JS 56: Playing Professional Sports Overseas with David Willig Founder of American International Sports ManagementAugust 5th, 2013 by Jason | Comments Off on JS 56: Playing Professional Sports Overseas with David Willig Founder of American International Sports Management
David Willig is the Founder of American International Sports Management. He’s a certified international sports agent for the FIBA (International Basketball Federation). Willig believes there are tremendous benefits for athletes to play overseas. Playing overseas provides an alternative “jetsetter” kind of lifestyle to a select few. Willig discusses the level of play varying by country and region.
Willig is also an international business law veteran. He shares some cases he’s dealt with respect to international property issues. He also let’s us in on his secret to multiple language fluency.
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JASON HARTMAN: It’s my pleasure to welcome David Willig to the show! He is the founder of American International Sports Management, and he has some interesting things to share with us today about what happens when people play sports overseas, how they can live a JetSetter lifestyle, and then we’ll talk about business and law in general as it applies to the world of international life. David, welcome. How are you?
DAVID WILLIG: I’m great; thanks for having me on the show. It’s great to be with you.
JASON HARTMAN: The pleasure is mine. And you’re coming to us today from Miami, Florida, is that correct?
DAVID WILLIG: That’s correct.
JASON HARTMAN: Fantastic. How did you happen to found the American International Sports Management Group?
DAVID WILLIG: Well you know, it really grew out of a long time of practicing law pretty much around the world. I was an international lawyer for about 25 years. I’d represented athletes here and there once in a while over those years, but I got interested in sports law on a more intensive basis, I guess, about a few years ago. And you know, as I learned more about the field, I came to understand that sports agency has a lot in common with what I’ve been doing for the past 25 years. And since I was—I have to say I was pretty good at what I was doing. At the time I thought I would be able to have a really good impact in the sports agency business, particularly in overseas sports.
JASON HARTMAN: And so, when athletes are going overseas, what type and level of athlete are you talking about? Are you talking about someone before they get to the pros, or, what are we talking about there?
DAVID WILLIG: I’m really talking about all those things. it could be a college athlete, out of college in the United States. They’re gonna have the NBA draft in a few weeks. A lot of those college ballplayers are hoping to be drafted, but not everyone’s going to be. So, a good plan would be, if you’re not drafted in the NBA, is to have contact to be able to play overseas. As far as levels of play overseas, there are many different levels of play. I wouldn’t say that the highest level of play is the same level as NBA, but it is quite competitive in the highest levels, for example, of European basketball. And there are also lower levels of professional basketball in Europe and other countries. So there are I think a lot of niche places that players can get into, and play professionally without being in the NBA, or even the NBA development league.
JASON HARTMAN: But isn’t it more lucrative playing in the States? I would think that it would be. Maybe not.
DAVID WILLIG: You know, it is, because the NBA remains the gold standard of professional basketball around the world. So of course, on average, it’s better to play in the States. But there’s only about 400 odd NBA basketball players. So the odds of hitting that are kind of like hitting the lottery, in a way. So, if you want to have better odds, you know, when you play the lottery, if you play the great big game, the odds are high, and if you play the game that pays you less money, the odds are not as high, and you’re more likely to win. So it’s kind of like that. If you don’t make the NBA, I’m sure you’re not gonna make the NBA salary. But there are very respectable salaries to be made in professional basketball overseas.
JASON HARTMAN: And so, do you just deal with basketball only, or other sports?
DAVID WILLIG: Well, currently I’m a certified agent for FIBA, which is the International Basketball Federation. We eventually plan to expand our agency into other sports. I know that some agents say, no you gotta specialize in one sport. But you know, that’s kind of like saying, as a lawyer, you have to specialize in one thing. I’ve worked around the world at a number of things, and I think that I can handle hockey and basketball and you know, maybe football as well. So it really all boils down to contracts, I’d say is the heart of it. And so, contracts is, you know, it’s what I’ve done for a long time.
JASON HARTMAN: Right, right. And so, where do these—let’s take basketball, for example. Where do the players typically go? Are there probably a few sort of hot choices, I assume, in terms of countries?
DAVID WILLIG: Well, there are hot choices, because there are leagues that are more competitive, and therefore higher pay. For example, if you’re not going to be in the NBA, you might want to be in a Pro A level team in Europe, for example. France, the Pro A league is a league with very competitive players. We’ve actually had some French players come to the United States. Tony Parker, for example, played in the Pro A league before. So that’s a pretty high level of play. If you’re a good player, you’ll get a decent salary. That’s France. Spain and Italy have very competitive leagues. Germany has a competitive league. And again, all these leagues have a top level league, and then a mid level league, and then a lower level league. So there’s really room for all different levels of players. There are also very competitive leagues in Greece. Serbia is a huge market for basketball. Fans in Serbia love basketball. Turkey is an interesting market for basketball, also potential for a very high salary. For example, I understand that Allen Iverson—when he retired from the Philadelphia 76ers, went and played in Turkey for a couple of years, and he was drawing seven figure salaries in Turkey.
JASON HARTMAN: So, seven figures. Yeah, that’s good. Now, what else do the players have to deal with? What about tax considerations? I assume that some of their income is not taxable in the US. Maybe 100, 200,000, depending on if they’re single or married, I assume?
DAVID WILLIG: Well, without getting too into the technical details, there actually is a kind of an exoneration of taxes for US citizens who work a full year abroad. Most basketball seasons don’t last a full year, so it’s likely that the player will not spend the entire year abroad playing. But there are leagues for example in Paraguay, that they don’t take a break, they just play all year long. But that is one way. Another way that sometimes, for the shorter periods, when taxes might be reliable, or might be payable, sometimes teams, for example, over in Europe, offer to pay the local taxes as part of the remuneration to the player, which could also include sometimes lodging, the use of a car, it can even include meals at times. So, there’s other benefits besides just the salary.
JASON HARTMAN: And, what about the sort of, when talking about other benefits—is there a celebrity benefit and you know, I guess interpret celebrity benefit however you want—but, is it more than they would have, in terms of celebrity benefit, in the US? I guess what I mean by that is, these are players that wouldn’t necessarily make it into the NBA, as you mentioned, right? So, they’re not—they’re not at that level, but being from another country, is it more exotic, these leagues aren’t quite as high end as the NBA, so, how does that play out?
DAVID WILLIG: Well, let me just first say, I kind of agreed a little bit, maybe half-heartedly, that some of the players are not very competitive. Even by NBA standards. So I wouldn’t say that you’re playing in Europe just because you’re not NBA. You can play in Europe for other reasons. And as I say, some of the top European leagues have very competitive players, some of whom do come and play in the NBA.
JASON HARTMAN: Sure.
DAVID WILLIG: But as far as the celebrity advantage, you know, if you have a choice to play in Europe on a Pro A or even a Pro B team, or the NBA D league? I think you’re going to have a little bit more of a celebrity advantage when you’re playing on the Pro A or Pro B team in Europe than in the NBA D league here in the United States. You’re more likely to make more money as well. I think there is a certain exoticness to foreigners. Sometimes foreigners become very famous, just for that, and I’m not talking about the basketball context, but just generally. In Japan, for example, many foreigners are celebrities, and you know, it’s kind of like, when you’re not even sure why they’re celebrities, and we have some people like that in this country. But Japan, you know—if you’re non-Japanese and you can speak Japanese, that’s probably reason enough to put you on television. You know? So there is a certain celebrity advantage to being a foreigner in some markets.
JASON HARTMAN: Okay, fair enough. Good, good. Well, what else should people know about this?
DAVID WILLIG: Well, what they should know is that basketball is—I guess maybe not the best kept secret, but it’s a huge world phenomenon. Of course, it was invented here in North America, by Dr. James Naismith, but it’s taken over the world, really. And you know, we talked about the theme of JetSetter that is for basketball fans who are JetSetters, you could enjoy basketball at a professional level all over the world. It won’t be always the same professional level, but it will always be exciting and entertaining. Many countries have American players playing. You can root for your home players. You can root for countries that you like. Maybe you have a background of decendency from that country. So it really makes for an interesting adventure. It has been a great adventure for me. You know, I travel around the world a lot, as a sports agent, and I now add basketball to my agenda, literally everywhere I go.
JASON HARTMAN: And that gives you some nice tax benefits as well, I assume.
DAVID WILLIG: It does, of course, it does. Traveling itself, obviously, is something that becomes necessary as part of business.
JASON HARTMAN: Sure, absolutely.
DAVID WILLIG: But it makes for a lot of fun as well. Not the mere drudgery of travel. It’s something exciting to look forward to every time you get on the plane.
JASON HARTMAN: Right, right, right. Which countries are the best at it? I mean, I know that you said that some of these players are very competitive, and really at NBA level, even though they’re playing overseas. What countries would you say really shine, outside of the US, in terms of the excitement of the game, the competitive nature of it, the talent of the players, etcetera?
DAVID WILLIG: Many of the countries in Europe that we already talked about—France, Spain, Italy, Germany—they have excellent and exciting leagues. I have to say that a lot of the players from what we sometimes refer to as the former Yugoslavia—now Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro—some of those players are great. Some of those fans are tremendous fans. But you know, we’ve had players from the Balkan regions, whether they’re Serbian or Croatian or Bosnian—for many many years. I don’t know if you remember the first American Dream Team back around 1992, I think it was. The silver medal that year was won by what was then still intact Yugoslavia. And two of the players that were on that silver medal team eventually came over and played in the NBA as well. And we’ve had, I think throughout the recent history of the NBA, it seems like there’s always somebody from Serbia or Croatia on some team in the NBA. So I think they tend to produce some very, very good ball players in that region.
JASON HARTMAN: Good, good. Let’s talk a little more generally, for a moment, if we can, and just talk about international law and business, and property issues. You’ve dealt with some different cases regarding international property issues. Tell us about some of them, if you would.
DAVID WILLIG: Well, I’ve done some pretty interesting and exciting things with property issues. And I guess when we talk about property issues, we’re probably really focused on real property issues. Of course personal property issues, objects, money, things like that, move around the world pretty easily. Land and buildings don’t move around so easily. And one of the things about land is that it’s always going to be subject to the law of where it is. So I’ve had some interesting adventures, like I said. For example, I’ve been involved with the sales of real estate in Switzerland, where we went to a notary’s office. Not really a notary public; a little bit of a higher level legal professional, kind of the way we would go to an attorney here in the United States. And it’s interesting, because in those jurisdictions, when you have a deed, for example, to sell property, the notary actually reads the entire deed to the parties, and when they’re gathered for the closing; I’ve never seen that done in the United States. It’s kind of a harkening back to the old days, when notaries could read, and nobody else could. So, they still read the act, and I’ve had that experience in Switzerland, where we sat for 45 minutes while the notary read through the entire act of sale for us. I’ve also been involved in sales, for example, in Pacific, and some of the French possessions in the Pacific. I think it was in New Caledonia, I’ve done real estate work over there. Different places. Mostly civil law jurisdictions, as opposed to common law jurisdictions. Or sometimes we refer to as like, the English-speaking countries have one way of recording documents, and organizing property, if you will, differently from the way they do in civil law countries. So again, that sort of makes for an interesting adventure every time you get involved in something, because even in country to country, the practices can vary, even if they are from the same system. Just like we see here, that in part of English-speaking Canada, they speak the same language, but they don’t always do the same things in the same way that we do. So it’s certainly true of other countries where they have a different legal tradition, including the use of this [unintelligible] system.
JASON HARTMAN: Sure, sure. What about, any issues of people having their property confiscated? Americans hear stories like this frequently about Mexico, and other jurisdictions as well. Any issues like that, that you’ve dealt with, or maybe you weren’t personally in the case, but that are interesting for people to know about?
DAVID WILLIG: You know, I have had a client who lived in Africa, and he had a successful business in Africa, and there was a bit of political turmoil in that particular country he left. He had two houses in that country which were seized by the government, and there really wasn’t a whole lot that we could do about it. It wasn’t the kind of expropriation that you see in developed countries where you’re likely to get a fair compensation. I remember studying what we might be able to do to recover these two houses, including even some years after the fact, when politics had changed again. But it’s a risk that you certainly have to take into account. And I can’t tell you that we came out on the right side of it. I don’t think those houses were ever recovered. So that’s something that people should be mindful of when they’re getting involved, particularly in moving for a long period of time, to a place that might be not quite familiar.
JASON HARTMAN: Well, people being mindful of it, that’s great advice, but political turmoil is so far out of the bailiwick of most people to really know. I mean, certainly that’s made the news, and I probably think it wouldn’t be a good idea to be investing in property in Iraq or Afghanistan. But you know, any more tips on that? You know, that’s interesting, about the Africa situation you mentioned.
DAVID WILLIG: You know, there are places that you could look at objectively from afar, and say, this is a little bit unstable, not quite the level of stability that I would like, and there are places where you can count on greater stability. Again, I think that for example, if you’re an American who’s thinking about moving to Western Europe somewhere, somewhere in the European Union, I don’t think they’re even going to have a serious issue of expropriation in that way. Confiscation. Expropriation is one thing. Confiscation is something else. If you’re compensated for it, it’s hard, but you can learn to live with it. If you’re not compensated for it, you’re never going to forget the experience.
JASON HARTMAN: The most expensive lesson you’ll probably ever learn in life will be that one.
DAVID WILLIG: That’s right, it will be.
JASON HARTMAN: Hopefully nobody ever has to learn it. Well, one last thing for you. You speak several languages, is that correct?
DAVID WILLIG: I do.
JASON HARTMAN: How many?
DAVID WILLIG: You know, it’s hard to say, because I actually add them all the time. Some of them I learn over a period of time, and didn’t realize that I was able to speak them as well as I was able to. So for example, currently I’m actually studying, oh, four or five different languages. None of them is truly new to me. Well, one is. For example, Vietnamese—I was in Vietnam last month, it inspired me to learn the Vietnamese language. When we were in Vietnam we went to a business exposition, met a lot of Chinese people there, decided I would learn Chinese as well, because they’re both tonal languages, and that will help me get used to tonal languages. I had already studied a few Asian languages in the past. I’m also working in German, to improve it, again for basketball. And then I’m actually learning the Serbo-Croat language also, because of basketball.
JASON HARTMAN: Wow.
DAVID WILLIG: And it’s—it’s a fun adventure, but it takes a lot of work.
JASON HARTMAN: Any tips on learning languages? That’s very difficult for a lot of people.
DAVID WILLIG: It is. It is difficult for a lot of people, and I appreciate that. And I can’t really say that it’s easy for me; I work very hard at it. But I would say, one tip that I would suggest to folks is, when you study a foreign language, try to focus on as many recognizable features as you can. I was just talking over lunch with a fellow from Russia who was talking about the Serbian language. Serbian is a Slavic language, and I was, you know, we were talking over a little bit of the text of an article about basketball, and I said, do you see any Russian words that you recognize? And when you’re able to make those connections, you’ll be able to remember them better, and be able to function with the language better. So, try to always be mindful of those similitudes. A lot of people focus on, and they go around the world and they focus on how different everybody is. Even though I speak many languages, I’m often fascinated by how similar we really all are.
JASON HARTMAN: Yeah. Well, that’s good advice. That’s very good advice. David, give out your website, if you would, and tell people where they can learn more about your firm.
DAVID WILLIG: Sure, I’d like to give out my website, even though it’s under construction; it should be up going pretty soon. But the website is AISports.us. In the meantime we also have a Facebook page under AI Sports; you can check it out. Like the page, if you will. We also have an email, if you want to contact me, or directly any players interested in maybe exploring the opportunity of playing overseas. That email is [email protected]
JASON HARTMAN: Fantastic. Well, David Willig, thank you so much for joining us today.
DAVID WILLIG: Listen, thanks for the opportunity to be with you. It’s been great. I appreciate it, and I’ll look forward to doing it again sometime.
ANNOUNCER: This show is produced by the Hartman Media Company. All rights reserved. For distribution or publication rights and media interviews, please visit www.HartmanMedia.com, or email [email protected] Nothing on this show should be considered specific personal or professional advice. Please consult an appropriate tax, legal, real estate, or business professional for any individualized advice. Opinions of guests are their own, and the host is acting on behalf of Platinum Properties Investor Network, Inc. exclusively.
Transcribed by David