In less than 20 minutes, Jim Ivler has fielded three calls on multiple phones. To continue one on his office line, Ivler takes down the other two callers’ numbers from his cell’s display and promises to return their calls quickly.
Both callers — representing different professional football leagues — are seeking information only Ivler can provide. They’re interested in two of Ivler’s clients and the agent for Sportstars Inc. is more than inclined to offer up any of their measurables.
It’s a job that never ends, really. And Ivler has adjusted his methods and expanded his reach throughout NFL and other football circles over a nearly 20-year career. Alongside his partners at Sportstars — one of the largest agencies that represents NFL players — Ivler has helped negotiate contracts worth millions and has eased the transitions of big time college players into the daily grind of the NFL.
“We’re 24/7,” Ivler said. “Anything they need, if it’s legal we do it because the goal here is to take away and handle as many issues as they are willing to have us handle for them. Just remove as many things off their plate as possible so they can focus on the task at hand which is trying to be a great NFL player which is not an easy task.”
Many of them, like Ivler, have used Penn State as their starting point.
Ivler, who graduated from Penn State in 1990 before earning a law degree at Widener in 1993, counts former Nittany Lions Jordan Hill, Derek Moye, Deon Butler, Tamba Hali and Robbie Gould among his clients. All former Penn Staters are currently on NFL rosters, thanks to their talent and hard work and to a degree, Ivler’s communication, promotional and organizational capabilities.
Making the choice
Butler estimated he got more than 10 packages stuffed full of folders and information mailed to his State College apartment during his senior season — the prime recruiting time for agents.
One was from Ivler.
It was a name Butler was already familiar with as Ivler represented his former teammates Gould and Hali. Eventually, Butler decided he’d interview five or six of the potential candidates and Ivler was one of them. It wasn’t a tough decision as Butler had already discussed hiring Ivler as his representation with Gould and Hali.
“I knew that they were doing quite well. Not just on the field but just overall in general in the NFL with how they were holding up with their contracts and not losing money and doing anything crazy,” Butler said of Gould and Hali’s statuses in the NFL at the time. “He was just honest in everything. He laid everything out. A lot of guys could’ve sweet talked me to death and he told me the pros and cons but he never held back on the cons and the stuff that might go wrong. That was one great thing about it.”
Honesty was a redeeming quality for Hali, too. So was respect.
Various agents had already reached out to the Nittany Lions’ standout defensive end before Ivler did so. Eventually, Ivler and his partner Brian Mackler sat down with Hali and his parents at the Hali household in Teaneck, N.J. shortly before Hali’s senior season.
“We spoke and I asked them to just leave me alone during the entire season so I could focus on the season,” Hali said. “And when they did that, I thought we respected one another. Other agents, when I told them that they didn’t respect my wishes and that to me meant a lot. Even though I was a client they were pursuing, they were able to respect how I felt about my senior season.”
As soon as Hill signed with Ivler following Penn State’s season finale against Wisconsin, the agent’s wheels were already turning.
As he’s done with all his clients, Ivler was working the phones, setting up workouts, sessions with experts to fine-tune Hill’s interviewing skills and selling his newest client to prospective NFL employers.
Hill, who chose to work out on Penn State’s campus rather than at a different facility that specializes in NFL Combine preparation, realized the fruits of Ivler’s work coupled with his own when the Seattle Seahawks selected him 87th overall in the third round of April’s NFL Draft.
“He just makes it all a little easier,” Hill said. “Instead of me having to set up times and having to do some of the type of scheduling stuff, he does that, he’ll let me know. He knew my schedule so he would just plan stuff around that.”
In a matter of days, Hill was on his way to the Pacific Northwest, an unfamiliar land where an exciting new challenge awaited. He signed a four-year, $2.76 million contract, negotiated by Ivler, not long after the team’s first minicamp.
To make life easier, as Hill was getting situated, preparing for his move to Seattle, Ivler worked out a deal between Hill and State College Mercedes-Benz so Hill would have transportation before signing his contract with the Seahawks. It was a similar approach for Butler whose adjustment to the NFL was made easier by a nutritionist and personal trainer that already had programs designed for him at Ivler’s direction.
“It was just easy to step in and follow it as far as nutritionists that helped in my state gain weight, help me keep my weight, down to the guy that trained us for the combine doing specific procedures and drills and I did a fantastic job at the Combine,” Butler said.
Ivler’s company expands its reach into the future, as well, helping players prepare for life after football.
Hali has already immersed himself in the music business and the production side of hip hop. Butler has enrolled in graduate school at Penn State to study homeland security information systems and is looking forward to a career in cyber security after football.
Hill isn’t quite sure what life holds for him after football but realizes Ivler and his agency will likely be there to help should he need it.
“I was just excited about it that they do that type of stuff,” Hill said. “Whatever I want to do I know he’ll do his best to help me.”
And Sportstars also invests in their clients’ current situations. To avoid financial meltdowns or poor spending habits, financial advisors are readily available and recommended by Ivler and his colleagues. As NFL contracts have continued to increase in worth, financial planners have made themselves more available to professional athletes since the NFL Players Association began licensing financial planners as they do agents a few years ago.
Another one of Ivler’s jobs is to make sure his clients aren’t taken advantage of or given bad financial advice by the wrong people.
“These college athletes are getting as many calls from financial planners during their final year in college leading up to their eligibility being done as they are agents,” Ivler said. “So some players that we sign, they’re telling us who their financial planner is. If that’s the case, if we don’t know the person we want to do a thorough investigation and what not. Other players want to hear our opinion and know any good ones?”
During the NFL season, Ivler attends game after game. He tries to pick games that feature multiple clients. There have been weekends when Ivler has attended a Sunday afternoon game, the Sunday night game and the Monday night game.
“There is no offseason,” Ivler said. “It does take pretty much a year-round commitment and a 24/7 commitment and I sleep with the phone next to my bed and my wife knows it’s going to ring sometimes at crazy hours and I’ll often say, ‘If it rings at a crazy hour and I immediately don’t have to get up and get dressed and go to the airport then it wasn’t that bad of a phone call.’ That’s the life that you know you’re signing up for.”
A lifelong relationship
It hasn’t been long since Ivler attended Gould’s wedding. Instances like those are perks of the job for Ivler who enjoys building the personal relationships with players.
He’s often teased by his non-Penn State clients who tell him he loves the Nittany Lions more than them. Of course that’s not true and Ivler can laugh it off.
But it’s never a laughing matter for him when one of his clients falls on hard times and finds himself out of work. Such was the case with Butler when the Seahawks cut him last season after the preseason. Ivler described it as a “knife in the gut” every day that Butler was without a home on an NFL squad.
“I did everything humanly possible to get him back and everything you expect an agent to do, phone calls, emails and texts and this and that and trying to pound down as many doors and get him workouts,” Ivler said. “He had five or six workouts with teams and he finally got back which was great.”
The Seahawks re-signed Butler in December. Ivler later helped negotiate Butler a one-year deal with the San Diego Chargers for this upcoming season.
“Of course you get an attachment to these guys. You can’t help but develop it,” Ivler said. “It’s not a normal business. We’re in the personal service business, we get heavily involved with these guys on every single level and I think that’s what makes us real good at what we do.”