Joby Branion (J.D./MBA ’95) studied law and management at UCLA, then began a career in transactional law. An old college buddy tipped him off to an opportunity to meet and possibly work with legendary sports agent Leigh Steinberg, who inspired the character Tom Cruise portrayed in Jerry Maguire. Branion joined Steinberg’s firm and later he founded Athletes First in 2001. That company ultimately was ranked by Forbes #2 on their Most Valuable NFL Agency list in 2014. Branion is the founder of Vanguard Sports Group, a company created “based upon the principle that agents have deep obligations to fulfill to their clients — to support, to guide, to counsel and, ultimately, to empower each individual throughout every phase of their careers. These obligations extend well beyond the traditional negotiation of contracts for a fee.” Vanguard’s clients include the Denver Broncos’ Von Miller, who was named the Most Valuable Player in the 2016 Super Bowl.
Q: How did you switch from a career as an entertainment lawyer and executive to representing athletes as a sports agent?
I went to law school and business school while at UCLA and then I started practicing law right there in Westwood at a multifaceted firm that did litigation and transactional work. I was on the transactional side doing both general corporate stuff and some entertainment stuff. The reality is that while I was compensated very well, I just didn’t feel the intrinsic reward out of my day-to-day job. After a year, I got a call from my old college roommate who happened to also be a UCLA law graduate and he knew someone who was looking to hire somebody to help represent professional athletes. That person ended up being Leigh Steinberg, and Leigh was, at the time, at the top of his game. He had Steve Young, Warren Moon, Troy Aikman, Bruce Smith, Derrick Thomas — along with a significant baseball practice.
I did some research into Leigh and got an idea of the things that he stood for: primarily making clients understand that they’re role models whether they like it or not. He drove home the importance of giving back to the community that shaped their lives and it just seemed to me to be more of a real commitment to the person as opposed to just the athlete. So, I went and had a few interviews and then decided to cast my lot in that direction.