You may not yet know Rachel Luba’s name, but you absolutely know who she represents. Former Cleveland pitcher and current Cincinnati Reds hurler Trevor Bauer met the founder of Luba Sports during his time at UCLA. In 2020 Rachel successfully negotiated the second highest contract for an arbitration-eligible pitcher in MLB history. At $17.5 million it was a number that trails only David Price’s $19.75 figure from 2015.
The former gymnast set out to create her own path in a very male dominated industry and is doing so by taking non-traditional steps to differentiate the experience and set herself apart. With a branding and content strategy pushing the envelope for a connection between clients and fans further on a daily basis, it’s clear to see why she’s among the brightest names in the sport.
She took some time to answer a few questions, and there’s a ton to dive into:
Twins Daily: Being a former Division 1 gymnast and longtime athlete yourself, it's not surprising that you'd find a career within sports. When did that path become baseball and how did you know being an agent was your calling?
Rachel Luba: I was an athlete my entire life, I started gymnastics at the age of two. Unfortunately, gymnastics isn’t a career you can have into adulthood and make money off of, so I knew once I was retired, I needed to find something else to do within sports. I was always drawn towards the individual athlete rather than working for a team, which tends to be the more popular route, but for me being an individual athlete my entire life it was the path I realized that I was passionate about. In college as a student athlete myself, I became good friends with a lot of the UCLA baseball players helping them manage their daily lives and schoolwork. I enjoyed learning about their industry which was very different than anything I had grown up with in the sport of gymnastics. Learning more about it, that’s when I really decided I wanted to work in baseball.
TD: With representation I'd imagine the process involves a good deal of networking as well as talent evaluation. What do you feel like drives clients to Luba Sports specifically?
RL: It’s a very different type of agency compared to the many others out there. Most agencies offer plenty of services, take a percentage of the contract, and everything is the same across the board. What clients tend to end up feeling is that they aren’t necessarily getting all of those services they were promised prior to the contract. Really the money an agency generates comes from the on-field contract, and once that contract is locked in, that’s all taken care of regardless whether the player leaves the next day. My client Trevor Bauer for example, has additional services that have tied incentives for me as an agent, that then ensure the relationship extends beyond that initial contract. Players create a certain value on the field and then pay a portion of that to an agent when signing a contract. Tying it more into a service provided structure, there’s opportunity to utilize the agency in whatever way best suits the athlete’s needs. As the industry and valuations of play on the field has changed, players see a benefit to pay for the value of services provided by an agent rather than just a set percentage of their negotiated contracts.
TD: Trevor Bauer is obviously the most notable player you work with. You both have worked tremendously to create revenue streams and channels of interactivity outside of the game. How important has that diversification been, and where do your creative strategies come from?
RL: This is something that we have been tremendously focused on. Trevor’s five-year goal was to be the most internationally recognized name in baseball, which means we needed to start getting his brand out there and expanding his audience. One of the initial hurdles was that Trevor Bauer’s story was often originally told by the media and misrepresented who he was. He has so many different interests and we wanted to find the niche audience where he could express and explore each of those. He needed to start talking more. Without his voice, the media or whoever else, was allowed to create the stories they thought were reflective of him. Trevor is passionate about teaching, and it’s derived from his engineering background. The way in which he uses Twitter, Instagram, and now YouTube as a resource to explore that creativity seemed like the perfect match. Getting his message, values, and personality out there was the goal, and is something we’ve done a great job of thus far.
TD: As a female in a male dominated industry have you felt an uphill battle to establish yourself, and is there an additional sense of pride in earning and deserving a seat at the table?
RL: It’s been an uphill battle from the very beginning. People told me “that’s cute” and didn’t take seriously that this was what I really wanted to do. Some offered their “advice” in warning me this wasn’t a great path or in an effort to deter me from the decision. A mentor of mine told me that in baseball, when a man walks into a room it’s viewed that he belongs there and knows what he’s doing. When you walk into a room, it will be assumed you’re a secretary, girlfriend, or a wife. You have to prove otherwise. Whether diving in depth into analytics, having a substantial among of arbitration credentials, or something else entirely, I set myself up to be overly qualified in order to prove my worth. I feel like getting Trevor the second highest salary for a starting pitcher in arbitration validates my place, but there will always be people questioning how I got here. The reality is people will always be looking to question my validity. In a specific YouTube video, I found myself unsure of an answer (as did Trevor), and upon checking with the MLBPA, they too told me they’d need to get back after double checking they had the right information. Being a female, my uncertainty was labeled as stupid, wrong, and out of place.
Absolutely there’s pride involved. It took me several days to soak it in upon landing my first client and doing my first contract. I reflected a few days later on all of the people up to this point that continue telling me I can’t or it’s not possible. A lot of work went into this and a lot of people doubted you, be proud of yourself. I’m not done though, so while there is pride, it’s just part of the process and we have a long ways to go.
TD: Being that baseball is currently shelved, what does that do for the life of an agent. While being involved with the resumption of the sport at least in a secondary sense, is some of the job now playing counselor or therapist and listening to frustrations in a difficult time?
RL: It’s been a rollercoaster and you never really know what the days hold for you. Whether calls with the union or discussing implications with players, each day you have a plan and then it can end up being totally different. This isn’t what I expected for my first year of starting an agency, but I’m enjoying all of the curveballs being thrown my way. Being there for your clients, whether daily life situations or the mental aspects of an unprecedented time, was certainly an additional job responsibility no one saw coming.
TD: What's next for you? Is the goal to continue creating a larger brand? Expanding into different sports or forms of representation?
RL: First and foremost, I want to keep growing my agency and my brand. The latter is a stress I make to players, so it’s something I remain aware of for myself and intend to be an example. I hope to grow in the baseball industry as well as branching into other sports. I want to take Luba Sports and this type of representation to other sports. My vision is that I would have different divisions for each sport all utilizing the same unique financial fee structure.
TD: It's not only baseball that's on hold, and with sports paused completely, what have you been doing to keep yourself busy. California obviously lends itself to nice weather, but what are some of your favorite hobbies outside of the game?
RL: I’ve been back and forth between California and Arizona. Baseball has kept me busy enough, it has not been slow, and probably has been busier than during the actual season. Lots of work, and a lot of content helping Momentum with some of their things. I’ve done a lot of foundational work for my website and agency as a whole. Working out has always been a huge part of my life and has helped to keep me sane.
Follow Rachel and check out her work here. Check back in next week for the final entry in this Women in Baseball series.
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