Business: Sports Agent Robyn Tallis
Ever wondered who's responsible for making the deals behind your favourite athletes' success? Meet sports agent Robyn Tallis, the mastermind behind managing some of the top talent in the sports industry
Introducing Robyn Tallis, the woman who’s revolutionising the game behind the scenes. Armed with a legal background and an unbridled love for sports, Robyn possesses a skillset that sets her apart as a perfect match for her role as a sports agent. Her ability to spot talent transcends just physical capabilities; she’s constantly on the lookout for individuals who are making a meaningful impact both on and off the field. Join us as we sit down with Robyn to delve into her journey and uncover the secrets to becoming a successful sports agent.
Glorious: What is “the business of sport” and what does it mean to you?
Robyn Tallis: To me, the business of sport refers to everything off the field of play. It encompasses the infrastructure, athlete management, events, retail, and all the other components that make up the industry. The sports industry is worth around $700 billion or something crazy, so everything that contributes to that falls under the business of sport umbrella. However, there’s also a lot that goes on during sport – sponsorships on jerseys or in the stadium, which is also a part of the business of sport.
Glorious: What led you to your role within sport?
Robyn Tallis: I’m currently a sports agent at W Management and my journey to this role was a roundabout one. I studied law at university and graduated during the first lockdown. I then went into a corporate job because I didn’t know what else to do with my law degree. However, I absolutely hated it and it was the worst experience ever for my mental health!
I quit my job and reached out to W Management, a company I had wanted to do work experience with, but couldn’t due to lockdown. After lockdown they offered me a job, which was a nice surprise. Although I didn’t always know that I wanted to pursue a career in sport, I had looked at sports law and had also done work experience with Sky’s Sports legal team, as well as having a legal mentor who was the head legal counsel at Arsenal Football Club. My interest in intellectual property and contract law made me interested in working with W and their talent. I grew up super sporty, including playing football for Aston Villa, and I even chose my law school based on it’s proximity to Chelsea Football Club’s training ground as I was going for trials there! I guess having a sporty background helps significantly when managing athletes.
Glorious: We were unaware that you played for Aston Villa! Tell us about your sporting background.
Robyn Tallis: When I was younger I did athletics, swimming, and football. I was so active that my mum registered me into different sports clubs every night of the week, and I absolutely loved it. I played football for a grassroots team, then moved to Coventry Girls from aged 10-13 and played for Aston Villa from aged 14-18. When I went to university, I tried out for Chelsea, but got an eye infection during the two-week trial period, so put the trial on hold until I recovered.
At the same time, I was approached by GB Rowing and was invited to join their world class start programme for a trial. They were in the process of recruiting people based on their physical attributes, such as body type and height. I love being in the water, and decided to give it a try while I was at university. I trained every day, from 7:30am to 12:30pm, then went to lectures and seminars, and then trained again from 4:30pm to 6:30pm. I did this six days a week from aged 18-22, until I became injured at the start of COVID. I had quadricep tendonitis and had to have a mini-operation in my knee.
As part of my rehab, I got into running because surprisingly it never caused me any issues. I moved back to London, tried rowing again, but it was causing the injury to niggle again. I told myself that I didn’t want to struggle through the injury and not enjoy my life, so I decided to focus on running instead. I joined different running communities in London, like Pure Sport, Ultra Black Running Club, Soar and Track Mafia. My girlfriend works around the corner from me, so we sometimes go for lunchtime runs. Running is more flexible than rowing, and it’s been great for me!
Glorious: Can you tell us more about what W Management does?
Robyn Tallis: W started in 2007 and specialised in sports modelling – which is pretty rare in the model world! Sports models are in high demand because every single brand and commercial uses sport at some point or another. We receive job requests from brands such as Reebok, Lacoste, Gymshark etc. We also represent talent from an influencer background, be that beauty/ lifestyle/ fitness. One day I proposed the idea of creating a standalone division for athletes because we needed to make them more prominent and not just integrate them with influencers. That’s how the athlete board started, and I was let loose with it!
Glorious: Who are some notable athletes you/ W manage and what do you look for when scouting for talent?
Robyn Tallis: I have a lot of autonomy over who I manage, which is one of the benefits of working for a smaller company with 18-20 employees. I look for people who have something going for them other than just sports, someone who is interested in social impact or is creative. For example, I’ve worked with sports models who are DJs, have their own ceramics companies, and are interested in social impact projects. I manage a big mix of talent, some of whom I knew before moving to W. I’ve collaborated with Jess Carter, who’s now playing football for Chelsea and England, we played football together at grassroots level. I also work with a GB rower, Vwairé Obukohwo, who I rowed with throughout university. My nan is best friends with the mum of boxer Lewis Williams, who won gold at the Commonwealth Games in the heavyweight boxing category, and I’ve worked with him too. I want people on my team who are doing well and believe in what they’re doing rather than just managing anyone who plays sports.
Glorious: What is the booking process? Do brands approach you and ask for a female athlete from your roster and then you negotiate a deal?
Robyn Tallis: It works a few ways. Brands approach us for specific athletes, or we pitch athletes to them based on a general brief. I focus on retaining athletes’ commercial value, ensuring brand alignment with the athlete,. The athlete’s performance, social media influence, and brand alignment are all factors considered when pitching someone to a brand, and fees are generally structured but may be negotiated.
Glorious: How crucial is having a large social media following to booking jobs?
Robyn Tallis: Having a large following on social media is definitely helpful if you want to make money through influencing. 100%. Of course, it’s also important to excel in your sport or area of expertise, but a lot of the talent I work with have outside interests that make them more ‘interesting’ to brands.
For instance, one of the girls I manage wanted to be more involved in beauty and will attend events with brands such as Fenty beauty. She is incredibly talented in her sport and is recognised for this, but I think the social following may have been the reason for the invite. However, if your focus is on sports or social impact projects, you can find charitable sponsors or apparel and nutrition sponsors based purely on your sporting achievements. While the money might not be as good, if you’re on a good trajectory, the following should eventually come, although this isn’t always the case, especially in niche sports, which is sometimes disappointing.
Glorious: Do the fees offered to female athletes frustrate you?
Robyn Tallis: As someone with a sporty background and a passion for sports, I definitely understand the dedication and commitment that athletes put into their craft. It’s frustrating to see underrepresented and underfunded sports struggle to find sponsors who can provide the financial support that they need to continue pursuing their dreams. In my experience, commercial deals for some of the athletes I manage have been crucial to supporting their entire sporting careers.
Unfortunately, it seems that the biggest fees and sponsorships tend to go to athletes who don’t necessarily need the support, while those who could benefit the most are left struggling. This can be especially true for athletes in sports that don’t receive as much funding as others. It’s disheartening to see this inequality, and I hope that in the future, more brands will recognise the value of supporting underrepresented sports and athletes.
Glorious: Tell us about some of the notable campaigns you have booked for your clients?
Robyn Tallis: I’m probably most proud of long-term sponsorships, where the athlete becomes part of the brand’s family. For example, Jim Pope with Black Diamond is a prominent figure in the outdoor industry, and GB shooter Ruth Mwandumba is doing amazing work with Lacoste. We have also worked on unique campaigns, such as the collaboration between ballerina Precious Adams and Gymshark. Gymshark initially approached us to work with Precious, so we proposed that they shoot Precious and her friends training at the English National Ballet, wearing Gymshark apparel.
Glorious: Did Gymshark go for it and shoot the campaign?
Robyn Tallis: Yes, they did it last year! When that campaign came out, I was excited because I had a lot of input. It was cool they had trusted my talent suggestions and ideas.I didn’t think I was that creative before this job! Gymshark are great and we’ve worked with them a lot. They put together a skate shoot at Victoria Park with one of our sports models Meghna Lall, who is a skater. The brand started to venture into niche sports that they hadn’t tapped into before. I love working with them on these campaigns.
Glorious: Are you seeing more opportunities for your female talent aside from the usual ‘modelling’ gigs?
Robyn Tallis: Yes, there are more opportunities coming up, such as broadcasting gigs, hosting appearances, and public speaking events. Brands are more open to featuring female athletes, especially after the recent successes of teams like the Red Roses and the Lionesses. However, these opportunities are still on the cheaper side of things, and most appearances on radio, television, or articles don’t come with much pay, if any. The bigger hosting gigs tend to go to the same women. But overall, opportunities for female athletes are definitely increasing.
Glorious: In broadcasting, do you agree that we often see the same female presenters over and over again?
Robyn Tallis: That’s definitely the case! I notice when I watch men’s football I see different commentators and contributors for every match. In comparison to women’s football, I see the same people every week and it would be nice to have more variation. Don’t get me wrong, the women are doing a fantastic job, but there are so many people interested in this line of work I wish there were more opportunities for new faces.
Glorious: Which brands do you think are really dedicated to uplifting women’s sports?
Robyn Tallis: I’ve enjoyed working with Lacoste. They recently started working with our client GB rifle shooter Ruth Mwandumba. We attended a Lacoste event at their Regent Street shop opening. It was one of the wildest nights I’ve had in a while! Lacoste is a market leader that supports talent. Although their background is in golf and tennis, they took on Ruth and other athletes from niche sports to raise awareness during this Olympiad. They also added breakdancers to the mix. The event was super cool and it was amusing to see athletes and influencers at the same party because it’s two completely different worlds colliding!
Glorious: Where do you see the future of women’s sport? We see a lot of brands using sporting talent in their campaigns. You’ve now got brands that have never previously associated with sport ever, now branching into women’s sports. How much of it do you think is a real change of the landscape, or do you think there’s a certain amount of performance/buying into a trend?
Robyn Tallis: I think it’s just the beginning and you’ve got to start somewhere. It sounds really bad, but you have to start by ticking the box. It’s happened with every type of diversity and inclusivity, right? I am a Black queer female who appreciates that a lot of shoots that I’m trying to plug people into is box ticking. I can see it, it’s very obvious. But I think the fact that brands are starting to do that, and money is being redirected and they are having to spend a bit of budget somewhere else, at least it’s happening. It’s not happening quickly enough or big enough, but it is a start and it’s positive that it’s happening in the first place. Everything has to have a foundation.
I also believe the decision makers are changing – look at Wimbledon. I heard they’re potentially going to allow women to wear darker shorts this year. I’d love to see who’s on the board for Wimbledon, the fact that there has even been a conversation is good. Clearly some things are changing for the better!
The trajectory of women’s sport is definitely getting bigger and better. If I look back to when I was playing for Aston Villa, one of the reasons I stopped playing football was because I couldn’t envisage a career. I didn’t think it was possible to be a professional female footballer. There weren’t a lot of big names up there. Rachel Yankee, Alex Scott, Jill Scott were probably the only names that I knew. The fact that there are a lot more role models within women’s sport can only be a good thing in encouraging more young girls to participate. If young women can see that there is a career in their chosen sport, they’re more likely to stick it out and hold onto the passion and commitment required to excel. So yeah… I think we’re at a starting point and there’s a long way to go, but hey, at least it’s started!