We ask Dr Serhat Yilmaz, a prominent academic in the field of sports agents education at Loughborough University, about the changes and impact that the new FIFA Football Agent Regulations will have in the agent market
FIFA introduced significant changes to the regulation of the football agents in 2023, following a consultation process involving all stakeholders in football. The new regulations partially came into for on 9th January 2023, with a full implementation to occur from 1st October 2023.
The new regulations impose a mandatory licensing system, prohibit multiple representation to avoid conflicts of interest, and introduce a cap on commissions for football agents. With this package of measures, FIFA aims to strengthen contractual stability, protect the integrity of the transfer system, and achieve greater transparency in all financial matters. “The market for football agents is changing dramatically and these measures will have a major impact on the industry,” says Dr Serhat Yilmaz, a former licensed football agent, a lecturer in sports law at Loughborough University, a renowned academic in the field of sports agents education, and the person responsible for designing and running the two online programmes that Loughborough University and Johan Cruyff Institute have launched together: the Professional Certificate for Sports Agents (four-month programme commencing on 28th of March 2023) and the training course on the FIFA Football Agent Examination (starts on 22nd of May 2023).
How do you think the implementation of the new FIFA regulations will impact on the football agents’ market?
The market is changing dramatically and will continue to do so. Firstly, I expect the reduction on the number of agents in football as the agent examination will be challenging to pass for many due to volume and complexity of regulations it is based on. We know that the number of agents has exponentially increased globally since 2015 following the de-regulation by FIFA. Yet, all those who moved into football’s agent market after 2015 now needs to pass the examination to obtain their license.
“I expect the reduction on the number of agents in football as the agent examination will be challenging to pass for many due to volume and complexity of regulations it is based on”
Another consequence is likely to be the impact of the cap on commissions which means that agents will earn less money. For me, that is the key as less earnings might push particularly smaller agents out of business. The big agencies have been already enjoying dominance in the agent market even before the introduction of the cap and now smaller football agents voice their concerns about potential further dominance of the market by the big agencies. This is not healthy development, if occurs, for the agent market and for football in general.
“Agents will earn less money; for me, that is the key as less earnings might push particularly smaller agents out of business”
So, there are changes in the rules and also in the very definition of a football agent, right?
That’s right. It fascinates me how the concept of agent has changed over the years under the different agent regulations implemented in football. Historically we have had the FIFA Players’ Agent Regulations, which was actually a licensing-based regulatory model that FIFA put in place in 1994. The term agent then was ‘players’ agent’ implying players as the key client of agents. Then, with the introduction of intermediary system, the concept of agent shifted from ‘players’ agent’ to an ‘intermediary’ which meant that agents are no longer just representing players but also different parties of a football transaction. Although dual representation was a common practice in football before the intermediary system, the practice has boomed since 2015. Now, FIFA basically have re-introduced the licensing-based regulatory system but with another shift in the concept of agent; from an ‘intermediary’ to ‘football agent’ which means that not only players and clubs can now be the clients but also coaches. To me, this concept truly captures the profile of modern-day agents in football and the new regulations seem to recognise that.
“Not only players and clubs can now be the clients but also coaches. To me, this concept truly captures the profile of modern-day agents in football and the new regulations seem to recognise that”
So, the concept of agent has changed, what kind of changes we may see in agent practice though?
Football agents can represent players, coaches, as well as clubs as their clients. But an interesting regulatory provision concerns the maximum duration of representation contract a football agent can sign with these clients. Representation contracts with players and coaches are now restricted to maximum of 2-years duration. Yet, representation contracts with clubs are not subject to such restriction and can be for any duration. I think this is an interesting regulatory aspect which would likely to result more and more agents to directly work with clubs. Although, the club representation by agents is nothing new and quite common in football, I think for the first time it is clearly stipulated in the regulatory text which can formally paved the way for proper ‘club agents’ in practice.
“The new regulations also, for the first time in the history of agent regulations in football, incorporate the definition of ‘other services’ by football agents provided to their client”
Another interesting one is the regulation of ‘other services’ provided by football agents in practice. The new regulations clearly underline the core agent service as ‘football agent services’ which are those services related to a transaction in football such as a new contract for a player or renewal or termination of it as well as transfers. Yet, the new regulations also, for the first time in the history of agent regulations in football, incorporate the definition of ‘other services’ by football agents provided to their client. Additionally, the earnings from the other services are also captures by the new regulations which presume any of those earning 24 months before and after the specific football transaction negotiated by a football agent to be part of overall service fee due to that agent for football agent services. What this means in practice that agents firstly need to report any contracts they sign with a client for other services and also report those earning from that contract which can form part of service fee due from a representation contract with that client for the football agent services.
Likely impact of this in practice that football agencies who have been providing a holistic service to their client may simply separate their football agent services from other services. So, whilst the trend has been combining all services under the umbrella of an agency for holistic manage of athletes/clients, that trend likely to be reversed now with clear distinction between ‘football agent services’ and ‘other services’.
What are the key regulatory requirements for the representation of minors under the new regulations?
There are some interesting provisions that likely to impact on agent practice when working with minors. Firstly, again, for the first time in the history of agent regulations by FIFA that an age restriction for the representation of minors has been introduced under the new FIFA regulations. We had seen this type of age restrictions in the regulations of national associations but now it is in the FIFA regulations too. The rule says that a football agent can only represent a minor player 6 months before the age at which the player can sign their first professional contract. What this means for the practice that football agents must ascertain at what age minors are allowed to sign their first professional contract under the relevant regulations of national associations to determine whether the minor is at the right age to be represented. I think there is a need for the repository of such information from each national association available to not football agents but also minors and their parents to ensure the effective operation of this rule. Without that, I can see that there will be so much confusion in practice by agents as well as minors.
“Knowing that representation of minors has been one of the most problematic areas for agents in practice, the specialist education seems to be a right measure to promote a good agent practice in representing minors”
Another important rule is that the football agent license does not automatically qualify agents to work with minors. Agents first need to successfully complete and pass the designated CPD course by FIFA on the representation of minor to have the entitlement to work with minors. Knowing that representation of minors has been one of the most problematic areas for agents in practice, the specialist education seems to be a right measure to promote a good agent practice in representing minors.
You mentioned the partial implementation of the new regulations. Who can practice in this transitional period until 1st October 2023?
This transitional period started on 9th January 2023 and will last until 30 September 2023. During this time, the objective is to re-license agents as from 1st of October 2023, no one without license will be able to provide football agent services in football. So, all those intermediaries who want to continue working as agents, or those who want to enter the industry, have these months to pass the mandatory exam and get their license. Individuals with intermediary status can still operate in upcoming summer transfer window in football and their registrations as intermediary is valid until 30th of September 2023.
What are the dates of the exams?
The first exam is on 19th April and the next one is on 20th September 2023. National associations also need to implement their own football agent regulations in line with FIFA’s Football Agent Regulations by 1st October 2023. To this end, FIFA has just published a model national agent regulation to assist national associations in this implementation process.
Who is exempt from passing the examination for the football agent license?
All those who already held a players’ agent license before 2015, prior to the entry of the intermediary system into force, can obtain their new license through the legacy path that put in place by FIFA. These people will have their FIFA football agent’s license automatically returned to them, without the need to pass the examination.
“If you were already a players’ agent previously before 2015 and registered for a certain period as an intermediary under the intermediary system after April 2015, then you don’t need to take the exam”
So, if you were already a players’ agent previously before 2015 and registered for a certain period as an intermediary under the intermediary system after April 2015, then you don’t need to take the exam. You just need to apply to FIFA, the sporting documents showing that you had the players’ agent license and your intermediary registration, and you will be automatically given the new FIFA Football Agent license.
Anyone who does not meet those two criteria will have to take the exam. Also, any aspiring agent must take the exam. Parents and lawyers who want to represent clients must be licensed too. To do so, they must submit a license application to FIFA. They will then be invited to take the FIFA agent examination at their designated national association. Finally, if they successfully pass the examination, they will pay the annual license fee to FIFA and FIFA will issue the license.
What is the format of the exam?
The exam will consist of 20 questions and 15 correct answers are required to pass the exam in a maximum time of one hour. Another important fact is that only individuals can apply for the exam. Under the intermediary system, it was also possible to register a company as an agent, but now only individuals can hold the football agent license.