Sports agency plays the game to sign budding stars

Sports agency plays the game to sign budding stars
Stephen Kirwan co-founder of Kpos Sports Management.

By Ruth Doris

An Irish startup is offering budding sports stars a “holistic management service” to give them the best chances when competing for contracts.

Stephen Kirwan co-founded Kpos Sports Management with fellow solicitors Eoin Powderly and Eoghan O’Sullivan last year. Nick Kennedy, a chartered accountant, subsequently joined the team as a director.

The founders, who have a keen interest in sports and played Gaelic football to “quite a high level”, saw a gap in the industry to offer a “holistic service” to promising young players.

The full range of services includes contract negotiation, sponsorship, PR, financial, and legal.

With 15 Irish players tipped to feature in England’s Premier League this season, many hopeful youngsters travel over each year to try out for clubs.

Mr Kirwan says he and his colleagues had learned, from speaking to parents, that the “real deficit happened when the kid got over there. They were lost in terms of contractual negotiations and had to shell out a lot of money for that expertise.”

Many of the players return after a few years, some having made “quite substantial amounts of money” but with no access to specialist tax or commercial advice, he says.

“We decided that the gap in the market was not simply getting the young fella a contract in England; it was a follow-up, and a follow through. And that’s how the model has started,” says Mr Kirwan.

There are seven on the team, including four solicitors, one chartered accountant, and two who have tax, financial planning, and commercial experience.

They provide a range of legal expertise, from immigration and visa applications, to negotiating commercial contracts.

Kpos is “gaining traction” in the 15-to-17-year-old market, as word has spread, says Mr Kirwan.

The company is also hearing from players who have gone to England and been unsuccessful. When they come back, the players may be left without a club.

Mr Kirwan says that 80% to 85% of young players return from England after a few years, and many will have skills deficits. Education is the number one concern of parents, he adds.

Having gone through the Irish system to third-level, and given grinds to Leaving Certificate students, Mr Kirwan and the others on his team, understand the educational challenges facing young players.

Part of the Kpos offering is advice on education, and contacts with tutors so players can keep up with schoolwork.

Kpos also works with colleges, including Maynooth University, “to try to forge pathways back into football”.

“You can see from current Irish international setup. Some of our better players are the ones who have waited and bided their time,” he says.

The company has built up a network of contacts with soccer, GAA, and rugby clubs. While Kpos is mainly focused on soccer at present, the company has contacts in athletics, and it has close links with golf which Mr Kirwan describes as “more of a slow burner”.

Kpos spent time putting in the groundwork, getting the right people on board, and developing contacts with talent scouts, clubs, and agencies.

It currently has nine players on its books, including “a couple of players on trial with a number of clubs”.

Mr Kirwan says Kpos differentiates itself by offering a personalised service, with in-house expertise keeping costs lower for clients.

The ethos, he says, involves not taking on more than one player in the same age group and position, to avoid conflicts of interest that would arise from having clients competing for the same contracts.

Recent developments have opened up opportunities for Irish sports players.

He says the “residual uncertainties” around Brexit have disrupted the “traditional funnel of putting a kid on the plane to England”.

“There are other markets out there. We’ve had several contacts from agents and clubs around Europe that are very interested in Irish-based players,” he says.

Kpos has grown “organically” and Mr Kirwan says the company wants to develop further before seeking external funding.

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