in the game?

We’re probably more involved in the overall business and lives of the athletes than ever before. Originally, the agent simply negotiated contracts for the player (and that’s still the case on occasion), but it’s now more of an all-encompassing role we play in each client’s life, extending well beyond simply providing contract services.

What do you look for in a player that you represent?

First and foremost, we seek people/players who share our interests of integrity, character, discipline, dedication and determination. We do all this with the understanding that if the player possesses these attributes, the player is best prepared to succeed in life, sports and business and that the individual will impact society in a manner that creates a legacy that supersedes any contributions made on a baseball field. We want each person/player we affiliate with to be dedicated to transcending the sport and to utilize the platform provided to them through their talents, opportunities and successes to improve their communities and provide hope, pride and opportunity to others.

How does being a former baseball player give you an edge in negotiating contracts?

I think the most valuable asset I possess as a representative of professional baseball players is that I have some first-hand knowledge of being a professional athlete, but my experience was limited to that of a minor league player. I understand the issues they face in a manner that someone without the experience of having played may not, and I believe that’s beneficial to our clients. In terms of negotiating contracts, it’s somewhat more art than science, but it’s probably more of a product of having been raised in a family automobile dealership and the things I learned from my father growing up in Illinois.

Have you noticed any new trends in athlete contracts — new demands by players or requirements by teams? What about ethics or behavior clauses?

No particularly “new” trends or demands. Contracts are tailored to each individual. There are, however, collectively bargained elements that exist in all uniform player contracts of each sport, but there are also addendums and modifications made to each contract that make each one unique. Clubs have become more conscious of ethical issues and behavior of their athletes and have attempted to include certain language in contracts; however, these are negotiable items. We do try to include certain items of luxury or convenience in our clients’ contracts (hotel suites on the road, certain luxury travel accommodations, charitable contributions by the club to a player’s foundations, etc.), but these vary from one person to the next.