The Business of Baker Mayfield
Part 12 of our draft season series on Baker Mayfield, the 2018 draft’s most fascinating prospect on and off the field
There comes a moment in the draft process when the highest profile prospects realize, for the first time, what they’re worth in a purely fiscal sense. For Baker Mayfield, it wasn’t the Nike-Adidas talks or the paid trip to Super Bowl week; it was an email delivered to his marketing representative by a memorabilia dealer: seven figures over three years for some signatures and game-used gear.
“He was like, tell me [the dollar amount], and I kept smiling,” says Patrick Hayes, Mayfield’s marketing representative who met the quarterback in his final year of college when Mayfield was in his first year on OU’s campus. “It was one of those, Put your hand over your mouth and walk away moments. He’s just trying to get on a team. We had never talked about, if you get drafted 1-5, how much he’d make. But on the marketing side, the player holds more of the power.”
Take a step back and consider the following scenario: An 18-year-old, through talent and effort, earns fame and contributes to earning millions in revenue for a state institution. Yet he finds himself barred by a coalition of said institutions from receiving financially commensurate benefits, or profiting independently, on the strength of that fame. Then, three to five years later, he’s thrust into the free market, and provided he kept his health and played at an elite level, stands to earn a few million dollars in a year’s time. In the meantime, a tiny economy trafficking in millions of dollars sprouts in the wake of him joining the market, with the livelihoods of hundreds directly affected by his choices and actions.
Now ask yourself this: In what other avenue of American life could this scenario play out?
“I don’t know if many of these players look back at college and say, Oh I would’ve made this amount if I was compensated for jersey sales, or if I was on that ticket or that poster. Baker and I haven’t had that conversation,” Hayes says. “But I think once they start seeing the money come in, it’s like they realize they’ve started getting what they deserve. It’s real now.”
The money that changes hands during the four frantic months between the end of the college football season and the draft—whether it’s a player realizing his earning power, agents vying to represent those interests, or a team pumping resources into scouting that player—can change lives, define the future of iconic American brands, and determine the fortunes and failures of NFL franchises. In Part 12 of our series on Mayfield, we dive into the tiny economy behind an elite college quarterback’s transition to the pros.
The machine gears up well before the end of the college football season, of course. While NCAA institutions profit almost exclusively from a labor force paid in housing, meals, medical care, scholarships in the tens of thousands of dollars and expert coaching, the influencers for the next phase begin to position themselves. An NFL team, for instance, invests in scouts who can visit a school as often as the team would like—often more than a half-dozen times—to see a prospect in person. Agents fly across the country with informational packets for athletes, and companies like Nike, Adidas and Under Armour begin relationships with athletes early through apparel contracts with schools.
Nike, which in 2014 extended its deal with Oklahoma (paying more than $5 million annually to outfit OU teams through 2024), had long provided Mayfield with the headband that became a personal signature for the Heisman winner. Beyond Mayfield’s familiarity with the brand, Nike found itself in a position of power with all potential signees after signing Penn State running back Saquon Barkely, a likely Top 5 pick, early in the process.
“When that happened, Nike was able to say, We have the hottest guy right now, so we don’t really need anybody else,” says one longtime NFL marketing rep who has dealt with Nike in numerous negotiations. “In signing with them early, Saquon really hurt the market for everyone else.”
Nike negotiations took on a more formal tone than Adidas, and were more focused on Mayfield proving himself down the road than rolling out a big campaign immediately—the latter was Adidas’ pitch. During negotiations, Mayfield wore some Adidas gear during a throwing session at the combine, which led to some terse interactions with Nike reps. Mayfield ultimately went with Nike due, in part, to being comfortable with the products.
“This was an extremely difficult decision,” says Lindsey Waterhouse, Hayes’ partner at their Los Angeles-based marketing firm. “We loved what Adidas was doing and thought Baker fit in with the creativity and content they were producing. However, it all comes down to what Baker and his team valued most when it came to wearing a cleat and it was overall performance, comfort and his history with the brand. What the client wants, the client gets.”
Among Mayfield’s other marketing interests: an exclusive memorabilia deal, a trading card promotion, and a docu-series on the pre-draft process titled Behind Baker, with a payout dependent on the producer’s ability to sell the show.
Hayes declined to share financials for the spring haul, but the marketing agent who has dealt with Nike and negotiated marketing deals for a handful of first-round picks says a quarterback of Mayfield’s talent and profile should bring in between $1 and $2 million in the months leading up to the draft.
“It doesn’t all happen in that window, but if done right, that’s where you should land,” says the agent. “Sometimes you are positioning that entire period and then get deal done post-draft. Immediate deals that need to be decided upon by top of draft QBs are trading cards, memorabilia, and shoe and apparel. Many of those deals can also be tied to draft selection on payout because there is uncertainty on how high guys go.
“The QBs that usually make the most money in that period are former Heisman winners with high draft status—Tebow, Manziel, Mariota and now likely Baker.”
On the team side, the numbers get easier to pin down. Senior Bowl czar Phil Savage, former general manager of the Browns and, most recently in the NFL, a player personnel exec with the Eagles from 2011-12, says that if a team is scouting five quarterbacks with the intention to draft one of them in the first round, they can expect to spend between a half-million and a million dollars on the position. Savage’s estimates:
• 5 school visits by scouts = $5,000 • Senior Bowl = $25,000 staff • Combine = $40,000 staff • Pro Day = $5,000 • Private workout = $50,000 plane • Org Visit = $2,500 travel and dinner • Psych/Profile test = $5,000
“We always said each player on the board represented 24-36 man hours to get him up there,” Savage says. “I’m guessing $100-150K per quarterback.”
A portion of those man hours are spent communicating logistics with the network of agents representing clients and arranging various visits and workouts. In certain cases, those agents use their insight into the league to prioritize one team over another. Mayfield was initially satisfied with forgoing the traditional NFL agent; his brother Matt, and father, James, work in finance; Hayes had partnered with Waterhouse on the marketing side; and they planned to hire a contract lawyer to help with his rookie deal. Boulder, Colo.-based agent Jack Mills, of Capital Sports Advisors, had affirmed their thinking, reaching out via mutual friend last year to tell the Mayfield family that, given the family’s expertise, Baker’s profile and talent and the NFL’s pre-structured rookie contracts, the quarterback didn’t need an agent.
“And when we heard that we thought, well that’s pretty self-defeating for you, but also uniquely honest,” says Matt Mayfield, Baker’s older brother. “And it went further along and we realized we needed a middle man and someone with the expertise who knew the nuance and the politics, plus Baker started hearing teammates and friends talk about what their agents were doing for them. He’s looking to his left and right and saying, I don’t have any of that.
Jack and Tom ended up being a unique fit in terms of personality and approach. He met with them and signed on the spot. “I think Baker’s words to us were, ‘These are my guys.’”
The Millses—Jack and his son Tom—offered to manage the relationships with the teams in the pre-draft process, provide comparatively modest cash for considerations like personal training and housing in Los Angeles and negotiate the rookie deal for less than the shifting industry standard fee of 3% (a number that now only rarely applies to first-rounders, who have found more than a handful of agents willing to go down—a source of some crisis among agents).
In exchange for performing amended agents’ duties and an investment of about $50,000 by the Millses (fees include a QB trainer, housing, car rental, apartment rental and travel between Oklahoma and Los Angeles), the Mayfields promised they would remain with the agency in the second contract negotiations, after Baker completes his rookie deal. It’s a model that could work for future rookies with the right support network in place.
“Baker’s in a unique situation, but the other agents really didn’t have a whole lot to offer,” Matt says. “The CAAs, Octagons, I could go down the list [of agencies] that we ran off pretty quickly. We’re doing the financials and the marketing and budgeting. The advances, training, life-coaching, some of the extras they promote, that just wasn’t a fit. He wanted someone to handle some of the intermediary stuff and negotiations we didn’t have time for and didn’t have time to learn. Tom and Jack Mills know their stuff and their personalities are a perfect fit with Baker and our family.
“Comparing players is like comparing apples to basketballs. Everyone’s situation is different, but the whole agent model seems to be changing for some of the more high-profile guys, for sure.”
Mayfield’s personal approach has empowered a network of handpicked advisors and family to execute a limited but aggressive approach to marketing as he readies for the NFL. That formula squeezed out a longtime beneficiary: the University of Oklahoma, who has had some of its requests for Mayfield appearances in Norman rejected by the quarterback.
“Baker earned the opportunity they gave him and he will be eternally grateful,” says Matt. “In turn, he helped bring in a huge revenue stream and recruiting base. It’s his time now to go and start making a living for himself and start a new chapter. Everyone—Baker, the coaches—has to keep moving forward, and at the end of the day, with a big time D-I program like OU, it is a business.”
As for that memorabilia offer, the one that opened his eyes to his place in the football economy? “We actually didn’t take that offer,” Hayes says. Somebody came around with a better one.
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