The Tennis Week Interview: Perry Rogers
Andre Agassi By Richard Pagliaro
They met, appropriately enough, on a tennis court in a momentary post-match clash that would change the course of both of their lives. An 11-year-old Andre Agassi had just lost a junior match and was in no mood for advice when a fellow junior player named Perry Rogers, who happened to have a crush on Agassi's sister, supplied some anyway.
"I said 'Don't worry, you play your game,' " Rogers remembers telling Agassi in that post-match moment nearly 24 years ago.
In those days, the young Agassi had not yet adopted the four-corner bow that has become his customary closing gesture of appreciation to his fans. His response did not exactly endear him to Rogers, who was ready to put down his racquet and start trading shots with the kid whose father had been an Olympic boxer before training his four children to become tennis players.
"He was bothered that he lost and wasn't really kind to me and I said to my doubles partner, 'That's not nice, I'm going to go after him,' " Rogers said. "Then Andre called up and said: 'Hey, let's go to the movies' and from that day on we've been best friends."
Instead of fighting each other, the Las Vegas natives have continually challenged themselves to contribute to others and from that initial feud they've formed a strong friendship and business partnership. Rogers is president of Agassi Enterprises and serves as agent for three of the most popular athletes in the world: Agassi, his wife Steffi Graf and NBA all star Shaquille O'Neal. In addition, Rogers, who heads Premier Integrated Sports Management, recently began representing Australian golfer Adam Scott.
"Andre and I have always enjoyed having discussions that dealt with larger questions than just how much money can you make?" Rogers said. "The question of what defines success? What creates quality of life? How do you have connections with people that are meaningful? Those are issues that from a real young age we were interested in discussing."
Those discussions were the blue print for their business partnership. Rogers, who graduated from Georgetown and the University of Arizona law school, has negotiated endorsement deals with adidas, Head, Schick, Canon, Kia, Aramis, Genworth Financial, 24 Hour Fitness, and Deutsche Telekom that have been Agassi one of the world's highest-paid athletic endorsers. The pair have used Agassi's earning power and global appeal to contribute to charitable causes, children's education and the Las Vegas community through the non-profit Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation, which has raised more than $42 million for charity since its inception in 1994 and the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, his charter school that offers education to 250 students.
The 10th annual Andre Agassi Grand Slam For Children featuring Mary J. Blige, Duran Duran, Earth Wind & Fire and George Lopez will be staged on Saturday, October 1st at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. For ticket information, please visit MGMGrand.com or ticketmaster.com or phone (800) 929-1111.
The 35-year-old Agassi has evolved into one of the hardest-working men in tennis — a player who spends holidays sprinting up hills and his labor days patiently pounding penetrating groundstrokes to break down opponents with the force of a jackhammer jabbing jarring holes in pavement. Agassi constructs points with a purpose, but the foundation for his world-class work ethic was formed in a city chiming with the sound of silver dollars streaming from slot machines and attracting tourists seeking to strike it rich with a single roll of the dice.
"Vegas has been the fastest-growing city in America for more than 30 years," Agassi said. "It's a city of great vision. It's a city where the community believes that if you actually believe in something enough, you can create it and make it happen. It gets a tough rap because it's perceived as an adult Disneyland. But the community of people who actually live here is strong. It is a community that bonds together and looks out for each other. It's an incredibly inspirational city."
During his recent run to the U.S. Open final, Agassi revealed another source of inspiration when asked the secret to his success.
"Surround yourself with good people that know how to help you and make good decisions, and train and work hard," Agassi replied.
From support boxes in the most prestigious Grand Slam stadiums in the world to corporate board rooms where he's negotiated multi-million dollar deals to picnic tables at backyard barbecues, Rogers has been in Agassi's corner throughout his career and has been astounded by what the childhood friends have achieved together.
"I can't believe any of this. It's all way beyond what I could have ever dreamed — all of it. I mean, the whole thing is as lucky as you can get," Rogers said. "My childhood best friend, the person that I am more comfortable with that I could have ever imagined being comfortable with anybody is my business partner and my confidante and my mentor and by best friend. The fact that I get to do all of these things while at the same time I get to watch him accomplish such big things on the world stage is beyond what you could have dreamed. I used to hope that one day he could play Wimbledon. So that was my ceiling: "it would be neat if he got to go on the court at Wimbledon." To be the most popular person in the history of tennis, which is the place he occupies is jaw-dropping."
Tennis Week caught up with Rogers recently in the lobby of his midtown Manhattan hotel. In this interview, Rogers discusses the reason Agassi left Nike and signed with adidas, the ongoing expansion of the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, future plans for Agassi and Graf to work together and reveals how Agassi has sustained his long-time relationship with his support team: Rogers, trainer and confidante Gil Reyes and coach Darren Cahill.
Tennis Week: The three of you — Andre, yourself and Gil — have had such a long and productive friendship and working relationship. How have you been able to sustain that relationship all these years and what is the plan for this team beyond tennis?
Perry Rogers: Well, it's a few things. First, friendship has been the most important aspect from the beginning. The business is just an excuse for us to be together as friends. And I think that perspective is what allows everything to be successful, it is that we're always clear on what the priorities are; the priorities are not the business, the priorities are the connections that we have as friends and as people. And I think when you have your priorities clear on that, and they're similarly aligned, from there I think it's pretty easy to accomplish.
Tennis Week: Is it a team effort in the decisions you make in terms of schedule, career, endorsement opportunities? Do you all sit down together and collectively make those decisions?
Perry Rogers: Everyone has their separate roles and those roles have been clearly defined. We're fortunate that we understand those roles and our responsibilities don't seem to creep into each other. The schedule is probably the only area where we need to collectively sit down. When it comes to Andre's fitness, for example, I believe that Andre is the fittest tennis player to ever pick up a racquet. I have nothing to do with that. Gil is all of that working with Andre and that's something I celebrate every day of the year: what an incredible job Gil has done. When it comes to the business, that's my responsibility and when it comes to what takes place between the lines, that's Darren's responsibility. There's probably a lot more collaboration between Darren and Gil than there would be with Darren and Gil and myself.
Tennis Week: I've always heard Andre say that you and he, at a very young age as kids growing up in Vegas, made a sort of vow that you would give something back to the community. I read recently your dad is quite a philanthropist and with that in mind did your upbringing instill that in you or was it more a case of you and Andre formulating that plan to give back to the Vegas community?
Perry Rogers: My dad didn't really start to get involved with philanthropy until I was in law school. The discussions Andre and I had were when we were little kids.
Tennis Week: What prompted that at such a young age? When I was that age, honestly I was thinking of ways to meet a girl, not launching a foundation?
Perry Rogers: I think it was trying to define what success means. Andre and I have always enjoyed having discussions that dealt with larger questions than just how much money can you make? The question of what defines success? What creates quality of life? How do you have connections with people that are meaningful? Those are issues that from a real young age we were interested in discussing.
Tennis Week: As recently as early June I read in Forbes that you guys were leaning toward renewing with Nike. Why didn't that happen? The second part of that question is why did you guys opt to sign with adidas?
Perry Rogers: Well, we've had 19 great years with Nike. They're a fantastic company. But at the end of the day, at the end of the negotiation, we had no problem reaching an agreement with what Andre would be compensated, but we didn't even remotely come close to seeing eye-to-eye in terms of the Foundation. I think the person with whom I was negotiating didn't really understand the importance of Andre's foundation to Andre and the size and scope of it, more generally speaking. So that created a disconnect in the discussions and as much as we tried to bridge that disconnect, we couldn't. And we started to have a discussion with adidas and they were so proactive about getting involved with and understanding the Foundation and they were so great about realizing that the attitude of sports should include this component that it was just a fit right from the beginning. It isn't that Nike did anything wrong it's just that we had a different perspective on this component. And that perspective is really critical to Andre and what he wants to accomplish.
Tennis Week: So did adidas pursue you? Or did you contact adidas and say "Hey, this might not work out with Nike and we may need to explore other avenues."?
Perry Rogers: We realized that we needed to explore other avenues. So we had a discussion with adidas and they were great in saying "OK, let us try to understand the Foundation. Let us see what it is you're trying to accomplish and let us see if we can meet those needs." And they were fantastic about saying "Yeah, this is something we want to pursue."
Tennis Week: When you're negotiating potential partnerships is the Foundation a necessary part of those negotiations and are you up front with potential partners about that?
Perry Rogers: Yes, it is at this point. Yes, at this point in his career and in has been that way for some time. In the last eight or nine years, I can't think of a single deal we've done where we didn't include the Foundation. And so it is a critical component and it's the way that we can really feel good about the partnerships meeting what everyone's needs are.
Tennis Week: How does what you're seeking from a partner differ from let's say for instance Nike came to you and said "We'll give you the money and you do whatever you want with it. Not that we don't want to be involved, but we'll give you the money and you allocate whatever money you want to the Foundation, that's up to you."?
Perry Rogers: In every project it's about people and resources. And money is just one of those resources. So if they were to take the approach "We'll just give you money and you do want you want with it", the problem with that is that it doesn't address the resource of people. Just having Nike's money, in this case you mention it would be Andre's money if they said "we'll give you the money and you do what you want with it." But just getting money, that's not it. We're looking for partners who will commit their time and personnel to accomplishing this for kids.
Tennis Week: I would think that broadens your reach and what you can achieve?
Perry Rogers: Exactly because you now have the resources available. You can call up and say "We'd like to sell a t-shirt to raise awareness for the foundation". Or "Do you have any advertising buys going on and do you think you could work in a 30-second PSA for our Foundation?"
Tennis Week: So adidas' relationship with other partners can lead to relationships for your Foundation?
Perry Rogers: Exactly, exactly. It's viral.
Tennis Week: You represent three of the most popular and recognizable athletes in the world in Andre, Steffi and Shaq and they've all had long and distinguished careers. Where do you go now in terms of planning their careers beyond sports and are you already doing deals now looking three and four years down the road?
Perry Rogers: We've been really fortunate in that we've been able to get involved with business that have worked out well for us. We bought the Golden Nugget, Andre and I, we had partners in it, but we were one of the owners. That investment worked out really well for us. We made a little over 200 percent in just over a year. We own a big chunk of a bank, Nevada First Bank, which we started in Las Vegas and is a bank throughout Nevada now. We were one of the founding partners of that bank. We've very fortunate we have an incredible group of owners and an amazing management team and we've been a very successful bank. We own restaurants and night clubs and we have now gotten into real estate. We own fitness clubs in Las Vegas and we're doing those for Shaquille in Miami now so all those things combined we feel really well positioned and well prepared for the opportunities that are ahead of us.
Tennis Week: Do you see yourself expanding to other clients? Are you looking for other clients?
Perry Rogers: No. I do think that we'll represent a male golfer in the very near future. I'm really, really excited about that opportunity, but I'm not looking to expand the business by creating more clients. What we've done is our business model is simply different. We don't believe you can represent more than one athlete in a sport. Now, I do divide women's and men's sports because they're different circumstances, different management, different sponsors, etc. We've been blessed we represent, I think, the two greatest tennis players of all time in Andre and Stef. We represent the most important basketball player in the league today and the most dominant basketball player in the league today in Shaquille. So what we really try to do is create a few unique and special relationships with just a few athletes. We work hard to avoid conflict of interests and then we try to make sure we develop their business in the way that they see fit.
Tennis Week: When you've done combined deals for Andre and Steffi together how does that work and in general are you pursuing more combined endorsement and marketing opportunities for them?
Perry Rogers: I think you'll see more of that because it's authentic and it's unique. This is a great couple; people like to see them together. They're fantastic people, they are great parents and they put their family first. There's a connection and a relatability that they have that is very unique and that's because they are real as people. They're very unaffected by their life and their accomplishments and that is truly amazing. So I think with all of those elements combined I think you'll see that trend continue of having them work together. The other thing it does is it allows for their business life to not take away from their family life. While it isn't as good as just spending the day on the beach together, it still is them together and that's important for both of them.
Tennis Week: Andre is so influential as an ambassador for tennis. What do you see his role in tennis becoming beyond playing? Could it be as an administrator, commentator, working with one of the governing bodies of the game? What do you think?
Perry Rogers: I'm really not sure. I've been focused so much on his playing career that I couldn't predict what will happen after that. But having said that, I believe that almost any opportunity in tennis will be available to him because he's earned it. He understands the business side of tennis. He works well with players, organizers and sponsors. He has proven himself over and over and over again to be someone that can deal with different elements involved with tennis.
Tennis Week: And he is an established voice in tennis who commands attention.
Perry Rogers: That's correct. He's very reasoned. He's very smart. He understands the nuances and intricacies that surround some complex issues.
Tennis Week: There have been rumors that you might get involved or that you have an interest in getting involved with the ATP and its board. What is your interest in tennis in that area?
Perry Rogers: I happen to be one of those people who love the game. I played it as a junior, I played for one year at Georgetown and I just think it's fantastic. I think it's the greatest sport on the planet. It's a sport about problem solving and problem solving while you have to mix endurance into it and I find that unique because you're on your own and you can't call timeout or pass the ball. You can't take yourself out of the game or substitute in or out. For those reasons, it's a game that I've always been attracted to and if I can help in any way shape or form I would be more than willing to do that.
Tennis Week: What changes do you believe tennis should make or needs to make for both its short-term and long-term growth?
Perry Rogers: Tennis absolutely has to pool its rights. They have got to stop viewing themselves as individual entities.
Tennis Week: Do you mean tournaments? Governing bodies? The men's and women's tours?
Perry Rogers: All of it. They have all got to pool their rights; that doesn't mean that you pool the revenues, it does mean that you've got to come together when it comes to trying to pursue a television rights deal or a sponsorship deal. Right now, we're bargaining and negotiating against ourselves when it comes to those areas.
Tennis Week: Do you ever envision Andre writing his autobiography or doing a video or DVD autobiography. There has been so much written about him, it would seem there's going to come a time when he wants to tell the story himself?
Perry Rogers: It's a great question. It is something that we've thought a lot about and talked a lot about. He's got a great story. Andre's story is unique. I do believe that when he decides the time is right it's a story that should be shared.
Tennis Week: You've been with Andre since the beginning, basically, how have you seen the business side of tennis evolve and how would you assess the health of the sport now compared to when you initially got into it?
Perry Rogers: The business side — for the players, for the tournaments, for everyone — has become more divided between the haves and the have nots. And I think that goes back to my point about how we've been beating each other up. The great players and the great tournaments are doing better than ever. But the mid-level players and tournaments are struggling more than ever. And I think that what great tournaments need to recognize is that unless they get involved they won't have a support system that allows their tournaments to be great. They need to become part of the solution in this problem or it won't be able to be solved.
Tennis Week: Or that gap can conceivably widen to the point...
Perry Rogers: Or it widens to the point where some of these tournaments are no longer economically feasible. And when that happens, you're not able to follow those players. We're losing tournaments and that's not a surprise to anyone.
Tennis Week: Andre was asked after his first-round U.S. Open match his favorite U.S. Open moment and he basically said you can't encapsulate 20 years of tennis in New York to one moment. For you, you've been here so many years is there any one match or moment that really sticks out either at the Open or just here in New York, one that really touched you personally?
Perry Rogers: This is more of a personal one: I enjoyed his win in '99 (when Agassi beat Todd Martin in five sets), but not because of the win because it's never been about that. It's always been about problem solving and a process for all of us in our group. But I enjoyed that win because I got to watch him share that with Stefanie when they were just starting to get together. It was really neat to see a woman who is so accomplished, who has been there so many times herself, she's won this event five times, who's been there and understands it and to watch her happiness for someone she was just starting to date. On a personal note, that by far is my favorite. We all went out to dinner after the match and that dinner was my favorite moment.
Tennis Week: As a group, how do you keep this collective relationship productive and prevent it from becoming stale?
Perry Rogers: We hang out! We're all friends. So we're together having barbecues at each other's homes, your kids are all growing up together. There isn't any important event in our lives where we don't call up and share it with each other. It's like "Oh, do you believe this happened?" And so, business kind of takes place with the personal side. I'll get on the phone and say: "My daughter had her first day of school and it was awesome Andre, and my son was a little nervous but now he's ready. Oh and by the way, Genworth called..." That's kind of how it happens: business kind of gets worked into our personal lives and discussions; it's not the priority it's something that's more organic than that.
Tennis Week: Andre has talked about expanding the Academy. What is the vision for the Academy?
Perry Rogers: We're going to start phase three of construction this month, which is a $21 million expansion of the Academy this month. The goal is to make it K through 12 and right now it's K through 9. So we'll be K through 12 beginning in the fall of 2008. We're starting the construction now and we'll complete the construction next August. We'll be done with the high school next August and we'll be done with the gym next December. But we will have somewhat of any empty building as our kids get older because you have to come through our process. Come 2008, our kids that we had in fifth grade when we opened the school will be seniors. Every year that they get older, we add a grade.
Tennis Week: Will your own kids or Andre's kids attend the school?
Perry Rogers: No. This is primarily for kids who don't have an opportunity so to take a spot would be selfish.
Tennis Week: We spoke earlier about the conversations you and Andre had as kids. When you reflect back on those childhood dreams and goals what surprises you the most about what you've both achieved?
Perry Rogers: I can't believe any of this. It's all way beyond what I could have ever dreamed — all of it. I mean, the whole thing is as lucky as you can get. My childhood best friends, the person that I am more comfortable with that I could have ever imagined being comfortable with anybody is my business partner and my confidante and my mentor and by best friend. The fact that I get to do all of these things while at the same time I get to watch him accomplish such big things on the world stage is beyond what you could have dreamed. I used to hope that one day he could play Wimbledon. So that was my ceiling: "it would be neat if he got to go on the court at Wimbledon." To be the most popular person in the history of tennis, which is the place he occupies is jaw-dropping.
Tennis Week: How did you sustain that friendship when you both took such different paths after your teen years? Andre chose professional tennis and you went to law school? Those are two very different paths.
Perry Rogers: Andre is Harvard smart. He has an incredible understanding of the complexity of issues. He enjoys drilling down issues and working inside the fine details. He's as bright as they come. It wasn't ever planned for us to work together, that kind of just happened. Even before we started to work together if there was a life crisis that I started experiencing he was my first call. It was like: "Hey, give me your take on this. What do you think? How do you think I should solve this problem?" He's always been that person for me.
Tennis Week: Do you think your business relationship started because he knew he could trust you because he knew "Perry's my friend, he's not going to screw me over" or was it a case of him recognizing you had an aptitude for it?
Perry Rogers: I don't think it was so much the trust as he felt I was capable of really growing the business and doing the right work.
Tennis Week: I've always read that you and Andre's initial meeting came about after an argument that almost escalated into a fistfight. Is that true? What do you remember about that initial meeting?
Perry Rogers: That's what happened. I liked his sister and he just lost a match. I said "Don't worry, you play your game." He was bothered that he lost and wasn't really kind to me and I said to my doubles partner, "That's not nice, I'm going to go after him." Then Andre called up and said: "Hey, let's go to the movies" and from that day on we've been best friends.
Tennis Week: Is there anything about Andre that maybe people don't realize or know that you think would be interesting for people to know?
Perry Rogers: What I'd like for people to know is that Andre has the largest athlete's foundation in the world. And he started it at a time when athletes didn't start foundations during their careers. It was really unique that he did that. We took a lot of flak actually at the time from Andre's agency. They felt that he should wait and that we were wrong. They thought it would take away from his ability to perform on the court. In fairness, they came back soon after we started the foundation and once they saw the scope of it, they said: "You know, we were wrong." And I appreciated their honesty about it. Tiger Woods started his foundation, Lance started his and I think all these athletes recognize that the time to create change is always now. I think it's fantastic. I think when you look at all the good Lance Armstrong's foundation is providing around the world, the hope that it provides, the resources that it provides and what Andy (Roddick) is doing with his foundation, you know, talk about something that just instills hope in people, that it really can be this good. Athletes really can be someone you can look up to, not just for their accomplishment inside the lines, but for their accomplishments outside the lines; it's the most rewarding thing that we have.
Tennis Week: Do you ever see yourself or Andre pursuing politics?
Perry Rogers: No. No.
Tennis Week: You would never do that?
Perry Rogers: No, I would never do that. I'm not built that way. That's a skill set that I don't...I'm not sure I could deal with the rigors of a campaign. Andre, it's possible that he runs one day. That would be his call.
Tennis Week: I would think he'd be such a popular prospective candidate. I mean, people must be pulling at him to run at some level, he has a point of view, he's one of the most well-known athletes in the world and so many people who grew up with him or watching him relate to him.
Perry Rogers: He really is. He is clearly someone you can relate to. I shouldn't say it (running for office) is not possible; I should say at this time it's not anywhere near something (being considered).