Minnetonka native Blake Baratz returned to Minneapolis last summer after spending six years as a sports agent in Los Angeles to launch an agency (The Institute for Athletes) that would go well beyond negotiating contracts for NFL players.
Baratz, 30, and right-hand man Joey Hartman, who is from Hopkins, assembled a 12-person executive team that would provide clients with guidance on and off the playing field and in several different facets of life. The committee includes former Vikings executive Jeff Diamond, former NFL player Barry Gardner and actor Jaleel White, famous for the role of Steve Urkel on "Family Matters," as well as three current players/clients -- wide receiver Bobby Engram, safety Will Allen and linebacker Abdul Hodge.
The Institute for Athletes now has about 35 clients, including Green Bay tight end Jermichael Finley and linebacker Desmond Bishop and Detroit defensive tackle Corey Williams.
Nearing his company's one-year anniversary, Baratz recently sat down with staff writer Judd Zulgad to talk about how things have gone.
Q How much has the Institute for Athletes grown in its first year?
A We've grown exponentially. We have been adding a new client every three or four weeks or so and have added about 14 since last July, [including recent NFL draft picks O'Brien Schofield from Wisconsin and Kurt Coleman from Ohio State]. We've been getting a lot of referrals, we've hired a few people, we've been growing. It's been extremely busy, but all very positive.
Q What are some of the things you have been able to provide players with that maybe some other agencies can't? Engram, for instance, described this venture as a "full-service, full-support-type firm."
A What we've tried to do is spend the time educating [clients] on every aspect of their life. Whether it is the most simplistic of concepts, or spending hours and hours educating clients and families on the intricacies of their contract. One of the most important aspects is making sure everyone understands how to budget financially. What you find with a lot of professional athletes is they are going through the motions so quickly, check-to-check, that they're not thinking of any details or anything long term. The whole point is, we're explaining to guys why every little detail in their life is so important.
Q Do you think your message has gotten out?
A I think word is continuing to spread that we're doing more than the typical company. We're extremely hands-on, and we're simply using a lot of manpower. Players notice it when we're at a particular city, university, or NFL stadium. Players will see that we're constantly there and supporting our clients. Many players have mentioned to us that they have been on the team three or four years and their agent hasn't visited them once. Not that that's the end-all, be-all for what we're doing, but we're putting in a lot of time to help guys in their entire life. I think it's actually easier for the guys that have already been in the NFL that are making an agent switch, like a Jermichael Finley, to notice it versus a kid that's coming out of college.
Q How much is this about a long-term plan for these guys?
A We're aiming to have a system in place today where these players and their families are excelling for the next 60 years. They have 60-plus more years to live their life. I want them to be in a position where, if they have three kids that want to go to Harvard, then they all have a half-million dollars to send them to Harvard without the blink of an eye. That's generational wealth. There's a major difference between being rich and being wealthy. There are too few professional athletes that are wealthy. ... And in order to do that, you have to make some sacrifices. You can't buy every car that you want, you can't buy every piece of jewelry that you want, you can't give everybody that comes to you a thousand bucks or two thousand bucks. ... This is not a six-month project, it's a 60-year project.