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That is the question.  In fact, that’s the question on the mind of many rookie pro athletes.

Of course, they use Twitter in their “personal” lives, not realizing the line is not blurred between their private persona and  on-the-field life. However, now, they debate using this social media tool in the age of TMZ.

My advice to these athletes is direct.  Twitter is an invaluable tool to convey your personal brand, who you are and what you stand for. To avoid it is to leave a lot of promotional value on the table. You have to use it.Tweet

How should you use it?

Avoid the common mistakes. Don’t use it to trash talk. Don’t use it to let the world know what your breakfast looks like.

Use it to:

  • Talk about events or issues that matter to you;
  • Give fans a behind-the-scenes look at your sport;
  • Provide insights about your life’s journey, your goals and your aspirations; and
  • Offer leadership to any one aspiring to achieve their dreams (like you have).

Be respectful. Be courteous. Be smart about confidential information involving other people, your team and your sport.

And, when in doubt, don’t. Don’t tweet, post or comment.  The Internet can be a very unforgiving place.

However, using Twitter isn’t just a smart decision for pro athletes building a brand . . . it’s the only decision.

One of the most significant storylines in sports business today is the ever changing landscape of sports apparel contracts within professional, collegiate and amateur sports. Each of these distinct levels require varying degrees of commitment for the apparel supplier and are agreed upon to achieve different goals. These deals range from thousands to millions and even billions of dollars.

In June, it was announced that the NBA would follow the NFL in switching from adidas to Nike as it’s official apparel supplier. The deal is expected to run for 8 years at an approximate cost of $1 billion. The deal is significant because it will be the first time in league history that the company logo will be featured on every jersey on court. Virtually every player in the NBA has a deal with a shoe company whether it be Under Armour’s lucrative deal with Steph Curry or adidas’ Derrick Rose. These players will now also prominently feature the Nike swoosh on their jersey and in turn be associated with the brand in the mind of consumers. In addition to the association with basketball’s superstars, the deal could be a huge financial windfall for Nike. Industry experts have estimated that Nike’s NFL deal could bring in additional $500 Million in revenue in addition to the exposure value.

College and amateur athletic contracts have also been in the news of late with deals such Notre Dame’s 10 year $90 Million contract with Under Armour and Michigan’s announcement that they will leave adidas for Nike. In addition to sponsoring collegiate athletic programs, these companies are also beginning to plant their roots with players even younger through events such as the Under Armour All-American camp for the nation’s best young football players or the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League for the top amateur basketball teams. In contrast to the NBA and NFL deals, these deals are mainly for exposure value for the brand rather than direct revenue from things such as jersey sales. The high stakes battle for the eyes and pocket books of consumers continues to rage on and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

bolgheader_Branding

Rolling off the US Women’s National Team World Cup victory this week, I was inspired. Inspired by competition. By perseverance. By leadership. By women.

On the field, we watched these women shed blood, sweat, and tears in their pursuit of the World Cup. They knocked each other down, and helped each other up. Shouted words of frustration and words of encouragement. Held their heads in agony and in celebratory disbelief. We learned, through these women, what it takes to be the best.

And we learned about them off the field, too. US Soccer supported each ‘American Woman’ with a personal brand feature to accompany their on-field personas. ‘One Nation. One team. 23 stories.’ highlighted some small part of each woman’s story. We learned about these women as mothers, sisters, daughters, teammates, leaders, world travelers and multi-sport athletes. We learned about their struggles and triumphs, their quirks, what inspires them, who are their biggest fans, and where their competitive spirit comes from.

We learned, through these women’s stories, that we are not so different, and that we too can achieve our dreams. Their social media campaign, ‘#SheBelieves’ focused on the idea that young girls can be anything they want to be, whether it’s a soccer player on the national team, a doctor, lawyer, or whatever else their hearts desire.

What I want to know now, is how these women’s brands will come to life in the wake of their World Cup title. What change will they create in areas of their respective personal brands? How will Christie Rampone connect with working moms? How will Shannon Boxx advocate for Lupus patients? What adventures will Tobin Heath encourage for wanderers? What leap of faith will people make because of Hope Solo? What book will Becky Sauerbrunn recommend?

You see where I’m going here. These women’s time in the spotlight is fleeting, and the time to strike is now. I’d love nothing more than to see their personal brands come to life and really affect the things truest to them. And hey, I just might know a girl who can make that happen…

 

Let’s celebrate freedom

It’s the Fourth of July, a time we reserve to celebrate the freedoms we enjoy as Americans and the independence won for these United States. It also happens to mark the beginning of this year’s NBA free agency, which has been nothing short of jaw-dropping, with fringe players who even the most seasoned NBA fan wouldn’t be able to name, signing contracts for guaranteed money that rival that of even the most elite NFL player. But why?

TV money is awesome

Once upon a time, NBA players accepted whatever their team offered them in compensation because the players lacked the freedom to contract with any other team. The team that chose them held all of the bargaining power. That was pre-free agency, in the Stone Age of player rights.

Fast-forward to 2015, where teams and players who will be become unrestricted free agents next year (see Curt Flood) expect a big increase in salary due to the NBA’s nine-year, $24 billion television rights deal that will kick in at the beginning of the season.

This year’s salary cap will see an increase of $4-6 million to around $69 million and some project the cap to be as high as $90 million in the 2016-17 season. For perspective, the largest annual salary-cap jump in history is $7 million.

Which brings us to the question, why have a salary cap at all? Is this not the land of the free market?

Let freedom ring

Forbes released its annual list of the world’s highest-paid athletes. LeBron James came in the 6 spot with $64.8 million ($20.8 million salary/ $44 million endorsement). Cristiano Ronaldo ($79.6 million) was ahead of James on that list, mostly due to the fact that the soccer icon made about $52 million in salary. Many argue that if the NBA did away with salary caps, James’ value would skyrocket past that $52 million salary mark, possibly commanding hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

A funny thing happened when the NBA sought a new television deal for the league. They tested the free market, large corporations like ESPN (with deep pockets, I wish I knew their tailor) started throwing all the money they had at them, and they accepted the highest offer. An uncapped, unregulated, free market negotiation. It is unconscionable to think that this very entity that enjoyed the spoils of the free market would then squash their player’s ability to do the same.
The fact of the matter is, we don’t see this in corporate America. The tech industry. Medicine. Law. In this country you should make what you are worth. And you are worth what someone is willing to pay you.

But then again…

In America, we are all about the little man being able to pull himself up by his own bootstraps. The Knicks, Bulls and Lakers (coincidentally located in the 3 largest cities), are the only teams in the NBA valued at over $1 billion dollars. Even the team historically known as L.A.’s J.V. squad, the Clippers, recently sold for $2 billion! That said, the Lakers haven’t won a conference final in five years, the Bulls in 17 years and the Knicks in 16 years.

In that time, we have seen NBA titles won by the San Antonio Spurs, conference and NBA finals appearances by the Oklahoma City Thunder, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Why? Some might say the salary cap.

On a level playing field, where money spent on players is held in check by salary caps, players can make the same money in Oklahoma or Indiana as they could in New York or California. In this 2015 free agency period, we have seen a number of players choose small markets and leave the big cities out in the cold. If the money is the same everywhere, it frees the player up to decide where to play based on factors other than who can pay them the most.

So maybe we should sacrifice the freedom of the athlete to command their true value for the sake of parody in the NBA. For the sake of the little guy in the small market being able to watch a Kevin Durant or LeBron James in a fly-over state night after night.

Or maybe this is America. Where athletes should be free to make as much money as their talents command and small markets should be brave enough to find new ways to compete in a world with no salary caps.

The phrase front office gets tossed around in sports-related conversations at the water cooler, the bar or the game. But most people only know a couple of roles outside of the players and field staff – the GM or AD, maybe the president. But what about all the other jobs? Most teams or collegiate athletic departments are filled with dozens or hundreds of staff.

A non-scientific study* conducted by one of our interns, showed that an average athletic department/team has a front office staff of 85. This is full time, year-round staff, to say nothing of the game operations group, interns, seasonal support staff or volunteers. Dig deeper and you’ll find millions of jobs in the sports industry that people never think of, and thousands of other roles filled by volunteers or interns. Many of the well paid executives started in an unpaid internship or volunteer role.

Most organizations, especially the smaller ones, like road race promotion companies, dirt tracks, minor league teams, little leagues and high schools depend on unpaid efforts to survive. When I coached little league, there were 3-5 volunteers per team (coaches, scorekeepers, others), and another dozen-plus who ran the league itself. In a former role, we’d count on volunteer groups – sometimes completely unpaid, other times a small donation – to fill customer service roles like ticket takers or ushers. Even major league teams often let groups volunteer at concession stands in exchange for donations. These roles are crucial, because this blog wouldn’t have been written without the help of an intern!

To wrap it up, the trillion-dollar sports industry relies on tens of thousands of volunteers to keep it moving. Their invaluable efforts are what keep this business alive and thriving. So, if you want to break into the industry, consider an unpaid role, it’s a great way to get a start, and how I got mine. Next time you see a volunteer putting in time at a game, race or other event, tell them “thank you.” I’ll start now, thanks to Clare Myers for editing this story and Kyle Teague for doing the research.

*According to the staff listed on the websites of the Vancouver Canucks, Miami Dolphins, Indiana Pacers, New York Yankees, Frisco RoughRiders, Miami University and University of Alabama.