Women in the NFL: Kelli Masters, NFL Agent and Founder of KMM Sports

Editor’s Note: Football season is here — and whether you’re rooting for the Patriots or the Seahawks (or you honestly don’t know the difference) it’s an exciting time. And not just because of what’s happening on the field. There are more women holding prominent positions in sports today than ever before — from the sidelines to the negotiating table. This week, you’ll meet three incredible women who have worked hard to break down barriers in the world of professional sports, propelling them to win Emmy awards, oversee multi-million dollar deals, and much more. Let them inspire you to tackle new challenges in your own career.

Name: Kelli Masters
Job: NFL agent and founder of KMM Sports
City: Oklahoma City

Levo: This is perhaps your busiest time of the year. What does a typical day look like for you?

Kelli Masters: I wear a lot of different hats. I prepare players for the NFL draft process, and I handle all of the communication between players and teams. After the draft, I represent players during contract negotiations. I also handle things like on-the-field fines and injury issues. Pretty much any imaginable issue an NFL player can have, I’m on top of it. I do a lot of personal management through the transition too. I help players with relocation, purchasing a home or a car, setting up a foundation, or furthering their education. I do a lot! And I’m still a practicing [business litigation and non-profit organizational law] attorney with Fellers Snider.

How does someone actually become a sports manager?

KM: I got a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Oklahoma, and I worked at the CBS affiliate in Oklahoma City. Then I decided I didn’t want to do local news anymore, so I went to law school at Oklahoma City University. Two years in, I won the Miss Oklahoma pageant. I had to take a year off to travel for those responsibilities, then I went back to law school and graduated before I joined Fellers Snider in 2000. Within the first five years, I worked really hard, formed dozens and dozens of charities, and made partner — but I felt like I could do more. A few athletes started reaching to me and asked if I could manage their endorsements.

At first, I thought it was fun but didn’t see it as a career path. That changed when I was working with a former NFL player while setting up a foundation. I was talking to him and his family about athlete endorsements when the family asked me why I wasn’t an agent. I stiff-armed the idea at first — I’m not Jerry Maguire — but that conversation planted a seed. I started researching sports agent certification and started KMM in 2005. Since then, I’ve represented between 30 to 40 players who have been on an NFL roster at some point. At present, I have a dozen players who are in the NFL or in other leagues.

When was the moment that made all this hard work worth it?

KM: Seeing my first client, Cody Hodges, a quarterback from Texas Tech, run onto the field in an NFL uniform in 2006 was pretty special. He played with the Tennessee Titans through the preseason and was cut, but that moment sticks out to me because it was a great feeling to help someone else’s dream come true, and also seeing my own dream come true. Another moment was bringing six clients to Haiti for a mission trip in 2013. That was a fulfillment of a dream I had when I almost dropped out of law school to become a missionary! I wanted so badly to serve and help people. I continued with my law degree, but the desire to serve was still inside of me. Being able to take my NFL players to Haiti and serve with them was the culmination of all of my dreams.

While they say there’s no crying in baseball, your industry seems filled with many highs and very public lows. What was the biggest failure that you learned the most from?

KM: I worked with a lot of players, but up until 2010, none of them had been drafted. Then I signed Gerald McCoy, who was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While working with him, I became the first woman to represent a first-round draft pick. It was exciting and it was also confirmation that this is what I’m supposed to do. I did, however, share duties with another agent that Gerald had brought on because that agent had a ton of experience with first-rounders. I was happy to work with the other agent, because I knew I was going to be doing 95 percent of the work and I could learn from him. I poured so much time into Gerald over the first five years of his career. I negotiated his first contract. I also helped him with things like finding dry cleaners, shopping for furniture, setting up his foundation, and wedding planning. And then right before his second contract, he decided to terminate me and stick with the other agent. I was devastated. I probably lost around $1 million in potential earnings because of his decision. I had just spent five years of making him a priority above every other client and opportunity, only to be told that ‘I don’t need you anymore.’ The hard part is you can’t take this personally, even though this is a personal service business. It’s a business where you can work really hard and be exceptional in everything you do, and still not get or keep the client. That’s very frustrating.

That sounds incredibly tough. How did you overcome that setback?

KM: Honestly, I’m still overcoming it. This business is very much based on what you’ve accomplished and who you have on your roster. Gerald was a big part of that. Even though he told me I didn’t do anything wrong and it was just his decision, it’s hard to explain that to future clients. I’m continuing to work through it and that’s really all I can do. A big lesson I learned from this was to find a balance in what I do for players and to take care of every client equally. I’ve still been blessed. I represented a second round draft pick in this year’s draft, Jordan Phillips [of the Miami Dolphins].

What’s the biggest perk of your job?

KM: Being a part of a player’s journey. Not only watching my clients make big plays on the field, but also seeing them make a difference off the field too.

Any advice for other Millennials who want to go into sports’ management?

KM: First, keep your options open. Secondly, when people come up to me and say they want to be an agent, I tell them to work for a team first. Work as a scout or on a franchise’s marketing team. Go get some on-the-ground experience in the NFL first.

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Levo