Katie Simmonds represents the latest evolution in a previously male-dominated game. Claire Dunwell met the UK’s first female rugby agent
THESE days rugby players can be so much more than rugby players.
From ballroom dancing to fronting ad campaigns, they’re fast becoming the new soccer stars.
The heady mix of physicality, a ready-made fan base and the sheer irony of a prop half becoming a clothes horse or tango partner makes them an intriguing prospect.
Fitting then that one of those representing the new breed of player isn’t your conventional middle-man, because she’s a woman.
At 28 Katie Simmonds is the country’s first female rugby agent. She certainly isn’t the first leading woman in sport, or rugby league for that matter (Hull FC chairwoman Kath Hetherington being an obvious example).
But it still took a while for the old boys section of the sport to adapt.
“Being a woman, I did notice a few raised eyebrows when I walked into a high-powered meeting,” she admits. “But that was in the early days but it hardly ever happens now.
“I think I have other advantages, for example, players don’t want to constantly talk about the game and at the age I am, I feel like I’m in touch with the people I represent.
“Like me, a lot of them are in their 20s themselves, whether it’s a legal perspective they need or help with financial choices.
“If anything, the players trust me more because I am a young woman and I enjoy getting my teeth into a dispute. I’m ambitious and focus on getting the players what they deserve.”
Her ascent comes at a time when the debate of sexism in sport has never been more prominent. Katie was recently asked to comment on the sacking of sports presenter Andy Gray following sexist comments.
“I think there is a fine line between office banter and sexist comments,” she said.
“Sky Sports were under tremendous pressure when the comments became public but I believe sexism works both ways. We all like to use it but don’t like it when it’s used against us.
“Whilst I have broken a stereotype of what a rugby agent should look and sound like, I have been welcomed into the boardroom and have been judged on merit and not on gender.”
Things really kicked off a year ago when Katie became a part of FrontRow Legal, the newly-formed sports and media department at Cohen Cramer solicitors in Leeds.
Already she’s representing some of the game’s well-known stars. But she insists she is a strong negotiator; securing sponsorship deals and, perhaps, more notably, boosting player profiles.
It’s a subtly different approach.
“I feel I can bring something different to the table.” she ponders. “And I feel I’ve still been welcomed into the industry.
“Sportsmen have a lot of spare time on their hands and it’s about maximising their potential. For instance, if a player is blessed with good looks I might encourage them to look into modelling.
“I’d like to develop what I’ve started and I’d love to branch out into football. The perfect scenario would be acting for the next Wayne Rooney,” she laughs. “I want to be at the point where I am acting mainly on behalf of sports clubs and players exclusively – just helping to make dreams happen.”
But there is a focused, serious side to her job as an agent and she isn’t afraid to play hard ball on behalf of her clients.
“I’m very pro-player because these men work hard and are putting their bodies on the line,” she says. “When I am acting on behalf of a player, I negotiate the best deal for them whether it is with their home club or if they are looking to move to a new one.
“It’s my job to build up a rapport with the client and it’s about holding my own at the negotiating table with the club chairman. Being an agent involves being there when clients have an issue and need a point of contact.
“And when these people are mistreated, it’s about having the metal to get them a good result – on and off the field.”
Over the past 12 months, Katie has dealt with 10 contractual disputes involving players through to coaches. She represented Fijian rugby union player Seru Rabeni when a premier club tried to terminate his contract soon into a lucrative three-year deal.
Katie explained: “He was playing internationally at the time and he’d only recently signed the deal. The club suggested his fitness wasn’t up to a level they expected.
“We sued, and settled out of court. He has cleared his name and has gone on to sign a great deal at another club. Most cases are settled before they get to court because that’s when the legal expenses really mount up.”
Ex-Bradford Bulls player Leon Pryce and St Helen’s half back Kyle Eastmond have also called on Katie’s expertise when negotiating contracts.
“It’s so easy to communicate with people these days there isn’t anyone we can’t represent,” said Katie. “It’s a huge privilege to work with such high-profile names and I often end up following players who I’ve acted for.”
Katie’s interest in rugby – both union and league – dates back to her childhood. She grew up in Buckinghamshire and has fond memories of days spent with her Dad, turning out to support the London Wasps.
She moved north to study English at Leeds University and took a law conversion course after completing her degree.
“I soon became an honourary northerner,” she said. “A lot of my friends played rugby and I quickly became a fan of Leeds Rhinos. That was when my interest in the legal side of the game took off.”
Finally, who is Katie’s favourite player? She says: “I’m a big fan of Danny Cipriani, he played for the Wasps and my Dad is a fan....” she smiles broadly. “...that’s the only reason, of course.”