This interview is part of our series, Building Your Team — Helping Professional Athletes Build Their Team of Professionals.
Many professional athletes come into their wealth at an early age, but may not be prepared to manage such a sudden, large influx of earnings. Connecting athletes with trusted advisors is imperative to ensure that these individuals are able to make their wealth last throughout their lifetimes — not just at the peak of their careers.
Professional hockey players face many of the same financial and career management issues that confront professional athletes in other sports. Choosing the right agent is a crucial stepping stone to overcoming the myriad challenges that accompany the transition from amateur ranks to maximizing endorsement opportunities as a pro.
Pat Brisson is the co-head of the hockey division at CAA Sports, a division of the leading entertainment and sports agency, Creative Artists Agency (CAA). A former junior hockey player himself, Brisson, along with partner J.P. Barry, co-manages a high-profile client list and has negotiated many record-breaking contracts during his tenure at CAA. In 2018, "Forbes" named Brisson the ninth most valuable agent in professional sports for managing top-level clients such as Sidney Crosby and Anze Kopitar.
Charles Frazier, sports and entertainment banking team lead at City National, sat down with Brisson to discuss how he handles CAA Hockey's impressive roster of NHL talent as well as what changes may be looming on the business side of the sport.
Charles Frazier: How has your passion for hockey led you to your current role as co-head of hockey at CAA?
Pat Brisson: I grew up playing the game starting at the age of three. My grandfather was a hockey player.
Where I'm from, everyone in the neighborhood played the game. Hockey, for us, was like religion. I played up to pro in Europe and I tried out for the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens.
Along the way I made a lot of friends. I always tell young athletes — use hockey to your advantage. Don't let hockey use you. I understood the game well. I understood the locker room well. So, I connected well with players, which has been vital in my career as an agent.
Frazier: What are three characteristics that a hockey player should look for when they're looking for an agent?
Brisson: Number one: You have to look for someone with experience. That doesn't mean someone who's been doing this for two or three years, but someone who has a reputation for knowing what he's doing. You don't learn overnight.
Number two: You need someone who's going to be passionate about you and someone you can trust.
And number three, someone who'll be available for you. We're busy here. We're a big firm. But at the same time we return all our phone calls within the same day. No client is more important than another, and all our clients to need to feel that from us.
Frazier: What facet of a hockey player's game gets overlooked but you think is vital?
Brisson: Most players play the game because they love it. But there come times where there are struggles, pitfalls and adversity.
Some kids have the talent to be more than what they think. We really try to help them — not only by encouraging them, but also by working with them psychologically. The general message that I have for them: Enjoy the moment and make sure you absorb everything.
Frazier: Are there any things that you've seen in your past that are kind of telltale signs that a player's not going to make it?
Brisson: Those are the guys, for the most part, who would point fingers when things didn't work out. You're in charge of your career. You're driving the bus. Understanding your role is important too. The ones who don't pan out, a lot of times, had a lot of talent and had the ability, but the mental side was missing.
Frazier: How do you guide a player and his family through the transition from hey, I got drafted to now what?
Brisson: The first year it's getting to know the team that drafted you. Usually they have a camp for about a week, where they have a chance to show the coaches what type of player they are during drills, scrimmages and fitness testing. But for 90 percent of the players drafted, they go back to the team that they were on. They're still young. They're still developing. But it's another step towards making it to the NHL and so we have conversations with the development team to work the path to their success.
And also observe the veterans — the guys who are 29, 30 years old. The guys who have been in the league for 10 years — they must be doing something right.
Frazier: What are the most important things you think a player and their family should know as they're becoming a professional?
Brisson: The closer you get to the peak of the pyramid, the harder it gets. When you play youth hockey, you can control certain things that obviously you can't control as much in juniors or college. But when you get to the NHL, it's a business. I'm not saying that you should accept everything that is presented to you, but coaches and general managers are hired and fired based on wins and losses. So you have to adapt.
I also like my young players to identify with older players who have gone through a similar path. If you're 19 and you go to camp and there's a kid who's drafted fairly high but he's 24 and now he's been in the league for three years, try to find out how this guy made it. You may learn from him.
Frazier: For your veteran clients, how is that relationship maintained and how is it different for a new guy who's just coming in?
Brisson: Well, it's no different because some of these veterans try to adapt and stay on top. The young guys who are coming in the league are pushing hard and are coming in the league with a different set of training — kids today do more power skating, more shooting, more this, more that. We talk about how the veterans can work on their games or they can change their training regimens too. In life, the difference between 22 and 32 may not seem big, but it is in hockey.
Frazier: What are some of the ways that you help your clients maximize their off-the-field opportunities in the form of endorsements or marketing deals?
Brisson: If you're marketable, and you're in the right market, and you're willing, we have a lot of experience in those areas in order to help our players.
Frazier: What, if any, future changes do you see with the agent-client relationship going forward?
The days of the contract-only relationship and talking to a player twice a year are far gone. Agents have to be able to give great advice to players off the ice as well. What's becoming important now is the concierge service where we provide a lot of help to the player and his family. Their career as an athlete is short, for the most part, so if you have an opportunity to do a deal where you can be set for life, be smart about it. This is when we refer players to a few financial advisors that we like and trust.
This article is for general information and education only. It is provided as a courtesy to the clients and friends of City National Bank (City National). City National does not warrant that it is accurate or complete. Opinions expressed and estimates or projections given are those of the authors or persons quoted as of the date of the article with no obligation to update or notify of inaccuracy or change. This article may not be reproduced, distributed or further published by any person without the written consent of City National. Please cite source when quoting.