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Thursday, November 11, 2010
Yes, skiers have agents


Allegiance athlete Peter Olenick won the Superpipe High Air contest at the last Winter X.

Not so long ago, the idea of a sports agent anywhere near a freeskiing event was a laughable one. Somewhere far away from a halfpipe or slopestyle course, agents would be beaming down from skyboxes as their uniform-clad clients hit home runs, caught touchdown passes or performed any number of other feats involving a ball or a stick. And Jerry Maguire was just a guy on a movie screen.

Today, freeskiing, like many other action sports, has begun to command a bigger spotlight than it once did. More in-demand and more recognizable (in the agent biz, they call that "marketable") than their precursors, today's freeskiing stars are turning in increasing numbers to sports agents for help balancing their athletic pursuits and their commitments to sponsors. To name just a few, Simon Dumont, TJ Schiller, Sammy Carlson and Bobby Brown all hire sports agents — each from a different agency, in fact — to handle many of the nonathletic tasks associated with their careers.

In response to this growing demand, Mike Svenningsen and Matty Horn formed Allegiance Sports Group. In only one year of operation, these two East Coast natives turned Colorado residents have already grown an impressive roster, overseeing the day-to-days for such names as Peter Olenick, Jen Hudak and Colby James West. Their newest athlete is Alex Schlopy, who after signing with ASG, got picked up by Oakley and Monster Energy. I sat down with Horn and Svenningsen to talk about their new company, and for some insight into the new, expanding field of freeski athlete representation.

ESPN: When and why did you choose to enter the athlete management game?
Allegiance Sports Group (Matty Horn and Mike Svenningsen): We decided to get into this about two years ago because we both had a passion for action sports. We also saw an unfulfilled need in this industry for agents who are in it for the best of the athlete. It was an unsaturated market when we decided to enter it and there was a lot of opportunity for growth and improvement. The sky is the limit for us right now.

This is Allegiance Sports Group: partners Mike Svenningsen and Matty Horn.

As agents, what duties do you perform on behalf of the athletes you represent?
First and foremost, our job is to seek out and establish new sponsorships for the athletes we represent, as well as handle all necessary negotiations on agreements that are in already in place. Outside of that, there is a lot more that we do. We strive to attend every event that we can in order to make our athletes feel as comfortable as possible and so they know that we are there to take care of everything related to business and media. That way our athletes can concentrate on what they do best — the sports they compete in. We also help our athletes plan their schedules, book hotels, book flights. We've even helped out with personal and life advice on occasion. In a sentence, we are there 24-7 for the athletes we represent.

Last year was a big year for ASG. What were your proudest moments from your first season in business?
Jen Hudak had an amazing year, winning pipe at both Winter X in Aspen and Euro X in France. And she got also nominated for the Best Female Action Sports Athlete ESPY, which was a magical moment for us. Peter Olenick won his first ever Winter X gold in Aspen and set a world record while doing it. Tyler Hendley, a skateboarder that we represent, won gold at the Asian X Games. He also placed second at two of the World Cup of Skateboarding stops in Rome and Brazil. It's a very exciting time all around for us right now.

You represent a skateboarder and snowmobiler Paul Thacker, but you started Allegiance in skiing. Was it a challenge to branch into unfamiliar sports?
It's definitely tough getting involved with a new sport. It takes persistence and a lot of patience. You need to attend as many events as possible — you're on the road almost weekly. Whatever sport you're in, the more "face time" that you get with athletes, team managers, marketing types, the better off you will be. It is also imperative that you learn these sports inside and out. You need to become sociable and friendly with the athletes and make sure they're familiar with you and your business without being too forward. It takes time to figure out a working formula for your business. Representing high-caliber athletes in other sports and signing nice deals for them doesn't hurt either.

What do you believe sets Allegiance Sports Group apart from the other agencies out there?
What sets us apart is our passion for what we do. We pride ourselves on being very hands-on. I think that everyone in the industry sees our passion for athletes and the sports they put their hearts into day in and day out. Like I mentioned before, we attend as many events as possible to show athlete support and handle all things not directly related to the competition at hand. The athlete/agent relationship is crucial. There needs to be a certain trust. And we can definitely say that we have great relationships with all of our athletes. People can see that. At the end of the day, we are just two honest guys out there to support our best friends and make a living while doing it.

Do you recruit athletes, or do they come to you? How do you decide which athletes to represent?
Recruiting is a crucial part of what we do. Being able to spot talent before anyone else does is just as important as knocking out contracts. It's an ongoing battle between us and other agents to get the newest, freshest talent. That's what makes this fun though. And that's what sets the people who are truly passionate about action sports apart from the rest — knowing enough to spot these guys or gals when they are young, before they're stars.

What are the biggest challenges you face in the performance of your duties as agents?
One of the biggest challenges we face is separating friendship and business. Our athletes are some of our best friends in the world. But when it is time to do business, it is time to do business. Another challenge that we tend to face is our age. We are both in our mid 20s. That has the unfortunate effect of giving people the impression that we are inexperienced. That is completely fine with us though, because we overcome that mindset when we open our mouths and impress people with our knowledge of the industry we work in. In order to succeed as an agent in this game, you need to have a strong will, have the ability to not take no for an answer, but also know when enough is enough. And you need to be extremely passionate and hard working with what you are doing because this definitely does not come easy. You need to have a vision, think outside of the box and, most importantly, believe in your athletes.