FROM Tom Cruise’s portrayal of the eccentric but essentially decent Jerry Maguire, to Dwayne Johnson’s representation of a retired NFL player turned super-agent in the American comedy-drama series Ballers, there is certainly no shortage of material out there purporting to give an insight into how the world of sports management operates. But how does this mysterious industry really look at the pit-face?
Gordon Hood may just be Scottish rugby’s answer to Jerry Maguire – although you won’t find him manically shouting ‘show me the money’ any time soon. After founding The Rugby Partnership in 2010, the Aberdeen University law graduate rapidly assembled a client base littered with some of the national team’s most valuable players. Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell, Alex Dunbar, Henry Pyrgos and Hamish Watson all punch the clock at Hood HQ in Edinburgh, whilst Scotland Under-20 star Darcy Graham has recently signed on the dotted line.
Hood is clearly riding on a wave of success, but the good times didn’t appear from left field. Much like the aforementioned Scottish internationalists, the 38-year-old has had to apply a significant amount of elbow grease in order to reach sports management’s soaring summit.
A handy centre in his day, Gordon Hood represented Scotland at various age-grades up to Under-19 level, alongside the likes of Chris Paterson, Simon Taylor, Jason White, Gordon Ross and Marcus di Rollo. He played club rugby with Heriot’s, Aberdeen Grammar and Hillhead-Jordanhill.
Following a stint in Glasgow Warriors’ marketing department, Hood ventured south to take up a role as a rugby agent at the London-based Big Red Management. With a Scottish contingent which included John Barclay, Johnny Beattie, and both Max and Thom Evans on his books, it would have been easy for Hood to become a permanent fixture in London’s rat race, however, the lure of going it alone was always at the back of his mind.
“My Dad is a farmer so I think self-employment runs through my blood in that sense,” he explains. “I think what stood me in good stead was my background in both law and marketing, in terms of negotiating commercial contracts, as well as my ten years of experience in sales – because essentially a rugby agent is selling a player.”
“When I began in 2010, I obviously had a non-compete clause with my former company, but there were a couple of guys who I was able to retain. My first client was actually Fin Gillies, who is now the Glasgow Hawks head coach, and he is someone that I still speak to on a regular basis. At the time, he had just won the John Macphail scholarship. Ally Hogg was probably the first client of note who I was able to retain.”
“Henry Pyrgos was another guy who joined me. I actually met with him whilst he was down at Loughborough University and it was on a tip from Rob Moffat. Henry was probably only 10 stone soaking wet at the time, but you trust the opinions of guys like Rob, who will know more than I ever will about rugby. I think Chris Cusiter ended up breaking his leg, so Glasgow took Henry on trial and he ended up being involved in 24 games that season. Henry’s contract wasn’t huge, but he got a decent chunk of cash when he was involved in the match-day squad, so I think he ended up paying off his student loan in about 6 months. It was one of the best contracts I’ve ever negotiated!”
Hammering out contract agreements is obviously a significant part of Hood’s job description, but he says that his day-to-day routine can vary as the rugby season progresses.
“The player usually doesn’t want to have that conversation with his club about a new contract and that is where I come in,” says Hood. “Essentially, if someone asks what an agent is: it’s someone who allows a player to do what they’re good at – which is play rugby. It’s my job to deal with everything off the pitch, whether it’s who does the best mortgages, car deals or insurance products. For some guys, it might be where to find the best lap-dancing club in Newcastle!”
“I guess every day is different and that is the pleasant part of the job. Today I’ve been helping a player move out to Australia – so that involves sorting out a visa and flights. I’ve also been speaking to another player who is moving out to play professionally in Italy, and to a men’s health magazine about a feature with Stuart Hogg. So really no day is the same, which I love.”
“You’re obviously busier at different times of the year as well. The transfer market opens up in England on January 1st and given that there are only two pro clubs in Scotland, it can get pretty hectic. So, for me, the festive period is really when you’re trying to do deals, especially for your more high-profile players. Whether it’s Finn Russell or Hamish Watson, you’ll have a few offers on the table and you’ve got a good idea of what they, or their wife, wants to do – whether it’s France, Italy, Scotland or England.”
One player Hood did negotiate with to remain in Scotland – to the great relief of Glasgow Warriors supporters – was Hogg. The full-back signed a two-year extension with the Scotstoun outfit in October, which will reportedly earn him £375,000-a-year – making him the highest paid player in Scottish rugby history. It was a landmark deal and one that Hood was responsible for coordinating.
“I think we forget in Scotland that Stuart is transcending the sport of rugby and with every brilliant performance in a blue shirt his profile grows. He is the likes we haven’t seen, for perhaps decades, so really we need to make the most of that from a commercial perspective. We need to use that profile to really build for his future. He is only 24, and he is already a double Lion, so we need to make sure that his family have an income for the next 15 to 20 years in relation to his profile as a rugby player,” says Hood.
“His social profile is also significantly growing. When he was on the cover of Hello Magazine it was the first ever time that the publication had done a Scotland edition. He had two significant life events coming up – getting married and his first child – and we were able to strike a deal. According to one of the Lions’ sponsorship team, before the tour started Stuart was probably their most requested athlete.”
Hood does admit that Hogg – despite his ever-growing stature in world sport – still gets butterflies when in the presence of his rugby heroes.
“We did a Q&A with Standard Life Investments before the Lions tour kicked off and ended up sharing a green room with Paul O’Connell, Martin Johnson, Gavin Hastings and Shane Williams – who are obviously all legends of the game. So we are all chatting, and I’m forgetting that Stuart is still nervous about interacting with these guys – he really was in complete awe of them. Obviously, all these legends have achieved wonderful things in rugby – but Stuart really is on a par with them now and they were all looking at him, asking him questions, thinking: ‘You are one of the most exciting players in the northern hemisphere right now’ – which I think Stuart himself sometimes forgets.”
“To be honest, I was laughing as well, but at myself. I was thinking – how did this joker from Heriot’s end up sitting in a room with these legends?”
Whether he is a joker – or even Jerry Maguire – the boy from Heriot’s will continue to rub shoulders with rugby’s elite. Whilst football remains a sport driven by wealth and greed, rugby – at its core – still has an honesty which sets it apart; and it is a trait which Hood carries in spades. Like all of us, he is still just a rugby man at heart.
“People probably don’t realise this, but in the first few years of signing a player, it actually costs you money to manage them. Of course, Stuart, Finn and others make you money – I wouldn’t be in this business if that wasn’t the case – but it’s not as lucrative as people probably think. At the start of a player’s career, it really is just about advice. I really do enjoy speaking to the younger guys and heading along to watch them play on a random night of the week.”
“It’s funny now though – you tell academy players that I’m kind of like Jerry Maguire and they just respond with: ‘Who’s Jerry Maguire?’ That film is 20 years old now and I’m probably showing my age!”