Q&A with… Lee-Roy Newton

Country: South Africa
Profession: Agent

Lee-Roy Newton is the founder and MD of Newton Agency, a sports management and marketing company that manages a number of Olympic athletes. Lee-Roy is a former professional athlete and World Champion and has won medals at all major championships except the Olympic Games. He is also an accredited payer agent within cricket.

What is the one stigma agents cannot seem to shake off?  

I think sometimes the perception is that agents only care about money. But what I think is misunderstood, is that agents (should) act with their client’s best interests at heart, negotiating contracts to get them the best possible deal. Our clients are at the centre of everything we do, and it is our job, and responsibility, to guide them through their careers as professional athletes, and help them reap the financial rewards of such a career. It is not about being money hungry, but rather making sure our clients are fairly rewarded for their performances.

Many athletes want to turn professional, but few do. In your experience, why do so few athletes make it to the top level?  

There are many reasons I think. We know the drop-out rate amongst athletes is extremely high during high school, especially amongst girls, which is often to do with poor body image and drop in confidence which makes them shy away from playing sport. Also, it takes a lot of financial investment to become a professional athlete, and many simply do not have the resources to do so. Then, sometimes, the idea of being a professional athlete and the reality of what it actually takes to get there, is mismatched. I don’t think athletes (and parents) always know how tough it is to be amongst the best in the world, and that getting there requires more than ‘talent’.

What kind of support does an agent offer an athlete?

I can’t speak for all agents, but I want to make sure the athletes I manage are getting the best support in all areas that are needed to make it at professional level, such as medical, psychological, financial or logistical support. I like to not only support the athlete, but the persona behind the athlete; meaning that I enjoy helping athletes achieve success in athletics, but also preparing them for success in life because there is a lot of life left to live once an athletics career is done!

What have you found that athletes struggle with the most during their career?

I think that the first professional contract they sign can be difficult to cope with. Firstly, an athlete now has a lot more money that they are probably not used to, and making smart financial decisions at this point can be difficult. Also, on a psychological level, they are now expected to perform, are getting paid to perform, and this pressure can have a negative effect on performance. There is a period of adjustment needed, but those that can navigate it successfully are usually the ones that go one to have long, successful careers.

What two changes could be made to move the sport forward? 

People are consuming sport differently nowadays, and I think athletics needs to keep up with these changes and offer the fans something different. We can see how other sports have adapted (for example cricket introducing shorter formats of the game, or swimming introducing a professional league) but athletics seems to have stagnated a bit. Technology that engages the consumer should as a minimum come into play at major events. I’m also very excited with developments of the Athletics Association led by Christian Taylor, this in itself is a step forward.

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