Cash has been flying across the soccer world this year, with the summer transfer featuring a €126 million deal for a player who had not yet turned 20: João Félix, now with Atlético Madrid. With all that money sloshing around, it should come as no great surprise that soccer players captured the top three spots on Forbes’ list of the world’s highest-paid athletes in June.
It should not be especially surprising, either, that the world’s most powerful sports agent now comes out of soccer.
Having negotiated more than $1.28 billion in active contracts and transfers fees, with his maximum possible commissions exceeding $128 million, Jonathan Barnett climbs to No. 1 on Forbes’ list, from No. 3 last year.
Barnett, co-founder and chairman of the London-based Stellar Group, has represented some of Europe’s top soccer players for more than two decades and also played an instrumental role in bringing cricket to South Africa—at the behest of Nelson Mandela—after the end of Apartheid. Barnett oversees Stellar’s list of more than 200 clients and has negotiated some of the biggest deals in soccer, including Welsh winger Gareth Bale’s massive $33 million-a-year contract with Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid’s $100 million-plus deal with Saúl Ñíguez.
Barnett isn’t the only one having a great year, either. The 50 members of Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful sports agents had negotiated more than $37.5 billion in active player contracts, netting $1.75 billion in maximum possible commissions, as of our cutoff in August. Those figures are up from $33.4 billion and $1.6 billion last year.
Falling behind Barnett in the ranking is baseball agent Scott Boras, who claimed the top spot in each of the six previous iterations of this list. No sports agent in history has negotiated bigger deals than Boras, who manages an astounding $2.38 billion in active contracts, the highest total ever for a single agent. His namesake agency, Boras Corporation, is due nearly $119 million in maximum possible commissions.
Boras has negotiated an astounding 11 contracts exceeding $100 million, including Bryce Harper’s 13-year, $330 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies this past off-season, as well as seven-year contracts for Washington Nationals pitchers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, worth $210 million and $175 million.
Rounding out the top three is Jorge Mendes, perhaps soccer’s best-known agent. Mendes and his Portugal-based agency, Gestifute, have negotiated $1.18 billion in active contracts, for $118 million in maximum possible commissions.
Mendes represents perhaps the single most recognizable athlete in the world: Cristiano Ronaldo. Not only did Mendes negotiate Ronaldo’s $117 million transfer from Real Madrid to Juventus, but he also helped the Portuguese megastar rake in $109 million between salary and endorsements in the 12 months leading up to June by Forbes’ count, making Ronaldo the world’s second-highest-paid athlete. Among Mendes’ other highly paid clients are Manchester City’s trio of Bernardo Silva, João Cancelo and Ederson, as well as Real Madrid’s James Rodríguez.
FIFA (10%) and Major League Baseball (5%) allow agents to charge higher commission rates than the NFL (3%), NHL (4%) or NBA (4%), so it’s no surprise that soccer and baseball agents rank so highly on this list. The average across this year’s top 50 is $34.9 million in maximum possible commissions, including averages per sport of $68.2 million for soccer, $40.9 million for baseball, $31 million for football, $26.9 million for basketball and $24.5 million for hockey.
Jeff Schwartz, founder of Excel Sports Management and the world’s most powerful basketball agent, remains at No. 4 on this year’s list, with $1.8 billion in active contracts and $72.5 million in maximum possible commissions. Schwartz recently negotiated a five-year, $170 million extension for Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, as well as a five-year, $178 million deal for Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton.
Excel Sports partner and baseball agent Casey Close is not far behind at No. 6 on the list, buoyed by the massive six-year, $207 million deal he negotiated for pitcher Zack Greinke. A fellow Excel partner—Mark Steinberg, the world’s top golf agent—moves up to No. 35 thanks in part to the resurgence of his top-earning client, Tiger Woods, who won the Masters in April after playing only one PGA Tour event across 2016 and 2017.
Our ranking of the world’s most powerful sports agents is dominated by Creative Artists Agency, which has 11 agents in the top 50. Among them are the three heads of CAA’s football practice: Tom Condon (No. 9), Todd France (No. 10) and Jimmy Sexton (No. 21). The trio has negotiated more than $4 billion in active NFL contracts, with a combined client list that includes Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Other top CAA negotiators include hockey agent Pat Brisson (No. 12), basketball’s Leon Rose (No. 14) and baseball’s Jeff Berry (No. 15).
Appearing back-to-back on this year’s list are two of the industry’s highest-profile agents: No. 18 Drew Rosenhaus and No. 19 Rich Paul. Rosenhaus has built a football juggernaut in Rosenhaus Sports Representation, which represents nearly 100 clients and has negotiated more than $1.1 billion in active contracts. Paul has made a name for himself and his agency Klutch Sports Group by representing some of the NBA’s biggest stars, including the Los Angeles Lakers’ duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, while negotiating more than $800 million in active deals.
New entrants on this year’s list include No. 22 Craig Oster (hockey), No. 26 Alessandro Lucci (soccer), No. 34 Wade Arnott (hockey), No. 36 Aaron Goodwin (basketball), No. 45 David Mulugheta (football), No. 47 Bouna Ndiaye (basketball) and No. 48 Mark Guy (hockey).
These rankings were compiled through extensive research into the client rosters of each agent and the contracts they negotiated in the team sports of basketball, football, baseball, hockey and soccer. The total contract value under management for each sport was then multiplied by the maximum agent commission (or average when no maximum exists) as allowed by each players’ union: NFL (3%), NHL (4%), NBA (4%), MLB (5%) and FIFA (10%). Agents are ranked in order of the maximum commissions obtainable from the negotiated contracts, instead of the total value of the contracts.
In tennis and golf, sports agents do not make commissions from their clients’ on-court/course earnings, only from the marketing dollars they help generate, for which they receive an average of 20%.
Agents also earn income from negotiating marketing and endorsement contracts for their clients in the big five team sports, but the overall value derived from any such deals is negligible for the average player. While no concrete data exists, Forbes estimates that professional athletes on average may make an additional 1% to 2% of their overall player contract from endorsement earnings, and their agents earn just 15% to 20% of that.