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A Front Row Seat to Soccer’s Massive Growth

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Photo via @SanJoseEarthquakes

Soccer is taking off in the United States and Jessica Smith has a front row seat to its rapid growth. A year into her role as the Vice President of Sponsorship for the San Jose Earthquakes, Smith has noticed the momentum and tapped into it to build out the Major League Soccer team’s partnership strategy.

Before joining the Earthquakes, Smith built out her resume in the sports industry, starting in Minor League Baseball, before spending time with the Oakland A’s and Columbus Blue Jackets. Despite working for MLB and NHL teams, soccer has been the most exciting landscape to work.

Smith’s career goals always tied her to the sports industry, yet her original intention was to work in it as a journalist, studying the profession in college. An undergrad internship with the Auburn Doubledays baseball team changed her course.

“As a journalism major I was really thinking that I would try and get into sports journalism and land an internship and a news station or ESPN, but [the internship] really shifted my mind to want to work for a team,” said Smith.

It was after that experience that she discovered sales, selling anything and everything in her first full-time job with a single A minor league team in San Bernardino. That role took her to the Oakland A’s as a group sales account manager, where she reveled in organization’s culture, remembering it as family-like.

Photo via @SanJoseEarthquakes

At the suggestion of a colleague, Smith switched gears, and moved to the corporate sales, thriving in her new role. Soon, she rose to be the organization’s top-selling new business representative. Despite this, she felt she needed an additional challenge.

“[I] sat back and asked myself how I was going to differentiate myself from the other 300 top corporate sales representatives across the country?”

The answer was a graduate program at Ohio University, which offered her an extensive network and the opportunity to cultivate leadership skills. The program also led to a job with the Columbus Blue Jackets, where she stayed for two seasons before moving back West to the Bay Area.  

This is when she joined the booming soccer industry.

“If I’m being completely transparent,” said Smith, “the first professional soccer game I saw, was the first one I worked, but with that, I feel like I’m the perfect example of where soccer is going and who it’s starting to attract.

Smith describes soccer as a sport made, “For millennials and generations to follow…Who seek and demand a genuine connection with entities they support.”

It offers a higher action to stoppage and commercial ratio than any other sport. An average game on TV (1 hour and 55 minutes) has approximately 56.7 minutes of “ball-in-play action” per game and only 19 minutes of commercials. The NFL, in comparison, has only 11 minutes of action per 3 hour and 10-minute game, and about 75 minutes of commercials.

Sport Clock Duration Amt of Action % of Action Amt of Commercial Time Est # of 30-second commercials # of commercials/hour
Baseball 2hrs 56mins 17mins, 58secs 10.21% 42.68 85 29
Football 3hrs 10mins 11mins 5.79% 75 150 47
Soccer 1hr 55mins 57.6mins 50.09% 19 38 20
Basketball 2hrs 18mins 48mins 34.78% 45 90 39
Hockey 2hrs 20mins 60mins 42.86% 30 60 26

Source: http://www.nationalsarmrace.com/?p=475

In an age where sports have shifted to adapt to the TV landscape, creating things like ‘TV timeouts,’ soccer has stayed true to its roots, finding creative ways to insert advertisements into the games, without sacrificing the action.

“In past years, the sports landscape has tried to compare MLS to the other professional sports in America. Some seeing it as an outsider to the conglomerate consisting of the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB. And now, the continued growth and demographics show that MLS is truly in a league of their own. Engaging today’s young, multicultural families in a way that is unique to MLS in comparison to other the leagues,” said Smith.

Fans are embracing the fresh air that soccer brings to the sports landscape, and brands are catching on as well.

Soccer, they realize, is a future major player in the American sports landscape, and the U.S. is finally catching up to countries around the world who have worshiped the game for so long.

“It’s the world’s game, and we are finding our place in it,” said Smith.

Companies like adidas are investing millions into MLS, banking on a future predicted by the apparel brand’s US CEO, Mark King.

“My guess is within 10 years, from a youth participation standpoint, soccer will be the biggest sport. And if kids who play soccer continue to be fans of the sport, then yeah, if you’re talking 20 to 30 years from now, I think MLS can be as big as NFL,” said King, following adidas’ $700 million deal with the league through 2024.

One company in particular Smith likes to point at to indicate proof of growth is Target, who became a national sponsor of the MLS last year and is the jersey sponsor of Minnesota United FC.

“A brand like [Target] that’s investing in soccer reinforces the strength of the engagement of the league because there’s something that they are seeing that will positively impact their business,” said Smith.

From a sponsorship perspective, Smith explained, the Earthquakes are at a unique advantage of being in the Bay Area and San Jose specifically. The interest in the world’s game continues to grow and Avaya Stadium and the Quakes brand offers the experience they crave as a soccer fan in the U.S.

Internally, the team benefits from its location in the heart of Silicon Valley, which has allowed for partnerships with technology companies like Avaya, who owns the naming rights for the team’s stadium, and ThreatMetrix.

Avaya Stadium (photo via @SanJoseEarthquakes)

“Innovation is something we encompass in our brand and continuously push ourselves on,” said Smith. As a result, the Earthquakes formed their Innovation Board, comprised of professionals from companies including Intel, Google, Tesla, and SpaceX, and are able to continue their pursuit of insight as to how to navigate the technological landscape.

Since joining the team, Smith has helped cultivate these partnerships, tapping into her skill set as a leader in the corporate partnerships space.

“I pride myself in having honest conversations with local, regional and national companies to find solutions which benefit the partner, Quakes and fan base alike,” she explained.

Having worked across three different major leagues, soccer culture is the one that fits Smith’s personality best.

“It has the allure of a startup where we know anything is possible, and we are working hard both as teams and a league to earn our place in every family engaged with sports,” said Smith.

As Smith has immersed herself in the soccer world, she’s become a fan as well. Despite never following the sport much before, she now watches MLS and the Premier League, and has planned her family vacation to take in games during an upcoming trip to London and Scotland.

With her first full season in the books and another one right around the corner, Smith is ready for what’s to come. MLS is on the upswing and it’s never been a better time to have a front-row seat.

Lucy is a contributing writer for Front Office Sports. A storyteller and brand strategist, she has worked in the sports industry for organizations including the United States Olympic Committee, IMG/WME and the Miami Open, the University of Miami Athletic Department, Florida Panthers, and Minnesota Twins. She spent 2016 living in Colombia where she accomplished a life-long goal of becoming fluent in Spanish while working for the Ministerio de Educación Nacional. Lucy is a graduate of the University of Miami.

Leadership

Dontrelle’s Diary: Life of an Extern — Lights, Camera, Action

This past weekend was full of events, learning, and new experiences.

Dontrelle Inman

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“Getting myself camera-ready” (Photo via Me)

What up world!

Long time no talk. A lot has happened since my last blog, so let’s jump right into it.

First things first, I know I said that I’d be giving y’all the inside scoop on my talk with NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith. But unfortunately, he had a conflict come up, so we weren’t able to meet. We’re looking to reschedule before my externship is done next week.

What did end up happening was a trip out to L.A. with NFLPA player manager Dior Ginyard for NBA All-Star Weekend. This was my first all-star game experience and it was lit. We went to adidas, Nike and Players Tribune events, got some cool merchandise and took advantage of a lot of great networking opportunities. I also got to go to Michael Jordan’s birthday party and catch up with my good buddy, and Hall of Fame wide receiver, Andre Reed. The whole weekend was very welcoming for athletes and making sure they had their own space to connect.

On Tuesday, I got right back to it, flying from L.A. back to Washington D.C. so I could make it to the studio for our appearance on FOX5’s Good Day DC morning show. They featured the externship, talking to me, Darius Hawkins of the Tennessee Titans (EventsDC and Under Armour extern), and Bryan Witzmann of the Kansas City Chiefs (Capitol Hill extern) about our experience and preparing for life after football. Since I’ll also be externing at NBC Sports Washington and ESPN980, it was cool to see the TV and production side — and to learn that the anchors have to wake up at 2 a.m. to get ready for the morning show that starts at 4 a.m. Sheesh!

Once I got back to the office, I had a bunch of meetings lined up with people in NFL Players Inc., which is the NFLPA’s marketing and licensing department that I’ve mentioned before. We talked about were how they are working to increase their bucket of revenue to $200 million — and as a player, I definitely liked the sound of that! We also touched on how the NBA now has group licensing rights like we have had. All of us as players sign a group licensing agreement, which guarantees a cut of the money that comes from things like Madden, jersey sales and other opportunities where the company needs the likeness or image of 6 or more players.

I also learned that there’s a database through Players Inc., where players have a profile that shows some of their interests and background. Then, when they have a sponsor come to them looking for a certain angle, they can just go in the database and find a player that fits that profile and go from there in making a deal for that player. It’s nice to know there are other avenues and people working for us to build our brand and make the most of our platform. I actually recently reaped the benefits of that for the first time by being part of a joke-telling segment at the NFLPA’s Collegiate Bowl, where you try to tell dumb jokes and the first person to laugh loses.

Lastly, we talked about the player camp program, where players can apply for merchandise and resources from the NFLPA to provide at their offseason camps, and ACE Media. ACE is a production company that works with media production companies to get a deal for every single player. Last year, they had about 1,300 deals, which is almost half of the 2,800 guys in the league. That’s pretty impressive.

The whole day was an eye-opening experience as to how much is out there for us players to make the most of our time in the league through sponsorship deals TV appearances and opportunities like this externship!

This piece is part of a collaboration between the NFLPA and Front Office Sports in order to give players the opportunity to showcase what they are doing in the business world. If you’d like to learn more, send an email to austin@frntofficesport.com

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How David Miller Landed At SAP

Miller credits his time on playing on an athletic team to his success in the sports industry.

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David Miller enjoys working in sports for the same reasons many of us do. (FOS Graphic)

Career Beginnings

David Miller‘s professional story starts in a way not dissimilar to many others’ in the sports industry.

Growing up as an athlete, Miller’s dream was to become a professional athlete or work in the industry of sports. When becoming a professional athlete became unrealistic, Miller decided to put his business degree to use and enter the world of sports business. In his junior year at the University of Maryland, Miller quickly pounced on an opportunity to intern at Under Armour. But this wasn’t yet the turning point – that would come upon completion of his degree when he decided to return for one year of school at the University of Notre Dame:

“When I graduated from the University of Maryland, I was deciding between accepting a position with an NFL franchise or playing out an additional year of lacrosse eligibility. Ultimately, I decided to spend my next year at the University of Notre Dame attending graduate level classes and participating on the Men’s Lacrosse team with my brother.” – David Miller

As an un-classified graduate student at Notre Dame, Miller had the opportunity to expand his career options by interning with the Sponsorships Department as a Corporate Partnerships intern. At the time, and fortunately for Miller, Notre Dame was one of the few major schools to manage their sponsorships in-house. Preferring the increased autonomy (Notre Dame, who notably provides less in-arena opportunities for corporate sponsorships, and has its own television deal with NBC) over the benefits of scale efficiencies that an agency partner would provide (which I covered here). This provided an invaluable learning experience for Miller, whose responsibilities ranged from working on renewal decks and analyzing contracts.

Though Miller would never become a hot prospect as a professional athlete, he would become one in sponsorship. With offers from sponsorship agencies, as well as a non-sports related marketing role with a top tech firm, Miller was quickly left with a difficult decision: pursue a passion by following a path in sports, or choose a different job that would aid in becoming financially independent. Pressure from different ends led him to choose the latter, but only six months later, Miller felt the itch to return to the industry that he had grown to love.

“While I appreciated the professional experience my first role offered, I was unhappy knowing that was I was doing didn’t align with my personal career aspirations. So I went back to the agencies I had built a rapport with during the interview process and essentially said: ‘Listen, I made the wrong decision… I should have followed my passion.’”


Return to Sponsorship

Miller would eventually land at GMR Marketing – a global sponsorship and experiential agency. During his time at GMR, Miller’s client was SAP – for whom GMR planned and executed marketing activations. A common thread I hear from people with agency is experience is exactly what Miller experienced: rapid growth in knowledge of both sides of the sponsorship industry (property and brand), and in practical ability. Where industry experience would give you a deep knowledge in one topic, agency experience would provide you a sampling of many topics.

Close to two years after he joined GMR, Miller wanted to broaden his skill set and gain experience in sales. He left GMR to take on a sales role at KORE Software, who develops CRM and data warehouse software for sports teams to manage their sponsorship and ticketing sales. Although experiencing success in his sales role, Miller knew he eventually wanted to return to the sponsorship world.  In true fashion of how the small world of sponsorships is, he found his way back to SAP – his former client at GMR.

“While transferring to a new agency, SAP decided that one of the positions that had been rooted at the agency would move in-house. I jumped at the opportunity to re-join many colleagues at SAP that I grew close with.”

And since then, Miller has been SAP’s Activation Manager for North and Latin America and oversees SAP’s partnerships with the New York Giants, New York Jets, MetLife Stadium, NYCFC, and the Madison Square Garden Group.


 SAP’s Sponsorship Strategy

SAP has sponsorship assets across the sports industry. (Photo via David Miller)

Roughly 10 years ago when SAP started heavily investing in sponsorships, the strategy was rooted in building widespread brand awareness and customer hospitality. In other words, SAP’s strategy was largely typical for brands at the time.

Recently, this strategy has shifted:

“SAP still finds true value in brand awareness/engagement and customer hospitality experiences, but we also see sponsorship as a way to partner with properties to showcase how our teams are using SAP technology in new and innovative ways. We see this model as a win-win: Properties are able to run their business operations more efficiently using SAP software from the back office down to the playing field/ice. Then, through our sponsorship agreements, SAP is able to share how some of the biggest sports and entertainment properties in the world find value in SAP solutions. Our sponsorships are tremendously valuable for SAP from a brand-building perspective to drive SAP’s overarching message to the masses.”

Miller emphasized how important their agency, Momentum Worldwide, is to accomplishing their sponsorship strategy.  By providing industry expertise, forward-thinking brand activations, top-notch execution, and extensive consulting services, Momentum is a true extension of the SAP sponsorship family.


Sponsorship can be a fascinating field, and for Miller, the opportunity to make a career in the industry has been one like none other. From his beginnings at Maryland to working in the sponsorships division of a global software brand, Miller has been able to follow his passion with success:

“What drove me towards this industry was the notion of teamwork to accomplish mutual goals. Going to work every day feels like I’m back on an athletic team – seeing three separate entities; property, agency, and brand – or in sports; offense, defense, and special teams, all working together to achieve great things is awesome to be a part of.”

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Dontrelle’s Diary: Life of an NFLPA Extern — Round 2

Yesterday, we sat down with The Trust and George Atallah to talk about life after football and free agency.

Dontrelle Inman

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With free agency this offseason, a lot of things are up in the air. (Image via me)

 It might officially be the NFL offseason, but my work is just beginning. Of course, I’m on the job here at the NFLPA as the extern (and next week I’ll be at NBC Sports Washington and ESPN 980), but there’s also another looming issue on my plate: free agency.

After playing last season with the L.A. Chargers and Chicago Bears, I’ll be back on the market next month. In some ways, it’s exciting to be able to be recruited and pick where you want to play. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say the uncertainty doesn’t creep into mind, either. Yesterday, during my second day at the NFLPA, the topic of free agency came up a few times and it helped give me some good knowledge and motivation going into it.

I met with George Atallah, who is the head of the communications department, and he was explaining how the numbers recently came out for how much rollover money teams will have from last season going into this offseason for free agency. It’s amazing how much money some of these teams have, like the Browns (almost $59 million) and even the Cowboys, who spent only 69 percent toward the salary cap last year. So there’s a lot of money to be had out there; it’s just a matter of how much the teams are willing to give and what’s the right fit.

Our talk impacted me a lot. It got me thinking about how to work with my agent to maximize the cash flow and guaranteed money in my contract, especially since I’m about to turn 30 and likely over the halfway point of my career. Is money going to be a factor in where I go? Of course. Is it the most important thing, though? No. The way I see it, money is right up there behind winning and longevity. The more you win and the longer you play, the more money you are going to make. So that’s my approach to the offseason and finding the right situation for me because I want to be successful and I want to bring the right attitude to a team’s locker room to help them be successful.

Earlier in the day, I got to meet with The Trust. This department helps players transition to the next stage of their life so they can be successful — which goes hand in hand with what the NFLPA Externship program is about, so that was great. I learned a lot about some of the disconnect that’s there with active players and the Trust because most guys don’t want to talk about things like pension and benefits until after their career is over. They don’t want to discuss their career coming to an end, which I can kind of understand.

I think a good way to look at it is like a boxing match. So instead of “life after football,” think of it as “round two.” In boxing, once you finish round one, you’re looking forward round two. Some players might see it as, “I’ve done enough in my first career (football) that I don’t need to think about the second part.” But seeing it as round two, it motivates you to keep going back out there and giving it all you’ve got.

Today, I’ll be sitting down with the big boss at the NFLPA: DeMaurice Smith. Really looking forward to talking with him, so make sure you check out today’s blog to see how it goes!

This piece is part of a collaboration between the NFLPA and Front Office Sports in order to give players the opportunity to showcase what they are doing in the business world. If you’d like to learn more, send an email to austin@frntofficesport.com

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