Some kids dream of playing professional sports. Others dream of becoming an agent for the athletes who make it to the top.
Ray Erario falls into the second camp. But unlike most others, he couldn’t quite wait to get started.
At 21 years old, Erario — still a junior at Arizona State — is surely one of the youngest agents operating with Division I athletes anywhere in the country. For now he’s focusing on the NIL space, backed by a team of lawyers and a right-hand man who studies sports marketing. The goal, he says, is for the team and his current roster of three athletes to “make it to the top together.”
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“It was always my dream to be a sports agent,” Erario told The NIL Deal, “but you go through two degrees and do the NFLPA test, and it’s just kind of a long hill there.”
“But with NIL, there’s different state regulations, and I basically saw an opportunity that I could put myself in that place,” Erario said.
Big man on campus
Erario, who was born and raised in Long Island, says most of the people in his hometown tend to stick around — or at least stay on the east coast. But that didn’t sit right with him. “I wanted to see what I could do,” Erario said.
He leapt at the first chance he got to branch out, electing to leave his home of 18 years for Tempe to study sports business at Arizona State, even though he “didn’t know anyone” on that side of the country.
To facilitate friends and connections, Erario joined a fraternity and a year later became one of its youngest-ever presidents. The gig put his management skills to the test: Erario was tasked with managing the budget, coordinating events and overseeing an organization with about 150 members.
It’s one thing to be the big man on campus. It’s another thing entirely, though, to become the big man on Arizona State’s campus: Tempe is home to more than 70,000 undergraduate students, making ASU one of the largest public universities in the United States.
A campus that large is bound to be rife with opportunities, a fact Erario was well aware of. It was during his sophomore year through a university event that he met football player Daniyel Ngata, who at that time sat behind current NFL running back Rachaad White on the Sun Devils’ depth chart.
Want to say thank you to Burrito Express 4 being one of the few people to believe in me and have me be their first sponsored athlete! I will always have a special place in my heart 4 Mr. Marín and Burrito Express❤️Looking forward to see Burrito Express grow throughout the future! pic.twitter.com/bjjNGVjAUi— Daniyel Ngata (@dngata2) January 19, 2023
“We were just clicking, there was immediate energy, we were vibing off the start,” Erario said of Ngata, who would eventually become his first client.
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“[Erario is] super outgoing, super positive,” Ngata told The NIL Deal. “You can tell by the way he moves. He’s a businessman, he gives that cool businessman vibe, and he’s also a good friend. We were friends before all this, that’s another reason why I trust him.”
Ngata officially signed on with Erario in September, about two years after their initial meeting.
In addition to Ngata, who has since transferred to the University of Washington, Erario now also represents Arizona State’s James Djonkam and Andre Johnson.
‘A unique individual’
Though Erario is the face of the enterprise, he isn’t alone. He currently works with Mark and Michael Clouser, two long-time lawyers with experience in sports law, who he met through his fraternity brother Ben Clouser.
Ben, Michael’s son, studies data analytics and sports marketing, and assists in building relationships with prospective clients.
“Ray’s great. He’s a unique individual,” Michael Clouser, also a former NFL agent, told The NIL Deal. “We’re not just grabbing a college kid, we’re grabbing a kid that’s highly motivated, very easy to work with, and very willing to learn from our experience.”
“Both those guys are big sports kids, very hardworking young men… We’ve talked about it, and we all think there’s a huge opportunity in that market right now,” Clouser added.
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Neither Arizona nor Washington require sports agents to pass a test to become certified or pay fees to register. Some may argue that loose guidelines on who can and can’t become an agent leaves the door open for bad actors, but Erario’s story is indicative of the new, unexpected opportunities the NIL era has made possible.
In any case, Erario is committed — and to his clients, his age isn’t a downfall. It’s a strength.
“We’re the same age, he brings that same mindset,” Ngata said. “[We have] a lot of the same thoughts, the same decision-making in the business world.”
Shine bright in Tempe
Now, Erario is trying to convert that relatability into good deals for his clients. He recently got Djonkam and Johnson coaching gigs at David Tyree’s most recent Catch Camp. He’s also had some early success with Ngata, who has agreed to an NIL deal to appear as a playable character in ESG Football 23, an upcoming video game set to play similarly to NBA 2K’s popular “The Neighborhood” mode.
The game, set to be the first ever 11-on-11 football video game on the market, is designed in part to maximize opportunities for virality for content creators, while maximizing visibility for influencers, according to Raymond Milian, a former professional gamer and ESG co-founder.
“What we do is, we bring the athletes into the game as playable characters,” Milian told The NIL Deal. “Someone who can play alongside you on your team… It has certain hints of a GTA-type of feel, with mini-games where you run up to these AI influencers and they’ll tell you certain things to do to make your character better.
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“The entire point here is to increase [Ngata’s] transcendence,” Milian continued. “When a kid has seen [videos] on YouTube, or every day playing with this certain likeness, that’s gonna certainly help them through osmosis become aware of who he is.”
Two things shine bright in Tempe: the sun, and the spotlight.
Erario is hoping the future of him and his clients can be added to that list. He plans to move to Scottsdale next year, putting him closer to the financial heart of the Phoenix area, and is looking forward to the Sun Devils’ eight home games next season.
“I’m trying to become the biggest NIL agent possible,” Erario said.