Kellogg School of Managment - I Have a Kellogg MBA
Northwestern University
Mark Bartelstein '84

Mark Bartelstein ’84

Delivering a winning approach in sports management

By Sara Langen

In 1985, Mark Bartelstein ’84 decided to take a chance.

Driven by his dream of becoming a sports agent, Bartelstein quit his investment banking job at Morgan Stanley and moved into a tiny workspace in the back of a printing shop. There, he started cold-calling people in the sports industry, trying to make contacts and build a name for himself as a reputable sports agent. Before long, Bartelstein’s business had a name — Priority Sports & Entertainment — and a client list that was steadily growing.

“It’s like any business, you’ve got to start from the bottom floor,” says Bartelstein, who today serves as CEO of the Chicago-based sports and entertainment management firm. “You’ve got to go out, grind it, work really hard and get people to believe in you. You have to try to build a business through word of mouth.”

With the help of a few financial backers, Bartelstein was able to build his business into the kind of sports management firm he wanted: one that worked hard for its clients and stuck by them, in good times and bad. Then in 1990, Priority Sports & Entertainment got the break it needed to get into the big leagues.

“We did a contract for [NBA player] John ‘Hot Rod’ Williams,” Bartelstein remembers. “He became the highest paid player in the history of team sports. That contract gave me a lot of status in the industry and we started getting a lot of referrals from that.”

Today, Priority Sports & Entertainment has more than 200 NBA and NFL clients and has represented more than 20 first-round draft picks and negotiated more than $1 billion in contracts in the last three years. Well-known clients include Danny Granger (Indiana Pacers), David Lee (New York Knicks), Mo Williams (Cleveland Cavaliers), Robert Gallery (Oakland Raiders), Kurt Warner (Arizona Cardinals), Jake Delhomme (Carolina Panthers) and Olin Kreutz (Chicago Bears). The firm has the highest client retention rate in the business.

Bartelstein credits Kellogg for helping him make the career switch from investment banker to sports agent — and perform well in both professions. As an MBA student, Bartelstein learned lessons that had a practical application to a range of industries, including sports management, “a business where you have to think on your feet,” Bartelstein says. “There’s no textbook for how to do certain things [as a sports agent]. My experience at Kellogg helped a great deal with that.”

Now that Bartelstein has his dream job, he’s focused on helping those in the sports and entertainment industries achieve their own far-reaching goals. He doesn’t take that responsibility lightly.

“We’re in a business where you’ve got tremendous responsibility — people are basically putting their lives in your hands,” Bartelstein shares. “They’re counting on you to help reach all their dreams and goals.

“So you go to sleep every night and wake up every morning with that hanging over your head, knowing guys are really counting on you. But it’s very rewarding when you see that smile on their face when things come together for them.”

Posted April 2010
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