When Bears players Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett wanted media gigs in Chicago, their agent contacted Andrew M. Stroth.
When Michael Vick wanted to return to Nike four years after the company dropped him following federal dogfighting charges, his team called Stroth.
Remember the T-Mobile commercials with Dwyane Wade, the ones where he and Charles Barkley engage in “fave five” one-upsmanship? Stroth made it happen.
And when Chicago meteorologist Cheryl Scott signs her next contract following her departure this month from NBC affiliate WMAQ-TV Channel 5, Stroth will be by her side.
“When I teach at Northwestern law, I always ask the students, ‘What does it take to be a sports agent or attorney?’” said Stroth, a transactional attorney, founder of Impact Talent Associates Inc. and of counsel at Handler, Thayer LLP.
“I get different answers, but I say, ‘No, it takes one thing — and that’s a client. If you have a client, you’re in business.’”
Have client, will travel
Want to follow in Stroth’s footsteps? “Client equals business” is your first step.
Stroth took his with Chris Zorich.
The two met in the early 1990s on Chicago’s social scene when Zorich was a Pro Bowl defensive tackle and fan favorite with the Chicago Bears, and Stroth was working in advertising at Leo Burnett Worldwide.
There was no initial pitch from Stroth. He and Zorich merely became social acquaintances. Then an opportunity arose at the Chicago Tribune, where Stroth had several friends in the sports department.
The friends asked Stroth to suggest an athlete for the “Preps Plus High School Sportshow” the paper produced with WGN-TV. Stroth introduced them to Zorich.
After that opportunity developed, Zorich asked Stroth to help him with other off-the-field deals. Just like that, Stroth had a client.
He took his experience with Zorich and searched for sports agency employment, contacting a friend, lawyer Steven J. Thayer, for recommendations.
Thayer introduced Stroth to Darcy Bouzeos, who represented broadcaster Harry Caray and Bears running back Neal Anderson and was of counsel at what was then Handler & Associates. She hired Stroth as her assistant.
“I left Leo Burnett and took a risk,” Stroth said. “It was a 50 percent pay cut. I wrote a business plan and demonstrated how I could generate revenue for this sports attorney’s practice.”
The job with Bouzeos ended in less than a year. It was, Stroth said, “not the right fit.”
“But I was in sports,” he said. “I was in the game.”
He founded Impact Talent so that he could continue representing athletes in their marketing deals, purposely avoiding becoming a certified NFL and NBA agent so that other agents would view him as an asset instead of a threat.
Then he attended Northwestern University School of Law, earning his J.D. while running his business full time.
When he finished law school in 1999, he had three career building blocks: He was a lawyer, he had advertising experience and he had a company with a client.
“The law side gives you so much credibility,” he said. “When I walk into a room, I am an attorney. The credibility and training as an attorney has been so beneficial to my career.”
He built up from there. The now-defunct CSMG Sports recruited him, giving him the opportunity to work with A-list athletes such as Wade (who he no longer represents) and NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb.
Stroth, 46, led the CSMG team that wrote Wade’s business plan — which they titled “Expect Victory” — and helped execute it, in part, by approaching T-Mobile at a technology summit in Houston, finalizing a deal after Wade’s first NBA championship with the Miami Heat in 2006.
He also negotiated deals for McNabb with Reebok and Wade with Converse. Thus, when Vick joined McNabb on the Philadelphia Eagles and later wanted to reconnect with Nike, Vick’s management contacted Stroth, who then reached out to officials at Nike he had met through his work with its subsidiary Converse.
“Andrew is one of the most well-connected individuals in the sports world,” said longtime San Francisco 49er and NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, a mentor and former business partner who taught Stroth about the value of equity partnerships.
“The business of sports is littered with people with bad reputations. And Andrew has never compromised the value and integrity of his workmanship and his skills.”
Build people, then brands
The ability to connect the dots is one thing. How you do it is another.
“I believe that if you make deposits of value into other people’s lives, you create relationships, not transactions,” Stroth said. “I focus on making deposits.”
By combining that philosophy with an early awareness of “brand building” before the phrase was popularized, Stroth established himself as an agent whose deals were good for all involved.
“The first thing I think about Andrew is his honesty, his sincerity and his understanding of the media business pertaining to personalities,” said Mitch Rosen, program director at WSCR-AM 670, better known as The Score.
Rosen met Stroth in 2013 through another game of connect the dots when The Score was looking for a new Chicago Bear to become an on-air contributor.
The station’s Laurence Holmes knew Marshall, Marshall knew Stroth, Stroth knew Bennett through the agent who represents Bennett and Marshall — and soon, Stroth was introducing Bennett to Rosen.
He didn’t just set up a deal with Bennett and The Score — he also negotiated an endorsement deal between Bennett and one of the station’s advertisers, Land Rover.
“It was a win-win for all three parties,” Rosen said. “He understands how to build a bridge between a personality, a media entity and corporate clients and businesses.”
He did the same for horticulturalist William Moss, a TV gardening personality.
“I teach people how to be more green, how to garden and how to be more environmentally friendly,” Moss said. “Andrew was the first person to see it and say, ‘You have a unique niche we can monetize.’”
Stroth linked Moss with The Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., negotiating a first and then a second marketing partnership.
“I had never thought to approach Miracle-Gro and offer my services,” Moss said. “Now I have this incredible engine behind the things I say and do.”
From a man of national fame like Lott to a lesser-known commodity like Moss, Stroth’s clients laud him for his personal touch.
“He’s very picky,” said client Robin Robinson, a former news anchor at WFLD-TV, Chicago’s Fox affiliate. “He doesn’t want to become overcommitted so he can give his clients the attention they need.”
As a Fox mainstay for nearly three decades, Robinson went years without an agent. She met Stroth two years ago through friend Theresa D. Cropper, who was dean of students at Northwestern law school when Stroth attended.
With her tenure at Fox ending in July, Robinson turned to Stroth to help her explore new opportunities.
“I liked him right away,” she said. “He wasn’t on a sales pitch. He wasn’t just taking everybody and anybody, and he wasn’t trying to make money off money that he didn’t make.”
Robinson also liked that Stroth integrated her interests with the interests of his other clients, such as the time he ensured Robinson would get an interview with Marshall, the Bears receiver, at an event Marshall and his wife were hosting for his foundation.
“Andrew could tell Brandon, ‘This is my client. She’s going to be fair. She’s not going to make you look bad,’” Robinson said. “Brandon, trusting him, could trust me. And I could head over there knowing I was going to get the interview.”
That ability to weave a network of opportunities for clients means encouraging them to pursue equity agreements as part of their endorsement deals, such as ones he negotiated for Marshall with shopping app Resultly or for McNabb with Vitamin Water.
It also means using his Rolodex to connect clients with contacts in their other opportunities. Stroth connected Scott, the former Channel 5 meteorologist, with the Chicago Bulls so she could provide weather reports on the big screen at the United Center.
“Andrew knows a lot of people,” said Scott, whose last day with NBC was Sept. 14. “He’s been here for a long period of time. So networking and being able to reach out to important contacts in the city of Chicago to facilitate bigger and better events is a big deal.”
To Stroth, building long-range opportunities on the client’s terms is the essence of creating value.
“You’re always looking for the one athlete on your team who is going to make us all better because he’s just a good player,” Lott said. “Andrew’s one of those guys who just knows how to make the world better.”