Episode 048 – Sports Agent Kelli Masters
From world class baton twirling to Miss Oklahoma and law school to sports agent, Kelli Masters has found her purpose.
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Hey everyone and welcome to the All-Star Leader Podcast, where together we learn about leadership from the best and brightest, and keep it fun by connecting it to our passion for sports!
I’m your host Daniel Hare, and today we are joined by one of the top sports agents in the country, Kelli Masters. Kelli is an attorney, and the owner of KMM Sports, an agency representing athletes in the NFL, Major League Baseball, the Olympics and even the MMA.
Kelli is also a five-time world champion baton twirler, and many Oklahoma football fans will remember her and twin sister Kim, who in the 90s graced the lawn of then-Owen Field as the OU baton twirlers.
As if all this isn’t enough, she is a former Miss Oklahoma. This is Kelli Masters. Hey Kelli thanks for coming on the show!
- So let’s start the way most leadership/sports podcast interviews do: with baton twirling. How did you get into it and when did you realize it was something you were gifted at?
- April 10th is World Baton Twirling Day
- At 4/5, went to OU games and watched the baton twirler on the field; wanted to do that. Mom was a majorette in high school but didn’t want her to do it.
- Soon though they were twirling and by age eight competing all over the country, world championships at 14, retired at 22.
- Very tough training regimen; 3-4 hours/day 6/7 days per week. Lots of injuries and challenges. No scholarship. Given her great perspective as an agent.
- Are there skills or traits you learned as a twirler that you feel made you who are today? What are they?
- Before we get to the sports agent questions, let’s talk first about the time you spent as a full-time practicing lawyer. You handled some high level cases and even had one which went all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. Reflect a bit on those years and what stands out to you as important steps to get where you are today.
- Practicing law gave her great perspective to look at problems and issues in a productive, critical way.
- Learned to be thorough and an effective advocate.
- Didn’t start off wanting to litigate and wasn’t in her comfort zone. She didn’t like conflict. But it has been great for her.
- Sports agency was not a part of her practice the first five years; it was her non-profit practice which first exposed her to the sports world, setting up non-profits for athletes.
- Practicing law teaches you diligence and how to work hard when no one is paying attention.
- Argued and won a case at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in front of Neil Gorsuch, now a Supreme Court justice.
- As an associate and then partner at your law firm, you undoubtedly witnessed and implemented a variety of leadership styles and effectiveness. Can you talk a bit about what you learned from your time there?
- Answer is different than it would have been five years ago
- Culture is key. People who work together to accomplish great things must be in a culture where they feel valued, appreciated and listened to. There is value in pouring time into people that is not work related. Building others up, improving morale, are very important. Must prioritize time for this.
- You have to have both trust and communication in order to develop this type of culture. When things are left undiscussed, issues arise.
- Leaders may default to acting strong and unphased, but better to be vulnerable and transparent.
- And as you transitioned into more and more of your work involving athletes and sports agency, how would you say your experience as a practicing lawyer contributed to the success you’re now having in the sports agent world?
- She sees it both when working with the teams directly, and then through her players’ experiences once they are in the team.
- The top organizations have a winning culture. Spend time valuing people. Patriots and Seahawks are great examples; they reward and value employees.
- We talk a lot on this show about the importance of organizational culture. You get to see every NFL team in a way most of us don’t. What have you observed about the way successful franchises are run?
- We also talk a lot about the importance of leading yourself. What have you found to be helpful with your athletes who struggle in this area? How are you able to help them lead themselves (which of course then helps them lead others)?
- Used to think players would listen to her and respond
- Has learned that developing trust is first. Be vulnerable and authentic. Create high level of expectations, but don’t expect perfection.
- Help them understand and reach their purpose. This is an ongoing conversation.
- Cody Hodges at Texas Tech – undrafted but signed as a free agent with the Titans; got to final cuts but didn’t wind up sticking in the NFL; played in Europe/Canada/Arena before retiring
- Along the way Kelli encouraged him to speak to groups; he joined up with Rachel’s Challenge based on the Columbine tragedy and grew into a fantastic speaker
- It was a tough journey for him, but he battled through
- Talk about “who” they want to be not “what” they want to be.
- How did you get the first client / break into the sports agent world?
- Was told at the beginning if she was not willing to break the rules she wouldn’t succeed as an agent, but she took that as a challenge
- Has not wavered from that, though it has been even harder than she thought
- It is both what you know and who you know; you need to know more than the person on the other side of the table, as well as developing relationships
- Began working with an Olympic athlete on some endorsement contracts; when that athlete found out Kelli was looking for her first NFL player, he connected her with Cody Hodges, who he had been friends with and shared a youth pastor with.
- Opportunities always come through people!!
- You mention your faith quite a bit in your public statements and on your website. Talk about the role your faith plays in your professional life.
- Growing up in Oklahoma, everyone says they are a Christian, though for many it is just a social thing
- It never became personal for her until later, after she spent years trying to fill the void inside with accomplishments…but it was never enough
- At 23, put it all together and was relieved that it wasn’t too late to connect with God.
- Then she thought she was supposed to be a missionary and go take care of orphans in the jungle; but in seeking God’s will for her life she discovered the path of law and sports.
- Faith is just expecting God is going to do what he says he’s going to do.
- This led her to a place she never would have predicted.
- Even on the tough days, she knows she is where she is supposed to be. This isn’t just about chasing happiness, but rather fulfilling a purpose.
- She’s not preachy, though she will encourage them/pray for them/etc. But she does not limit her practice to Christian athletes.
- Could you share a bit about the mission trips to Haiti. Who goes? Why you do it?
- Teamed up with Mission of Hope Haiti, and brings her athletes to serve during their offseason
- Fulfillment of all her dreams to serve as a missionary and to expose her athletes to a life changing experience
- Her athletes were all going through some tough times, but when they arrived they realized how blessed they are and were grateful.
- What is a significant professional mistake you have made and what did you learn from it?
- Grew up terrified of failure
- When she switched from being fear driven to purpose driven, that changed everything for her
- Now failure/mistakes are for learning
- Realized that by doing more than she should for her clients, she is doing them a disservice as well as herself and other clients.
- Five rapid fire questions
- Name one trait or characteristic you look for when you hire someone.
- What habit has been key to your success?
- Making her bed each morning – discipline each day in the little things…
- Most important app or productivity tool?
- Outlook calendar
- Book/podcast recommendation?
- Anything by Andy Andrews – The Little Things: Why You Really Should Sweat The Small Stuff
- One sentence of advice for the leaders in our audience?
- Be willing to be broken and vulnerable; be real and authentic
- Name one trait or characteristic you look for when you hire someone.
- Draft Day
- David Moore / WR / East Central (OK) – (update: drafted in the seventh round / pick no. 226 by the Seattle Seahawks)
- Blake Jarwin / TE / Oklahoma State – (update: signed free agent deal with the Dallas Cowboys)
- Antioch Live/Clear Day Media Group – music
- Jonathan Davis – production
- Clint Musslewhite – voice over