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Ronnie Zeidel and His Continued Quest for Agency Success

Tyler Endebrock

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A year after founding his agency, Zeidel is poised for a big 2018.

Ronnie Zeidel’s basketball client Reggie Upshaw. Image via Ronnie Zeidel

About a year ago, Ronnie Zeidel sat down with Front Office Sports to talk about his transition into the athlete representation side of basketball with his founding of RZA Sports.

With a resume full of accomplishments that run deep in the basketball space, Zeidel has worked in marketing, collegiate scouting, sponsorship sales, media and more. His unique blend of experience, including working for the Knicks, the NBA, and SLAM Magazine, gave Zeidel a great foundation to take a confident, yet risky leap into the sports agency world.

One year later, Zeidel can already see his new venture is paying off.

“Year one was certainly a handful, but it wasn’t more than I anticipated,” said Zeidel. “I was eager to establish an identity by getting my website and branding created quickly. I also had to study for the NBPA and FIBA agent exams, begin recruiting and networking, develop strong and reliable relationships overseas and solidify my great contacts at the NBA. It was a lot to take on, especially since I don’t cut corners.”

Ronnie Zeidel’s basketball client Reggie Upshaw. Image via Ronnie Zeidel

He must have done something right, as year one saw RZA Sports sign a handful of impressive players to contracts in prestigious European leagues, such as Spain’s ACB and Germany’s BBL. From Tim Kempton and Reggie Upshaw to Marquis Wright, Eric Fanning and others, Zeidel is seeing success with his guys overseas.

He has also had some difficult choices to make in recruiting players. He was hesitant at first to sign Jaylen Morris, a division 2 player, because he knew that reputable European teams were unlikely to take a chance on a D2 kid. But Zeidel really believed in Jaylen, and decided to sign him, knowing he would have to work much harder to help guide this young prospect.

“I took Jaylen out to Vegas to showcase his game, and he played great, but we had no takers in Europe,” explained Zeidel. “I was able to secure five G League workouts, and he was drafted in the 2nd round by the Erie Bayhawks. His stat that makes me the proudest is that he is leading the team in minutes. Now, a D2 kid with no prospects is proving to the industry that he can play at a high level, and he is not even close to his ceiling. I doubt I’ll ever take on another D2 kid, but I guess never say never.”

With year two of RZA Sports off and running, Zeidel can focus more on his current and potential clients rather than the first-year startup hurdles.

“It was a great first year, but now I want to step things up a bit. I often refer to this year as RZA 2.0.” Zeidel explained. To that end, he’s been traveling, recruiting, building relationships and making sure his clients are happily situated with their teams.

“It is not always easy for an American player to acclimate to a new country and new culture,” said Zeidel. “It’s just not for everyone. They need their agent to be a mentor that cares enough to stay the course in order to help them adjust.”

Whether it’s a language barrier or even food barrier (one client lost 17 pounds), Zeidel does everything in his power to make his clients more comfortable without physically being there for them.

He can now look to market his current clients for better opportunities and other options around the world next year. He plans to use the relationships he built in year one and over his 27 years in the business to help navigate the collegiate recruiting landscape for Year 2.0. However, he’s very particular in the way he recruits.

“I’m a big believer that these student-athletes should not have distractions throughout the season, whether that’s from agents or anyone else,” explained Zeidel. “They should be focused on their team, their coaches, and their game. It doesn’t really help anyone if I bug them during the season. It’s just too disruptive and that’s not my style.”

With a better understanding of the representation landscape, and more time to focus on recruiting and building his client base, Zeidel can use his experience to go after NBA caliber talent.

“Obviously, only a select few college kids play in the NBA year one,” Zeidel added. “With Reggie and Tim as my first two building blocks, I hope to help lead them and my future partners to success at the NBA level. There are also many terrific opportunities overseas or at the G League for talented, hungry ball players. I want partners who are committed to making it as a pro in whatever league fits them best.”

If a player is talented but a handful to deal with, that relationship might not be right for Zeidel.

“Some of the kids I recruit are unrealistic about the NBA, so if we’re not on the same page, I will usually step aside and not pursue signing them.”

Zeidel understands the importance of relationships. He cares for his clients deeply, and wants to see them succeed. Zeidel can feel the stress of taking care of his clients.

“The one thing that keeps me up at night is the possibility of any of my guys not having a job,” Zeidel said. “You recruit these guys all year, sign them, and then work with the NBA teams to secure as many pre-draft workouts as possible. You hope they’re drafted but if not, and if they don’t have success in Vegas at Summer League, you market them to Europe.”

“We’re in a good situation with our guys right now, but I do have one incredibly talented player who wasn’t ready for Europe in August due to an injury, and didn’t get drafted by the G League. I am not kidding when I tell you that I lose sleep every night worrying about finding him the right job in Europe. I am hoping to get him settled ASAP.”

Ronnie Zeidel’s basketball client Tim Kempton. Image via Ronnie Zeidel

“As an agent, your job is to put the player in the best position to win and be happy,” added Zeidel. “As a player, their job is to work hard, be a good teammate, and do everything they can to win.”

Zeidel knows there is so much more that happens off the court for both the agent and the player. So, for Zeidel, it is about helping that player navigate his career both on and off the court, and reading and reacting to everything that comes their way.

With two kids of his own, Zeidel sees firsthand how different two people can be from one another. The same thing translates to his clients.

“They are all amazing people but no two are the same. It’s funny, they are truly like extended family.”

Zeidel will make a trip to Europe in January to see his clients and continue to build his relationships.

“The trip will give me a chance to spend time with my guys,” said Zeidel. “I can’t wait to see how they’re acclimating to the country, the league and their coaches.”

RZA 2.0 is accelerating quickly with no sign of stopping. Zeidel can now take more time to put his years of scouting to use by traveling around the country and finding the next best client. As for what Zeidel considers when deciding whether to recruit a player?

“I look for two things when I recruit: talent comes first but work ethic and hunger are next. I recruit ballers, young men that I believe in and guys that are as hungry on the court as I am off it. And they know I grind every day, so they believe in me too.”

Zeidel sums it up as follows: “There is never a dull day in this business and I love every minute of it.”

With an optimistic outlook, a year of representation under his belt, and a budding list of clients, RZA 2.0 should be an even greater success for Zeidel and his clients.


You can find more information about Ronnie Zeidel and RZA Sports on the agency’s website, as well as Twitter (personal and company) Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.


This piece has been presented to you by SMU’s Master of Science in Sport Management.


Front Office Sports is a leading multi-platform publication and industry resource that covers the intersection of business and sports.

Want to learn more, or have a story featured about you or your organization? Contact us today.

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Tyler is a contributor with FOS. He recently graduated from the St. Thomas University School of Law, where he received a joint JD/MBA in Sports Administration degree, and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Florida. He has held positions with Select Sports Group, Sure Sports, the University of Florida Athletic Association, Gatorade, and more. Tyler can be reached at tyler.endebrock@gmail.com.

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Lack of Concussion Knowledge Showcases Insurance Needs for Organizations

Uncertainties of long-term head trauma impacts leave sports organizations at risk, seeking preventative and proactive measures like concussion insurance.

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Once seen as a minor inconvenience in sports, concussions are now among the most worrisome injuries for athletes – as well as for teams and leagues.

Along with increasingly stringent protocols at all athletic levels, the long-term effects of sports-related concussions are also coming to light with regularity. While science is continually improving, there are still latency issues with concussion symptoms and delays in how brain trauma can develop following an initial injury.

Because of these neurological complications, teams and leagues are working on their risk management strategies for the devastating injuries, which can include concussion insurance.

The potential for later development of head trauma issues years after an actual injury is a reason that insurance companies suggest that sports teams and leagues carry coverage that does not have restrictions in the event that they face litigation from an athlete who alleges there was a failure to warn them about the risk of a sports-related head injury, a failure to protect them from a head injury or a failure to diagnose and treat a head injury, said Bob Murphy, managing partner of Insurance Office of America, or IOA.

READ MORE: How Riddell Is Changing the Game With New Football Helmet Technology

As the head of IOA’s Global Sports and Entertainment practice, Murphy works with a wide variety of sports and entertainment clients, ranging from sports teams and leagues to health and fitness clubs and sporting venues.

“[Future complications from head trauma] presents a tremendous amount of exposure for sports entities,” Murphy said of concussion issues. “The challenge for all parties is the delay between an injury and the onset of symptoms — as well as pinpointing when that injury may have happened.

“The risk and uncertainty are the reasons we advise all sports leagues, teams, and organizations to make sure their risk management practices cover concussion-related sports injuries.”

Insurance for concussions and other head trauma should be a focus for organizations at all levels, Murphy said, while players would be covered through employers or individually in the event of injuries.

Organizations can also choose to provide specific concussion coverage for their athletes, both professional and amateur. Iowa became the seventh state to offer concussion insurance for its high school athletes in August through the HeadStrong Concussion Insurance program, providing a $0 copay and $0 deductible for assessments and follow-ups. Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin, and Wyoming also provide similar coverage.

The NFL gets most of the public scrutiny when it comes to concussions, in part because so many players have posthumously been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Hollywood’s take on the NFL concussion issue — through the movie “Concussion” starring Will Smith — likely didn’t help the sport’s public perception.

American football, however, is tied with lacrosse for the fourth-highest rate of concussion-related injuries at eight percent, according to the National Safety Council. Hockey tops the list at 12 percent, followed by snowboarding and water tubing. Horseback riding, rugby, and wrestling follow football.

READ MORE: Safety First: NASCAR Introduces Expanded Concussion Protocol

Murphy said there’s no hard data for which sports have the highest percentage of teams or leagues carrying concussion insurance.

While teams and leagues can be at risk of potential repercussions because of head trauma injuries, Murphy said it’s important to not lose sight of the prevention improvements made in the past years to make sports safer.

Rules, coaching, and equipment might have actually reduced the number of concussions in sports, but because of medical improvements, head trauma and its severity are much easier to detect today, leading to more scrutiny surrounding the injuries.

“There is no doubt sports are much safer than they were 10, 20 or 30 years ago,” Murphy said. “There aren’t necessarily more concussions in sports today than there were in past decades, it’s just that the ability to recognize and treat sports-related concussions is far better than it was even a few years ago.”

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How Gateway Motorsports Park Involved Loyal Fans for Its Latest Upgrades

In partnership with Maryville University, Gateway surveyed its most passionate fans on what they wanted to see improved at GMP.

Kraig Doremus

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With a desire to offer the best fan experience in all of motorsports, Gateway Motorsports Park has taken a unique step to find out what fans want to see improved at GMP.

Gateway, which hosts NHRA, INDYCAR racing and a NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series event, worked with Maryville University to determine a wide range of questions to ask the most important person that steps foot on track property: the fan.

Gateway first conducted a survey following its 2017 INDYCAR events and had worked with the NHRA on general surveys about race day experience, but Owner and President Curtis Francois and his team wanted a survey that the fans could complete right after a major event.

“After we saw feedback from our 2017 survey, we knew we should do more surveys for our events,” said Francois. “We want the fans to have a voice. Many are very loyal and email at least once a month. We got a lot of ‘thank yous’ from our fans for allowing their voice to be heard and ideas processed.”

READ MORE: How NASCAR Stays Up to Speed in the Ever-Changing Digital Space

The goal of the surveys? Not only to determine what Gateway Motorsports Park does well, but to take a look at what they need to improve so that fans attending an event at GMP can have the best race day experience in motorsports.

“The surveys gave us a direct line to know what the fans are thinking about Gateway,” Francois said. “We are not afraid of criticism. We want the truth and to be able to fix problems. Anything we can control, we’ll fix. Our fans are some of the most loyal in racing, and at Gateway, the grassroots fan rules. We want to make sure our spectators have as good an experience at Gateway as at another facility.”

Among the major points that the fan surveys took the leadership at GMP was that spectators wanted simplicity when it came to seating levels and pricing.

“Our premium seats that are located right at the start-finish line are now checkered, while our general admission seats are gray. It’s much easier for the fans to distinguish between seating levels. General admission is gray on our seating map because it’s a gray bench seat. It’s very user and fan friendly. The fans can look at our map and see the different colors, which correspond to a different price and purchase what they want.”

Purchasing tickets was another big item that the fans brought to Francois’ attention through the surveys.

“We gave our fans options with ticket packages, including our new checkered-flag club,” said Francois. “We noticed that the majority of fans who buy seats in our checkered-flag area were buying every add-on possible.”

With the addition of the checkered-flag club, instead of having to buy a seat and wait for upgrades to come out at a later date, fans may purchase everything from parking, a grandstand seat and upgrades all with one click.

It was not an overnight process for Gateway Motorsports Park to redevelop its seating levels and ticket packages. It took time for the track leadership to figure out the best way to package everything, but Francois believes it has been a hit.

“This year, we were able to finalize a seating layout for INDYCAR and NASCAR and lock things down to make a great ticket package for the fans,” said Francois. “In the first two years, it was a bit of a puzzle to figure things out. Fans love having a chance to buy things in bulk and not only get the best deal, but also get a wider seat this year. The response has been great.”

One of the final changes to GMP was moving the video screen more than 300 feet closer to the grandstands, so that the fans can have a better look at the on-track action.

Francois and company worked with Screenworks during its second INDYCAR event in 2017 to take measurements of the boards and look at locations. Four weeks later, the Screenworks team finalized a location for a screen that moved closer to the start-finish line.

“All of our video boards are portable,” Francois said. “We used a lot of trial and error and spent ample time with the Screenworks crew analyzing the decision.”

An avid NASCAR fan is probably wondering if Gateway Motorsports Park has its eye on receiving a date on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule.

WATCH: Inside Toyota’s Massive Daytona Activation

While coy on the subject, Francois and his team have seen that Gateway can host successful events at the highest level. Whether it’s an INDYCAR event with 40,000 fans or a sold-out NHRA event, the St. Louis community supports all types of motorsports, including the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series event that takes place at GMP each year.

“Certainly, if a Cup race came to Gateway, we would be able to host it,” said Francois.

Francois and his team refuse to settle and have a “can’t stop, won’t stop” attitude when it comes to making Gateway Motorsports Park one of the best facilities in the country.

“Every day, I come to my office at GMP and take personal pride in making sure that the facility is as good as it can be. We’ve become a trendsetter with renovations and upgrades because we never stop. I drive the facility, talk to our fans and stakeholders. We listen and implement changes that address any concerns. The net effect of that, over seven years I’ve owned Gateway, has been that we are setting the trend right along with the biggest facilities in the country. We have local ownership and a great relationship with fans and media. We want the track to be the best it can be. That’s the driving force behind the improvements. We will do what it takes.”

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One of Next Year’s Biggest NFL Free Agents May Not Be a Player

David Mulugheta is only 35, but has negotiated in excess of $500 million in contracts.

Scot Chartrand

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David Mulugheta with clients – (l to r) Deshaun Watson, Landon Collins, Quinten Rollins, Quandre Diggs, agent David Mulugheta, and Bobby Wagner (Photo via David Mulugheta)

David Mulugheta (@davidmulugheta) is only 35 years old, but he’s already earned his way atop the NFL agent business.

In eight short years representing players, he has already developed a roster of 30 of the league’s most exciting stars, including All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, three-time All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner, All-Pro cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and Casey Hayward, All-Pro guard Kelechi Osemele, All-Pro safety Landon Collins, Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Thomas and second-year star quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Collectively, Mulugheta has negotiated in excess of $500 million in contracts, with roughly half his roster poised to sign massive second deals in the coming years.

Mulugheta has spent his entire career as a member of industry powerhouse Athletes First (A1) and confirmed that he is engaged in negotiations with Athletes First to potentially become an equity partner as opposed to experiencing his own free agency for the first time in his career.

The Path to Becoming an Agent

Mulugheta’s path to success has been anything but conventional.

As the son of Eritrean immigrants who fled a war-torn country in search of a better life, Mulugheta learned through his parents’ struggle and sacrifice that hard work and dedication were the keys to success.

Neither of his parents spoke English when they arrived in the states and were forced to take jobs that required them to work incredibly long hours for very little pay in return.

Mulugheta’s father worked as a taxi driver by day and as a gas station attendant by night, while his mother cleaned homes and took care of the children.

Given that both parents worked full-time and were unable to afford childcare, Mulugheta’s father occasionally had his sons ride along in his cab, making for a unique babysitting arrangement.

And while his parents were proud of the opportunities they were able to provide their family, they wanted more for Mulugheta and his siblings, so they prioritized the importance of education above all else. They saw it as the key to the American Dream.

To illustrate his parents’ focus on academic achievement, Mulugheta recalled a time his eighth-grade teacher paid his parents a visit at the family’s home in Dallas.

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His father was asleep, during a rare break from work, and woke up to Mulugheta’s teacher sitting in the family’s living room. The teacher had made an in-person trip to inform Mulugheta’s parents that he had been disrupting the class.

“So, what’s his grade in the class?” his father asked bluntly. “A ninety-nine,” the teacher responded.

Mulugheta’s father, impressed with his son’s accomplishment and not concerned with nonsense, casually turned around and left to go back to sleep.

He cared that his son got the job done. He wasn’t preoccupied with the style points.

Along with Mulugheta, each of his siblings met the high academic expectations set by their household and received the education that their parents had always envisioned.

His older and younger brothers earned an MBA and J.D., respectively, each from Southern Methodist University (SMU); while his sister attended Harvard University, which led to a unique opportunity.

In the midst of her undergraduate studies, Mulugheta’s sister took a year and a half leave of absence to work for President Barack Obama’s administration at the White House. As both her service and the Obama presidency concluded, the family was invited to take a photo with the 44th President.

David Mulugheta and family with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office (Photo via David Mulugheta)

From a small village in Africa, to an invitation to meet the President of the United States in the Oval Office, Mulugheta’s parents personified the American Dream. As a constant reminder of how far they’ve come, the picture of the family standing shoulder-to-shoulder with President Obama sits on Mulugheta’s desk.

Similar to his sister, Mulugheta’s time in college led him down a unique path. At the University of Texas at Austin, Mulugheta developed friendships with, and earned the respect of, a number of football players, including running back Jamaal Charles, who was preparing to enter the NFL at the time. Having just applied to law school at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Mulugheta planned to study corporate law, however, during a trip to visit Charles in California in advance of the NFL Draft, Mulugheta met agent Andrew Kessler and everything changed.

Kessler, who was one of Charles’ agents at Athletes First (A1), asked if Mulugheta would be interested in an internship at the agency. Instantly attracted to the opportunity to not only represent athletes like his friend Charles and help them maximize their potential but also to work in an industry that he loved, Mulugheta began to imagine a new career path upon graduating from law school.

Mulugheta with Earl Thomas (left) and Jamaal Charles (right) (Photo via David Mulugheta)

Hitting the Ground Running

Mulugheta began his career by signing future hall of famer, Earl Thomas. With over 800 certified agents competing to represent the best talent entering the NFL, Mulugheta’s ability to sign Thomas, immediately made him a viable player in the industry. Eight years later, Thomas is a six-time Pro Bowl selection and Super Bowl champion who has earned in excess of $50 million on the field.

Following Thomas in 2012, Mulugheta continued to sign big names, including current Raiders All-Pro guard Kelechi Osemele and former Giants linebacker Keenan Robinson.

Once Mulugheta’s breakout draft class of 2013 was announced, NFL insiders and key industry stakeholders began to take notice.

After landing first-round safety Kenny Vaccaro as a client, he also signed additional draft picks Marquise Goodwin, Alex Okafor, and Brandon Jenkins.

Mulugheta believes that Earl Thomas’s success on the field and his status as a former Longhorn was one of the keys to recruiting other Texas Exes (Vaccaro, Goodwin, and Okafor all attended UT).

Mulugheta’s success continued, as he secured first rounder Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama in 2014, followed by first-round pick Malcom Brown (DT) and fellow Texas alumni Quandre Diggs, and Malcolm Brown (RB) signed on two years later in a class along with second-round safety Landon Collins and cornerback Quinten Rollins of Miami University (Ohio).

Mulugheta with Jalen Ramsey (right) and Corey Coleman (middle) (Photo via David Mulugheta)

First round picks continued to come Mulugheta’s way — Jalen Ramsey and Corey Coleman joined Mulugheta’s roster in 2016. Deshaun Watson, Malik Hooker, Charles Harris, Budda Baker and Montravius Adams headlined an impressive 2017 NFL Draft class.

Add in several star veteran signees, and his current client list becomes unprecedentedly stacked for such a young agent.

Most recently, Mulugheta landed projected 2018 first round pick, Florida State safety Derwin James. Coupled with the fact that he and his wife welcomed their third child, 2018 is shaping up to be another good year for the Mulugheta family.

All told, Mulugheta’s roster includes:

  • 9 total 1st Round draft picks
  • 7 total 2nd Round draft picks
  • 25 combined Pro Bowl appearances
  • 3 Super Bowl championships

Mulugheta’s 2017 Draft Class – (l to r) Charles Harris, Budda Baker, Deshaun Watson, agent David Mulugheta, Montravius Adams, and Malik Hooker (Photo via David Mulugheta)

The 2017 season was particularly successful for Mulugheta’s clients. A whopping nine of them were selected to the Pro Bowl in Orlando, and a tenth (Deshaun Watson) almost certainly would have joined them if not for a season-ending knee injury.

“Because of what my parents had accomplished, I grew up knowing the only limits that exist are the ones we set,” Mulugheta noted looking back on the unprecedented success from 2017.

Only in his mid-30s, it’s incredible what he’s been able to achieve in a business where the vast majority of elite agents have 20+ years of experience under their belts.

Mulugheta with Deshaun Watson (Photo via David Mulugheta)

Keys to Success as a Rising, Young Agent

How has Mulugheta been able to gain such significant success? He attributes it to his commitment to building and maintaining genuine relationships.

Handling 30 clients while attempting to create a 1:1, relationship-based experience for each individual is no small task in his business.

In order to preserve the level of personal attention and connection with his players, Mulugheta has been thoughtful about how to effectively grow his clientele.

“You have to be tactful and critical. You want good players, but more importantly, you want good people,” Mulugheta said.

Since Mulugheta prides himself on his hands-on approach to representation, maintaining a selective client list is pivotal.

“Small, but powerful,” Mulugheta pointed out. “The important thing is that you work with quality players that share your values and inspire you. It makes taking those 2 am or 3 am calls a lot easier.”

To Mulugheta, his players are more than just clients, they are family. He treats them as younger brothers and believes that it’s his responsibility to ensure they reach their full potential, both on and off the football field. Not satisfied with only being the man who helped his clients get good contracts, Mulugheta strives for deeper, lifelong connections with them. He serves as a godfather to some of his clients’ children and acted as best man at a number of their weddings.

This approach has fostered a number of strong bonds, not only between Mulugheta and his clients but also among his clients themselves.

Mulugheta with Jalen Ramsey (left) and Derwin James (right) (Photo via David Mulugheta)

For instance, leading up to this April’s NFL Draft, Mulugheta’s newest client, Florida State safety Derwin James, has been training out west in Orange County, California.

Fellow Athletes First safeties Earl Thomas and Landon Collins both flew out to Southern California to work with James at Mulugheta’s request.

“We are a small family, and we look out for each other,” Mulugheta said.You have guys who are interested in mentoring others. That’s a big plus, to have guys who really want to be successful, and at the same time willing to help one another. Men who truly personify the proverb, iron sharpens iron.”

Mulugheta believes his family-oriented style has created an environment where players have high expectations for success and hold each other accountable, not wanting to let the other members of their family down.

A cursory look at Mulugheta’s Instagram feed (@davidmulugheta) shows you how much he values these relationships. You’ll see picture after picture of Mulugheta spending time with his clients on and off the field.

Mulugheta with Kenny Vaccaro (left) and Rafael Bush (right) (Photo via David Mulugheta)

Mulugheta remembered one unique example where Kenny Vaccaro advised him to pursue a college senior as a client, based on Vaccaro’s film study. Mulugheta noted, “My guys want me to succeed just as much as I want them to.”

Mulugheta’s colleagues at Athletes First have also witnessed Mulugheta’s interest in maintaining genuine relationships.

Brian Murphy, the [President] of Athletes First, described Mulugheta as, “the same person, no matter who he is around. His clients – and our A1 family – know exactly what who David is – a passionate advocate who makes all of our lives better professionally and personally and who does so with absolute conviction.”

In response to the compliment, Mulugheta noted, “All praise is short-lived. And although it is humbling when good work is noticed, next year someone else could take your spot. Like many of my clients, where I came from, you had to fight for success— it was never guaranteed.”

Mulugheta’s clientele and their performance speak the loudest in endorsing his work, but the difference he has made for them in their careers on and off the field goes beyond that.

Mulugheta with Earl Thomas at the 2018 Pro Bowl (Photo via David Mulugheta)

For Seahawk Earl Thomas (@earl) the Longhorn bond is strong as well as the bond he has with the entire family of fellow clients.

“The most important thing to me when I was deciding on agents was working with someone that I could put my total trust in. To be successful in the business of football, you have to put your all into the game, and I wanted to make sure whoever I chose as an agent was doing the same thing for me off the field. David has done that and more for me, and I couldn’t have made a better decision. You always hear the saying that someone is like family, well David is family.”

Mulugheta with Kevin Byard at the 2018 Pro Bowl (Photo via David Mulugheta)

Titans All-Pro safety Kevin Byard (@kb31_savage) entered the league with the Tennessee Titans in 2016 but only signed on with Mulugheta this past season.

He requested a meeting with Mulugheta, made the switch, and hasn’t looked back since. For him, the difference in representation made his life easier on the field by eliminating worries off the field. This past season, his career reached a peak after being named to his first Pro Bowl as well as being recognized as first-team All-Pro.

“I made the switch at first because I knew that David had some of the top DB’s in the league, and I wanted to be a part of that brotherhood. A year later, I continue to see that he fights for his guys to get everything they deserve and more. What’s more impressive, David really develops friendships with all his clients that will last a lot longer than our football careers will.”

However, Mulugheta’s successful track record has also been met with a fair share of obstacles.

Throughout the years, Mulugheta has had to overcome challenges on the recruiting trail based on his age and ethnicity. Like many industries, the sports agent business has been historically overrepresented by middle-aged white men. During recruiting meetings, Mulugheta has had to deal with parents looking to see if “the real agent” would be joining the meeting. Or while backstage at NFL drafts and other special events, Mulugheta has often been mistaken for a player’s family member. His youth, complexion, and background are a rarity in the industry, yet have also served as an asset, helping him connect with his clients.

Mulugheta understands the racial biases that come along with the job. An attorney by trade, he operates in statistically one of the least diverse fields in America. Mulugheta appreciates his responsibility in helping other young, black men to succeed, stating, “I refuse to change my behavior or hide my identity for anyone. I just hope that my path can inspire other young, black men to stay true to themselves, work hard and pursue their dreams, even if those dreams don’t occur on a field or court.”

In the relatively short time, Mulugheta has been a certified contract advisor, he has been a part of negotiating some of the NFL’s largest contracts. On three separate occasions, Mulugheta’s clients have become the highest paid player in the history of the NFL at their respective positions.

  • Earl Thomas signed a contract making him the highest paid safety in NFL history as a 4-year extension in 2014 with the Seahawks for $40 million with more than $25 million guaranteed.
  • Bobby Wagner inked a contract making him the highest paid middle linebacker in NFL history in 2015 as a free agent with the Seahawks for $43 million over four years.
  • Kelechi Osemele signed a contract making him the highest paid guard in NFL history, back in 2016. The 5-year deal with the Raiders is worth up to $60 million.

Results like those can grab attention and change stereotypes in a hurry.

Mulugheta with Bobby Wagner (Photo via David Mulugheta)

What’s Next

The 2018 season will mark Mulugheta’s final year on his contract at Athletes First. While the odds are he stays put at A1, he is sure to have a number of agencies trying to poach him, offering long-term deals akin to those received by his clients. This year, the recruiter becomes the recruited.

“A1 is a great company,” Mulugheta commented. “They have given me every tool to be successful. Ownership allowed me to flourish and didn’t keep their thumb on me.”

One principle Mulugheta will certainly continue to implement is his hands-on approach with his clients. From booking flights to organizing offseason camps to assisting with family vacations, and helping with special moments, Mulugheta will continue to remain a staple in the lives of his clients.

In an effort to give back to the community they call home, Mulugheta and his wife founded the Fair Catch Foundation.

The organization is planning its second annual bowling event this summer to help underserved populations in the greater Austin community. Last year, they partnered with a number of Mulugheta’s clients and former Longhorn players to host the inaugural event.

The goals for the foundation include creating “generational change” by investing in vulnerable families. Having come from the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, Mulugheta understands how helping an individual gain an education and employment can change the trajectory of that family and their community.

Mulugheta’s work stands out at every level, including through his authentic commitment to his clients.

His journey has been anything but traditional.

The unique aspects of his upbringing, his genuine nature and deep connection with his clients, and his interest in being more than just an agent have redefined his role and should serve as a model for the next generation of sports agents.

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