Public Relations  >  News Center  >  News Releases  >  November 2018  >  November 30, 2018  >  'Sitting right where you guys are sitting': Creighton alumnus reflects on career as agent to baseball's stars
'Sitting right where you guys are sitting': Creighton alumnus reflects on career as agent to baseball's stars

Kyle Thousand, JD'07, at far right, is an agent for several MLB players, including Mets superstar, Yoenis Cespedes.Addressing a lecture hall of Creighton University School of Law students, Nov. 26, Kyle Thousand, JD’07, watched as his phone lit up with ever-increasing urgency.

Earlier in the day, Thousand, the managing director of baseball for the Jay-Z-owned Roc Nation Sports agency, had been monitoring rumors that one of his clients, Seattle Mariners star Robinson Canó, could be traded — possibly back to his old team, the New York Yankees. Another client, Yankees ace CC Sabathia, who has declared the 2019 season to be his last, was also curious about the potential move.

Nevertheless, the Creighton law alumnus graciously and assiduously answered questions from all comers in professor David Weber’s sports law class — contract negotiations, arbitration, the possibility of a work stoppage or lockout, what ballparks are his favorite, and what his average day is like. That last one made him beam widely.

“Honestly,” Thousand said, “I get paid to watch baseball for a living. Baseball has always been a part of my life, and I feel very fortunate and blessed to have the job I have. No day is the same. I’m not at a desk. I enjoy representing the guys we represent. It’s a great place to be.”

Though his own baseball career — begun as a pitcher — was beset by injury and the shuttering of the first college program for which he played at Iowa State University, Thousand still managed to nab consecutive All-Big Ten selections as a centerfielder after transferring to the University of Iowa. In 2003, Thousand, a Sioux City, Iowa, native, was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays and spent a season with the organization’s Single-A affiliate before a shoulder injury forced him into retirement.

Thousand decided to pursue a law degree and came to Creighton in the fall of 2004. Without an inkling that his athletic career and his legal career might one day intersect, Thousand said he kept himself open to opportunities and dedicated to his studies.

“It really started for me sitting right where you guys are sitting,” Thousand told the students. “I was always thinking, always having a plan. I knew first-year internships are based on first semester grades and I wanted to get the best internship I could. I ended up at Kutak Rock here in Omaha. From there, in the second year, I went to Chicago. I started putting that plan into motion.”

Graduating in 2007, Thousand landed at the Chicago firm of Katten Muchin Rosenman, working mostly on the corporate side of sports and entertainment law, getting his first brush with his future pursuits. But as the economic downturn in the nation deepened, many law firms of Katten’s size began shedding associates. Thousand survived five rounds of layoffs before he was caught up in a sixth layoff. In the end, his firm slashed 75 percent of its younger workforce in their Corporate Practice.

At about the moment he was leaving Katten, Mike Lindeman, BA’04, JD’07, a standout Creighton basketball player and a law school classmate of Thousand’s, contacted his friend and said his firm, New York-based Excel Sports Management, was starting a baseball division and bringing on one of the game’s most respected agents, Casey Close. Would Thousand be interested in getting in on the ground floor?

Kyle Thousand, JD'07, right, with client and Yankees star pitcher CC Sabathia.By the way, Lindeman added, Close was also bringing with him a client: Yankees shortstop, captain and arguably the greatest all-around player of his generation, Derek Jeter.

“You get a chance to work for Casey Close and Derek Jeter — how do you not do that?” Thousand said. “I worked alongside Casey with Derek as he was coming toward the end of his career, doing a lot of his legal work. It was a phenomenal experience for a young lawyer. My first year as an agent, I was living on $55,000 a year, having to dip into my 401K, savings, you name it just to survive the expenses of living in Manhattan. But I was getting the kind of invaluable experience that has led me to the rest of my career path so far.”

In four years with Excel, Thousand was part of building the infrastructure of the baseball division and growing the company’s client list from eight ballplayers to more than 100.

Then, in April 2015, Thousand got a call from the CEO of a unique enterprise in sports management, Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports. The agency had recently started a baseball division and wanted Thousand to run it. At 34, Thousand became perhaps the youngest managing director of baseball at a major agency.

Inheriting five players as he began Roc Nation’s baseball enterprise, Thousand and the three agents he oversees now manage a stable of 18 players, with a strategic look toward expanding in the Major League ranks while also acquiring clients approaching the big-league draft.

“We do things a little differently at Roc Nation Sports,” he said. “We put a strong emphasis on servicing our clients. If your clients are happy, they might be more inclined to tell a teammate about us. We’re not looking to add too many new clients a year. We’ve turned down quite a few people who have wanted us to represent them. We’re looking for the right person, the right fit — good people on and off the field. It’s a quality over quantity approach that you don’t see other agencies taking.”

With those 18 players, Thousand makes a concerted effort to visit each one at least twice a year and stays in frequent telephone contact with those who want a more hands-on approach. He’s visited nearly all 30 MLB parks, and he’s on the road for a good chunk of his working hours.

He’s been an architect of some of baseball’s most intriguing recent deals, including setting a precedent in arbitration cases for pitchers who succumb to Tommy John surgery with Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Shelby Miller who, despite missing nearly all of his 2017 season, went to a hearing and managed to garner a salary raise based on the quality of his 2017 performance in an abbreviated season.

Thousand, with former agent and recently named New York Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, also earned headlines for Mets outfielder Yoenis Céspedes’ 2017 four-year, $110-million deal that was struck, in part, because Thousand and Van Wagenen came up with a unique formula to sell Céspedes’ worth to the Mets via the outfielder’s outsize personality that resulted in increased ticket sales, jersey sales and appearances in some of New York’s tabloid back pages.

“That was a unique one coming off the opt-out we exercised after the first year of his original three-year, $75 million deal we did the previous offseason, but both sides were motivated to get the deal done in the end,” Thousand said. As the class session wound down and Thousand picked up his phone, ready to return a few calls, he opined again on the good fortune he’s had to have a career in baseball in this particular way.

“I’ve worn a lot of hats, I’ve had many opportunities,” he said. “But to be at Roc Nation Sports, to build the infrastructure the way we have and to have the keys to the baseball division the way I do, it’s been an opportunity that’s hard to really put into words. I’ve loved every minute.”

---
Creighton University is a Jesuit, Catholic university bridging health, law, business and the arts and sciences for a more just world.