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An NFL Offseason Offers Hope for Teams, but So Might a Rebranded Look

The NFL’s partnership with Nike has inspired some bolder changes in its first five years.

Scot Chartrand

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NFL teams reveal their new Nike uniforms in 2012–via NFL Films

The NFL’s Partnership with Nike Has Inspired Some Bolder Changes in Its First Five Years

For 30 of the NFL’s 32 team fan bases, it’s the offseason already. The focus is on what your favorite team could do to improve their performance and identity on the field next season.

But for several teams, there’s also the business side of improving the identity of the team.  Sometimes this can go hand in hand with the football side.  Sometimes, that identity can leave fans just as frustrated.

Today in the NFL, these changes have been further encouraged by the involvement of league partner, Nike, since 2012. What’s gone right under Nike? What leaves us wanting?  What happened before Nike?

We reached out to a number of experts in logos and brand identity for some of their thoughts on the past and future of brand and visual identity changes for NFL teams and explored how teams can make these changes.

THE WORLD OF NFL IDENTITY CHANGES BEFORE NIKE

There are teams that have maintained the same, basic look for well over a half-century. The Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, and others come to mind in thinking of a more timeless brand identity.

The lone star adorns the Cowboys helmet. Vince Lombardi’s famous “G” for greatness rests on Green Bay’s. Even Bubbles the Lion has been on Detroit helmets in some fashion since the 1960s. Their business side need not worry about that part of their identity.

Not every franchise has such a look…or one that might create a fan revolt if they tried to change it.

Over the years, NFL rebrands have either tried to modernize a look or completely overhaul it.  Sometimes, the rebrands were attempting to jump-start a floundering team on the field.  Other times, teams were in the middle of success.

Let’s take a look at examples of each.

Cincinnati Bengals, before and after 1981 change–via Amarillo Globe News (l) and Bengals.com (r)

Entering the early 1980s, the Cincinnati Bengals had failed to produce much success on the field since their founding.  Paul Brown took to Cincinnati and immediately created an identity similar to what the Browns had built under him in Cleveland with orange helmets designed to aid the quarterback looking down the field.

In 1981, the team switched from an orange helmet with the word “Bengals” plastered over it to today’s unique, striped orange helmet.  Strangely enough, their fortunes turned around on the field right away.

After defeating the Chargers in freezing temperatures to win the AFC Championship, they played in Super Bowl XVI against Joe Montana’s San Francisco 49ers and made another Super Bowl appearance at the end of the decade as well.

Todd Radom (@toddradom) of Todd Radom Design has worked in sports branding and design for a quarter century.  When we asked him about his favorite brand change in the NFL, he saw the Bengals as most notable.

This may be an outside of the box opinion, but the Bengals’ 1981 helmet and uniform change comes to mind first. They went from a bland, vanilla look to something truly ownable and noteworthy. The uniform has been degraded in the years since, but that first iteration was a brilliant one, way ahead of its time. The helmet communicates the franchise identity seamlessly and effectively. A winning tradition would have helped elevate this in the public consciousness.”

New England Patriots, before and after 1993 change–via Patriots.com

Not all fans of this year’s Super Bowl participant, New England, remember the old Pat the Patriot logo on a white helmet with a striped red jersey at the shoulders.

The Patriots made one Super Bowl appearance in the old uniforms, but fell on hard times behind less memorable quarterbacks, such as Hugh Millen and Scott Zolak. That was until Robert Kraft bought the team from Victor Kiam and hired Bill Parcells in 1993.

That year, the Patriots conducted a dramatic rebrand to their “Flying Elvis” Patriots logo on a silver helmet with blue jerseys.  The look also welcomed new quarterback Drew Bledsoe, and within a few years, Parcells led them to a Super Bowl appearance in 1996.

It would not be until Tom Brady’s arrival with Bill Belichick in 2000 that the look (and another adjusted uniform) became as cemented in the minds of football fans, but the dramatic branding change paid off in New England.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, before and after 1997 change–via St. Pete Times (l) and Buccaneers.com (r)

In the middle of the 1980s, things were so bad in Tampa that a local media outlet took a survey to determine which NFL team locals should consider rooting for instead of the Buccaneers (FYI, the Browns were the winner).

The “Bucco Bruce” logo of a swashbuckler with a sword in his mouth and creamsicle orange jerseys didn’t quite inspire fear and neither did the team’s play.

Enter new owner Malcolm Glazer, new head coach Tony Dungy, and the color known as pewter. The “Pewter Pirates” suddenly sported a large red pirate flag on the pewter helmet and a team muddled in failure for 15 years became a consistent playoff participant through winning Super Bowl XXXVII under Jon Gruden.

In these cases, the teams rode significant branding changes from rags to riches.

Two other teams made major changes while on top of the world.

Denver Broncos, before and after 1997 change–via NFL.com (l) and Rant Sports (r)

The Denver Broncos logo and “orange crush” persona were so iconic, that the horse in the middle of the D on their helmet came from not just the top of Mile High Stadium’s scoreboard—“Bucky Bronco” was actually a model cast from Roy Rogers’ horse, Trigger.

Denver had been a top-tier AFC franchise since John Elway’s arrival, but they had gone 0-for-4 in the Super Bowl to match the dubious achievements of the Vikings and Bills at the time.

The first year the team switched to the dramatic rebranded horse head along with the navy uniforms (fueled by design from Nike), they erased that tradition of losing the big game and claimed the first of their two back-to-back titles.

St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams, before and after 2000 change–via TheRams.com (l) and stltoday.com (r)

In 1999, Trent Green went down with a season-ending injury for the St. Louis Rams in the preseason, and well, the rest is history.  Kurt Warner’s improbable story resulted in a title, but the following year, the Rams ditched their bright blue and yellow colors they brought with them from the Golden State to wrap themselves in Y2K with Millennium Blue and New Century Gold.

They went right back to the Super Bowl after a year and fell short to New England, but the bold move caught the eye of Chris Creamer (@sportslogosnet), who is well known for his work for two decades on SportsLogos.net, a comprehensive database of sports logos for all things sports.

“At the time I was a big fan of the change the St. Louis Rams made to their logo and color scheme, back around the turn of the century. It seems odd to have this opinion now with everything retro being big, but by the late 1990s that yellow and blue of the Rams was aging poorly and needed an update bad – a switch to navy blue and gold while maintaining the classic horns and introducing the modern rams head logo was great for the era. It hasn’t stood up to the test of time (the color scheme, that is… the logo is doing just fine) and it could stand an update now, but as far as a classic look getting an update in 2000 that was a good way to go.”

Arizona Cardinals, before and after the 2005 change–via USA Today (l) and AZCardinals.com (r)

So, what about simply modernizing a classic look?  That’s what impressed Donovan Moore (@colorwerx), founder of ColorWerx, a website dedicated to preserving historical sports color data.

“My favorite logo change of all time is a completely biased one, but I believe is still worthy of mention: the Arizona Cardinals rebrand in 2005. I’ve been a die-hard Cardinals fan since the late ‘60s, and what makes that particular change so perfect (in my eyes), was the fact that they created a logo that completely modernized the look, while still preserving the tradition of the primary mark. Most people noticed the corresponding uniform changes, but were somewhat unaware of the logo change. Put them side-by-side and you can easily see the differences, but on the field, they still look like the Cardinals.”

These days, there are fans of some teams who would long for such an incremental change.

An incremental change wasn’t on the mind of two NFL teams who were quite successful in the 1980s and 1990s.

Carmen Policy speaks at a press conference unveiling an ill-fated 49ers helmet in 1991–via San Francisco Chronicle

The San Francisco 49ers unveiled a “49ers” helmet in 1991 that replaced the “SF” they had won four Super Bowls with and scrapped it six days later.

Also in the 1990’s, the Miami Dolphins had prepared a very avant-garde design that would be a violent shock to the system for most Dolphins fans that was dismissed before any public unveiling.

Even the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns kicked around prototype helmets in the 1960’s with logos that would stun many fans that weren’t aware.

It’s not that teams didn’t try major rebrands prior to Nike’s work with the NFL…

NFL IDENTITY CHANGES UNDER NIKE

After replacing Reebok as the NFL’s exclusive manufacturer in 2012, Nike sought to bring with them some of the same revolutionary branding they had created for universities, such as Oregon.

At first, the only team in the Pacific Northwest tried Nike’s magic.  In the following years, teams became bolder.

Seattle Seahawks Nike uniform–via Tacoma News Tribune

NFL Rebrands by Year under the Nike agreement:

  • 2012:  Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Seattle Seahawks
  • 2013:  Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings
  • 2014:  Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • 2015:  Cleveland Browns
  • 2017:  Detroit Lions

While some were more modest upgrades and modernization of the brand, others were much more dramatic.  Seattle, Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa Bay and Cleveland are generally considered to be among the greatest changes in terms of rebrands in this group.

SportsLogos.net’s Chris Creamer saw the perks of teams trying to be bold in utilizing Nike for rebrands so far as well as the drawbacks teams have faced.

“Nike taking over the NFL has led to some interesting and out-of-the-box designs – their Miami redesign would’ve worked if the team was an expansion franchise, but alas a history (with championships) is involved there, so it changes how one perceives it. I can’t say I was much of a fan of what they did with Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville, but I’m never going to fault a company for trying something new, I’m just not necessarily a fan of the result.”

On the other hand, fan sentiment seemed to applaud redesigned uniforms in Seattle.  It certainly didn’t hurt that the team has since experienced success in them with a Super Bowl title and two appearances coinciding with the Russell Wilson era in 2012.

However, as Creamer noted, some fans in places like Cleveland and the three Florida teams have been less receptive.  A visit to some of the pages of the SportsLogos.net Forum section of his site will often find discussions about the two-toned Jaguars helmet and the appeal of the Dolphins’ throwback jerseys as examples of fans hoping for change already.

Todd Radom sees some improvement in the work Nike has done as the contract has aged along with some opportunities ahead to improve their work:

It’s still early, but Nike has corrected some egregious mistakes, particularly with regard to neck trim. I think it’s safe to assume that we will begin to see a wave of changes next year and beyond, so the jury is still out as far as I’m concerned.”

Those windows for change of the initial teams to rebrand under Nike are now starting open.

As noted, Nike’s contract with the NFL began in 2012.  According to the NFL Constitution and Bylaws, teams essentially must wait five years after a change in branding to try again.

NFL Constitution and Bylaws Article XIX 19.9

NFL Constitution and Bylaws Article XIX 19.9–via NFL Digital Care

NFL 2002 Resolution G-3 and Attachment–via NFL Digital Care

It’s not just the five-year waiting period, though.  Besides the notification of March 1, of the year prior, it takes two years just to design a new uniform as noted in a report published by CBS Sports last year that dealt with dissatisfaction around the Cleveland Browns uniforms.

Cleveland Browns huddle–via NFL.com

Cleveland will have to start the process now, but still wait until 2020 to see the finished product. However, fans in Jacksonville and Miami are eligible this upcoming season—provided that pre-work has gone in.

So what is sparking all this fan interest in uniforms and logos?  Is it just Nike?

Again, we reached out to our experts for their thoughts on the evolution of fan interest in team branding elements.

From Todd Radom’s perspective, he noted, “Some folks have always cared about this stuff, but the sheer number of uniforms that are trotted out these days and the marketing behind them has really ramped up interest tremendously. There was a time when NFL uniforms were, for the most part, functional and very utilitarian. Third jerseys, the use of throwbacks and, yes, ‘Color Rush’—have all helped to ramp up fan interest.”

Chris Creamer remembers an earlier time that piqued his interest, sharing as follows, “Pre-internet, I just presumed I was the only person in the world who cared about the uniforms being worn. I’d point out the throwback helmets and jerseys during the NFL 75th anniversary games in 1994 and the others in the room would usually respond with ‘huh, I didn’t even notice.’

The internet changed all of that when I discovered that there were plenty others just like me and they all thought they were all alone in their interest. The explosion of interest is fantastic for me because I run a site dedicated to this topic, but I also wonder if it puts too much pressure on teams to tinker with their look and to try and come up with a reason for every little design element perhaps complicating a design.

Back in the day, a team would have two stripes on each sleeve and it wouldn’t be for some manufactured reason, it’d be because it looked better that way.”

To Creamer’s point, when the MLS’s Columbus Crew SC rebranded back in 2015, they actually identified six separate elements to a simple soccer roundel.

So, these days, fans don’t take rebrands that lightly as evidenced by the infamous one-day L.A. Chargers logo last year that involved the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Lightning exploring their relationship dynamic on Twitter and sparked a quick retraction.

LOOKING AHEAD TO CHANGES IN 2018 AND BEYOND

So, what’s on the horizon in the NFL?

As already noted, the Jaguars and Dolphins are eligible to make a change—as are any teams that have not made a change since 2013.

Tennessee Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk confirmed last training camp in an interview with The Tennessean what had been rumored previously, that the Titans would be changing uniforms (and likely helmets) for 2018.  She went on to add that the changes are “not minor.”

In fact, Titans fans need to ready themselves for this in April. Back in Jacksonville, one of the newly eligible teams to make a change appears ready to take another swing for the fences with Nike.

The Titans aren’t the only fan base that can look forward to this upcoming April.

As rumored last year and confirmed this week by Mark Long of the Associated Press, the Jaguars will have new helmets in 2018 and will feature more teal in their uniforms in a redesigned look.  The impetus here might be the team’s former coach now serving in the front office—Tom Coughlin.

Chris Creamer agrees with the suspected changes ahead with the Jaguars.

“The Jacksonville Jaguars need to re-embrace the teal part of their identity; I realize the Dolphins use something similar in-state, but there’s nothing necessarily special about this club wearing black and gold (also… Saints?), not to mention that gimmicky helmet. One of those designs folks will look back on ten years from now with a chuckle, and twenty years from now with a ‘they need to bring it back!’”

So, we have two teams making changes to their identity this offseason.

What else would our experts like to see?

Dallas Cowboys huddle–via Bleacher Report

For Donovan Moore of ColorWerx, it’s cleaning up some aspects of “America’s Team.”

My most hoped for uniform change is one a lot of uniform aficionados have been waiting for: the Dallas Cowboys. Although they made a very subtle color change in 2012 to match the helmet color to the road pant color (at least in print – the helmets used to be Silver-Blue), they are still using Silver and Navy helmets with White, Royal Blue and Silver-GREEN pants at home (yes, they are officially called Silver-Green). I truly believe they could easily standardize the color scheme without too much of an uproar from the traditionalists.”

Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff–via WPVI-TV

Todd Radom looked ahead to two teams rumored to be targeting notable changes in 2020.

Let’s start with the Rams, who are a disjointed mess. Then we can shift our attention to Cleveland, a franchise that needs to blow many things up and start anew—and yes, this sentiment applies to their on-field look too.”

The Orange County Register confirmed last year that the Rams have begun the process of making the change, but have yet to decide when. Originally, they were to change uniforms to coincide with moving into their new stadium in Inglewood, Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park. However, with the project delayed by a year, the Rams may very well give the new uniforms the same fate.

Perhaps the Rams will return to something closer to their look when in Los Angeles most recently?  Don’t get Rams fans started…

Los Angeles Rams “Melonheads” fans–via Los Angeles Daily News

There are a whole host of possible changes and tweaks diehard fans have thought about that weren’t even mentioned.

Occasionally discussion will arise topics like the Philadelphia Eagles and Kelly green uniforms (owner Jeffrey Lurie has said he’d love to see this). Additionally, the Denver Broncos and the old bronco in the D logo on helmets occasionally will arise as a possible change (Color Rush helmets tried this the last two years).

After all, beyond the traditional uniforms, teams can experiment further with throwbacks and now Color Rush uniforms to stir the imagination and support of fans.

Branding and identity are big business.

So, it’s the offseason again for most teams, and all hope springs eternal for next season.

What can we expect? We’ll know soon enough.

…and for other teams that won’t see April showers bring new branding flowers, it’s another opportunity to stir up more and more interest in their team’s identity and only increase awareness of branding, uniforms, and logos.

Scot Chartrand is a contributor with Front Office Sports and has worked in program management driving strategic initiatives at a corporate level. He has a passion for helping clients and corporate stakeholders achieve strategic goals while providing change management and optimizing process that drives repeatable results.

Business

One of Next Year’s Biggest NFL Free Agents May Not Be a Player

David Mulugheta is only 35, but has negotiated in excess of $500 million in contracts.

Scot Chartrand

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David Mulugheta with clients – (l to r) Deshaun Watson, Landon Collins, Quinten Rollins, Quandre Diggs, agent David Mulugheta, and Bobby Wagner (Photo via David Mulugheta)

David Mulugheta (@davidmulugheta) is only 35 years old, but he’s already earned his way atop the NFL agent business.

In eight short years representing players, he has already developed a roster of 30 of the league’s most exciting stars, including All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, three-time All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner, All-Pro cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and Casey Hayward, All-Pro guard Kelechi Osemele, All-Pro safety Landon Collins, Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Thomas and second-year star quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Collectively, Mulugheta has negotiated in excess of $500 million in contracts, with roughly half his roster poised to sign massive second deals in the coming years.

Mulugheta has spent his entire career as a member of industry powerhouse Athletes First (A1) and confirmed that he is engaged in negotiations with Athletes First to potentially become an equity partner as opposed to experiencing his own free agency for the first time in his career.

The Path to Becoming an Agent

Mulugheta’s path to success has been anything but conventional.

As the son of Eritrean immigrants who fled a war-torn country in search of a better life, Mulugheta learned through his parents’ struggle and sacrifice that hard work and dedication were the keys to success.

Neither of his parents spoke English when they arrived in the states and were forced to take jobs that required them to work incredibly long hours for very little pay in return.

Mulugheta’s father worked as a taxi driver by day and as a gas station attendant by night, while his mother cleaned homes and took care of the children.

Given that both parents worked full-time and were unable to afford childcare, Mulugheta’s father occasionally had his sons ride along in his cab, making for a unique babysitting arrangement.

And while his parents were proud of the opportunities they were able to provide their family, they wanted more for Mulugheta and his siblings, so they prioritized the importance of education above all else. They saw it as the key to the American Dream.

To illustrate his parents’ focus on academic achievement, Mulugheta recalled a time his eighth-grade teacher paid his parents a visit at the family’s home in Dallas.

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His father was asleep, during a rare break from work, and woke up to Mulugheta’s teacher sitting in the family’s living room. The teacher had made an in-person trip to inform Mulugheta’s parents that he had been disrupting the class.

“So, what’s his grade in the class?” his father asked bluntly. “A ninety-nine,” the teacher responded.

Mulugheta’s father, impressed with his son’s accomplishment and not concerned with nonsense, casually turned around and left to go back to sleep.

He cared that his son got the job done. He wasn’t preoccupied with the style points.

Along with Mulugheta, each of his siblings met the high academic expectations set by their household and received the education that their parents had always envisioned.

His older and younger brothers earned an MBA and J.D., respectively, each from Southern Methodist University (SMU); while his sister attended Harvard University, which led to a unique opportunity.

In the midst of her undergraduate studies, Mulugheta’s sister took a year and a half leave of absence to work for President Barack Obama’s administration at the White House. As both her service and the Obama presidency concluded, the family was invited to take a photo with the 44th President.

David Mulugheta and family with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office (Photo via David Mulugheta)

From a small village in Africa, to an invitation to meet the President of the United States in the Oval Office, Mulugheta’s parents personified the American Dream. As a constant reminder of how far they’ve come, the picture of the family standing shoulder-to-shoulder with President Obama sits on Mulugheta’s desk.

Similar to his sister, Mulugheta’s time in college led him down a unique path. At the University of Texas at Austin, Mulugheta developed friendships with, and earned the respect of, a number of football players, including running back Jamaal Charles, who was preparing to enter the NFL at the time. Having just applied to law school at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Mulugheta planned to study corporate law, however, during a trip to visit Charles in California in advance of the NFL Draft, Mulugheta met agent Andrew Kessler and everything changed.

Kessler, who was one of Charles’ agents at Athletes First (A1), asked if Mulugheta would be interested in an internship at the agency. Instantly attracted to the opportunity to not only represent athletes like his friend Charles and help them maximize their potential but also to work in an industry that he loved, Mulugheta began to imagine a new career path upon graduating from law school.

Mulugheta with Earl Thomas (left) and Jamaal Charles (right) (Photo via David Mulugheta)

Hitting the Ground Running

Mulugheta began his career by signing future hall of famer, Earl Thomas. With over 800 certified agents competing to represent the best talent entering the NFL, Mulugheta’s ability to sign Thomas, immediately made him a viable player in the industry. Eight years later, Thomas is a six-time Pro Bowl selection and Super Bowl champion who has earned in excess of $50 million on the field.

Following Thomas in 2012, Mulugheta continued to sign big names, including current Raiders All-Pro guard Kelechi Osemele and former Giants linebacker Keenan Robinson.

Once Mulugheta’s breakout draft class of 2013 was announced, NFL insiders and key industry stakeholders began to take notice.

After landing first-round safety Kenny Vaccaro as a client, he also signed additional draft picks Marquise Goodwin, Alex Okafor, and Brandon Jenkins.

Mulugheta believes that Earl Thomas’s success on the field and his status as a former Longhorn was one of the keys to recruiting other Texas Exes (Vaccaro, Goodwin, and Okafor all attended UT).

Mulugheta’s success continued, as he secured first rounder Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama in 2014, followed by first-round pick Malcom Brown (DT) and fellow Texas alumni Quandre Diggs, and Malcolm Brown (RB) signed on two years later in a class along with second-round safety Landon Collins and cornerback Quinten Rollins of Miami University (Ohio).

Mulugheta with Jalen Ramsey (right) and Corey Coleman (middle) (Photo via David Mulugheta)

First round picks continued to come Mulugheta’s way — Jalen Ramsey and Corey Coleman joined Mulugheta’s roster in 2016. Deshaun Watson, Malik Hooker, Charles Harris, Budda Baker and Montravius Adams headlined an impressive 2017 NFL Draft class.

Add in several star veteran signees, and his current client list becomes unprecedentedly stacked for such a young agent.

Most recently, Mulugheta landed projected 2018 first round pick, Florida State safety Derwin James. Coupled with the fact that he and his wife welcomed their third child, 2018 is shaping up to be another good year for the Mulugheta family.

All told, Mulugheta’s roster includes:

  • 9 total 1st Round draft picks
  • 7 total 2nd Round draft picks
  • 25 combined Pro Bowl appearances
  • 3 Super Bowl championships

Mulugheta’s 2017 Draft Class – (l to r) Charles Harris, Budda Baker, Deshaun Watson, agent David Mulugheta, Montravius Adams, and Malik Hooker (Photo via David Mulugheta)

The 2017 season was particularly successful for Mulugheta’s clients. A whopping nine of them were selected to the Pro Bowl in Orlando, and a tenth (Deshaun Watson) almost certainly would have joined them if not for a season-ending knee injury.

“Because of what my parents had accomplished, I grew up knowing the only limits that exist are the ones we set,” Mulugheta noted looking back on the unprecedented success from 2017.

Only in his mid-30s, it’s incredible what he’s been able to achieve in a business where the vast majority of elite agents have 20+ years of experience under their belts.

Mulugheta with Deshaun Watson (Photo via David Mulugheta)

Keys to Success as a Rising, Young Agent

How has Mulugheta been able to gain such significant success? He attributes it to his commitment to building and maintaining genuine relationships.

Handling 30 clients while attempting to create a 1:1, relationship-based experience for each individual is no small task in his business.

In order to preserve the level of personal attention and connection with his players, Mulugheta has been thoughtful about how to effectively grow his clientele.

“You have to be tactful and critical. You want good players, but more importantly, you want good people,” Mulugheta said.

Since Mulugheta prides himself on his hands-on approach to representation, maintaining a selective client list is pivotal.

“Small, but powerful,” Mulugheta pointed out. “The important thing is that you work with quality players that share your values and inspire you. It makes taking those 2 am or 3 am calls a lot easier.”

To Mulugheta, his players are more than just clients, they are family. He treats them as younger brothers and believes that it’s his responsibility to ensure they reach their full potential, both on and off the football field. Not satisfied with only being the man who helped his clients get good contracts, Mulugheta strives for deeper, lifelong connections with them. He serves as a godfather to some of his clients’ children and acted as best man at a number of their weddings.

This approach has fostered a number of strong bonds, not only between Mulugheta and his clients but also among his clients themselves.

Mulugheta with Jalen Ramsey (left) and Derwin James (right) (Photo via David Mulugheta)

For instance, leading up to this April’s NFL Draft, Mulugheta’s newest client, Florida State safety Derwin James, has been training out west in Orange County, California.

Fellow Athletes First safeties Earl Thomas and Landon Collins both flew out to Southern California to work with James at Mulugheta’s request.

“We are a small family, and we look out for each other,” Mulugheta said.You have guys who are interested in mentoring others. That’s a big plus, to have guys who really want to be successful, and at the same time willing to help one another. Men who truly personify the proverb, iron sharpens iron.”

Mulugheta believes his family-oriented style has created an environment where players have high expectations for success and hold each other accountable, not wanting to let the other members of their family down.

A cursory look at Mulugheta’s Instagram feed (@davidmulugheta) shows you how much he values these relationships. You’ll see picture after picture of Mulugheta spending time with his clients on and off the field.

Mulugheta with Kenny Vaccaro (left) and Rafael Bush (right) (Photo via David Mulugheta)

Mulugheta remembered one unique example where Kenny Vaccaro advised him to pursue a college senior as a client, based on Vaccaro’s film study. Mulugheta noted, “My guys want me to succeed just as much as I want them to.”

Mulugheta’s colleagues at Athletes First have also witnessed Mulugheta’s interest in maintaining genuine relationships.

Brian Murphy, the [President] of Athletes First, described Mulugheta as, “the same person, no matter who he is around. His clients – and our A1 family – know exactly what who David is – a passionate advocate who makes all of our lives better professionally and personally and who does so with absolute conviction.”

In response to the compliment, Mulugheta noted, “All praise is short-lived. And although it is humbling when good work is noticed, next year someone else could take your spot. Like many of my clients, where I came from, you had to fight for success— it was never guaranteed.”

Mulugheta’s clientele and their performance speak the loudest in endorsing his work, but the difference he has made for them in their careers on and off the field goes beyond that.

Mulugheta with Earl Thomas at the 2018 Pro Bowl (Photo via David Mulugheta)

For Seahawk Earl Thomas (@earl) the Longhorn bond is strong as well as the bond he has with the entire family of fellow clients.

“The most important thing to me when I was deciding on agents was working with someone that I could put my total trust in. To be successful in the business of football, you have to put your all into the game, and I wanted to make sure whoever I chose as an agent was doing the same thing for me off the field. David has done that and more for me, and I couldn’t have made a better decision. You always hear the saying that someone is like family, well David is family.”

Mulugheta with Kevin Byard at the 2018 Pro Bowl (Photo via David Mulugheta)

Titans All-Pro safety Kevin Byard (@kb31_savage) entered the league with the Tennessee Titans in 2016 but only signed on with Mulugheta this past season.

He requested a meeting with Mulugheta, made the switch, and hasn’t looked back since. For him, the difference in representation made his life easier on the field by eliminating worries off the field. This past season, his career reached a peak after being named to his first Pro Bowl as well as being recognized as first-team All-Pro.

“I made the switch at first because I knew that David had some of the top DB’s in the league, and I wanted to be a part of that brotherhood. A year later, I continue to see that he fights for his guys to get everything they deserve and more. What’s more impressive, David really develops friendships with all his clients that will last a lot longer than our football careers will.”

However, Mulugheta’s successful track record has also been met with a fair share of obstacles.

Throughout the years, Mulugheta has had to overcome challenges on the recruiting trail based on his age and ethnicity. Like many industries, the sports agent business has been historically overrepresented by middle-aged white men. During recruiting meetings, Mulugheta has had to deal with parents looking to see if “the real agent” would be joining the meeting. Or while backstage at NFL drafts and other special events, Mulugheta has often been mistaken for a player’s family member. His youth, complexion, and background are a rarity in the industry, yet have also served as an asset, helping him connect with his clients.

Mulugheta understands the racial biases that come along with the job. An attorney by trade, he operates in statistically one of the least diverse fields in America. Mulugheta appreciates his responsibility in helping other young, black men to succeed, stating, “I refuse to change my behavior or hide my identity for anyone. I just hope that my path can inspire other young, black men to stay true to themselves, work hard and pursue their dreams, even if those dreams don’t occur on a field or court.”

In the relatively short time, Mulugheta has been a certified contract advisor, he has been a part of negotiating some of the NFL’s largest contracts. On three separate occasions, Mulugheta’s clients have become the highest paid player in the history of the NFL at their respective positions.

  • Earl Thomas signed a contract making him the highest paid safety in NFL history as a 4-year extension in 2014 with the Seahawks for $40 million with more than $25 million guaranteed.
  • Bobby Wagner inked a contract making him the highest paid middle linebacker in NFL history in 2015 as a free agent with the Seahawks for $43 million over four years.
  • Kelechi Osemele signed a contract making him the highest paid guard in NFL history, back in 2016. The 5-year deal with the Raiders is worth up to $60 million.

Results like those can grab attention and change stereotypes in a hurry.

Mulugheta with Bobby Wagner (Photo via David Mulugheta)

What’s Next

The 2018 season will mark Mulugheta’s final year on his contract at Athletes First. While the odds are he stays put at A1, he is sure to have a number of agencies trying to poach him, offering long-term deals akin to those received by his clients. This year, the recruiter becomes the recruited.

“A1 is a great company,” Mulugheta commented. “They have given me every tool to be successful. Ownership allowed me to flourish and didn’t keep their thumb on me.”

One principle Mulugheta will certainly continue to implement is his hands-on approach with his clients. From booking flights to organizing offseason camps to assisting with family vacations, and helping with special moments, Mulugheta will continue to remain a staple in the lives of his clients.

In an effort to give back to the community they call home, Mulugheta and his wife founded the Fair Catch Foundation.

The organization is planning its second annual bowling event this summer to help underserved populations in the greater Austin community. Last year, they partnered with a number of Mulugheta’s clients and former Longhorn players to host the inaugural event.

The goals for the foundation include creating “generational change” by investing in vulnerable families. Having come from the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, Mulugheta understands how helping an individual gain an education and employment can change the trajectory of that family and their community.

Mulugheta’s work stands out at every level, including through his authentic commitment to his clients.

His journey has been anything but traditional.

The unique aspects of his upbringing, his genuine nature and deep connection with his clients, and his interest in being more than just an agent have redefined his role and should serve as a model for the next generation of sports agents.

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How the Upcoming Midterm Elections Could Affect the Sports Industry

The sports industry may be affected by various candidates and ballot measures ahead of November’s midterm elections.

Blake Yagman

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In a democracy, few acts are as consequential and important than the act of voting.

While it may be easy to choose not to take 15-20 minutes to cast your ballot, the decision not to vote becomes more difficult when you reflect upon the last hundred years of voting rights in the United States. The right to vote and the accessibility of voting has improved substantially but not enough; from gerrymandering to voter ID laws, minorities and different protected classes of people still struggle against institutional methods of voter suppression borne out of the days of reconstruction and Jim Crow.

There has never been a more important time to exercise your right to vote; so, when you exercise your right to cast a ballot in November (after first checking to make sure that you are, in fact, registered to vote on Vote.Org), educate yourself and keep an eye out for the issues and candidates that are important to you.

SEE MORE: Former NFL Player’s New Political App Aims to Instill Change

Seeing that, by virtue of reading this article, you are a sports fan, it would be pertinent to know how the sports industry may be affected by various candidates and ballot measures ahead of November’s critical midterm election.

Alex Howard, who runs political campaigns across the country for people aspiring to serve, elaborated on why candidates with sports backgrounds and sports-related referenda are so popular ahead of this year’s midterm elections:

“Historically, sports have always played a role in the fabric of American culture; more so now with the dialogue about sports and social justice issues which even the President of the United States inserted himself into. Candidates with professional sports experience —like Colin Allred and J.D. Scholten — prove that there is so much more to an athlete than just the sport they play.”

SEE MORE: Cardinals Lead the Charge In the Future of NFL Coverage

“The American political system was designed to be run by normal citizens; and there is nothing more representative of the citizens of the United States than those who represent the sports industry: a key component of the American economy and a reservoir of inspiration for Americans seeking to overcome adversity.”

When it comes to sports at the ballot, Front Office Sports has you covered:

CANDIDATES

Colin Allred is an impressive candidate running for the United States House of Representatives in Texas’ 32nd Congressional District. Allred is a former Tennessee Titans linebacker who left his career in football to attend law school and become a Civil Rights attorney. In addition to his accomplishments as a football player and as an attorney, Allred worked in the White House under former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro.

J.D. Scholten is a former minor league baseball player running for the United States House of Representatives in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District. Scholten, who was endorsed by former Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ Political Action Committee Our Revolution, is a fifth-generation Iowan. The 6-foot-6 Scholten touts his desire to “stand tall” for the people of his district.

REFERENDA

MIAMI: The Miami Referendum regarding the approval of the MLS/Melreese-site stadium is a complex and controversial one. Read here for more information.

FLORIDA: In Florida, a Referendum regarding Dog Racing would allow voters to ban gambling on dog races in the state of Florida. This referendum is one that is long overdue as gambling on dog racing is banned in 44 states.

Dog racing is extremely deleterious to a dogs health and owners of racing dogs frequently force them to compete with injuries; according to the ASPCA, “Injuries common to [racing dogs] forced to race include severed toes, broken legs, spinal cord paralysis, broken necks and cardiac arrest.

Also, Florida’s ballot will feature an anti-casino gambling measure; it is an amendment that expressly bans casino gambling and would need to be undone by either a successful lawsuit/Constitutional challenge or through a subsequent ballot measure. “The “Voter Control of Gambling Amendment,” largely bankrolled by a Disney company and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, would require voter approval for any form of casino gambling, an issue now largely controlled by the state Legislature.

SAN DIEGO: The San Diego referendums regarding the approval of proposed stadiums is a complicated one; San Diego apparently has two competing ballot measures which both propose sports stadiums on the same exact plot of land.

San Diego’s city attorney filed emergency petitions to stop both from appearing on the ballot in August but ultimately failed. The panel of judges who ruled on the emergency petitions stated: “We decline to eliminate the right of the public to express its views on the competing initiatives.” For clarity on these measures, read here.

SPOKANE: In Washington state, the citizens of Spokane will get the opportunity to voice their support or opposition to a proposed high school stadium constructed on behalf of Spokane Public Schools.

This ballot measure, however, is not binding on the school district; it is merely advisory. The city council voted to oppose this measure before sending it to the ballot for the advice of its’ citizens.

MARYLAND: Citizens of the beautiful state of Maryland will get the chance to vote this November on whether their state should adopt sports gambling.

After the Supreme Court struck down PASPA for being violative of the 11th Amendment, states became free to choose how they would proceed with sports gambling within their borders. If Maryland chooses to legalize sports gambling, it will become the sixth state to implement full-scale legalized sports betting.

So, how will the sports business industry be affected by midterm elections? We’ll find out. Stay tuned as we’ll be updating this voting guide through the coming weeks.

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How Good Sports Is Working With Partners to Make Youth Sports More Accessible

Through partnerships with companies like Keurig Dr. Pepper and Empower Retirement, Good Sports is working to lower the cost barrier for youth sports.

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As families around the country prepare to send their kids back to school, many start thinking ahead to the fall sports season. What used to involve signing kids up for after-school sports and gym class is no longer that simple, and many children are inhibited by from participating in athletics due to rising costs.

Earlier this year, Hope Solo raised concerns about the expenses involved in youth soccer, arguing that rising costs hindered the sport’s accessibility to every athlete. This problem is not limited to soccer, it extends across youth sports, transforming what was once a pivotal part of childhood development into something that is accessible only to the privileged.

When lifelong athlete Melissa Harper reflects back on her days playing youth sports, the only question was whether or not you wanted to participate; cost had nothing to do with it. Today, unfortunately, that is no longer the case.

This led her and Christy Keswick to found Good Sports, a nonprofit designed to connect Fortune 500 companies and the sports industry directly to underserved communities in an effort to save youth sports.

“[Youth sports] has become a pay-to-play industry,” explained Harper, now the CEO of the organization. “So there are very few programs at any level that you can sign the child up for without some sort of participation fee.”

On top of that, kids are often expected to show up with their own gear – another added cost for families. So while a participation fee may cover things like insurance and coaches and uniforms, it may not cover bats or gloves in baseball. Both the participation and equipment fees can add up, especially in some of the more expensive sports, barring entry for many youth athletes.

“Cost is a huge factor in whether or not kids can participate in sports and all of us who were involved in founding Good Sports have gained great things from sports and feel like that’s something that should be available to all children, not just those who have the benefit of being raised in a more athletic environment,” explained Harper.

Aside from physical benefits, youth sports have proven long-term emotional, physical and intellectual benefits as well that many kids are being robbed of due to inaccessibility.

To combat the issue, Good Sports established a number of partnerships with both sporting goods and corporate companies. Working with some of the leading sporting goods companies, Good Sports has created a way to deal with excess products that many of these organizations produce.

Working directly with 37 of the top sporting goods companies, Good Sports has found a way to facilitate the distribution of the excess product that they aren’t planning to sell.

“If there is excess apparel, footwear, access inflatables or hard goods in an equipment company’s warehouse, we can get that into the hands of kids who need it most,” explained Harper.

Companies like Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour rely on Good Sports to help manage the overflow of inventory. With so many organizations in need, ranging from public schools to parks and recreation programs, Good Sports can help prioritize the neediest organizations and manage the distribution in the most efficient and beneficial way possible.

Additionally, Good Sports supports many of these companies in their proactive philanthropic efforts, assisting in the execution of employee engagement programs and planned large-scale equipment donations.

“It’s both the proactive part of [the sporting goods companies’] community engagement programs as well as an operational solution for basic ebbs and flows of inventory.”

While distributing the excess of product helps many youth sports programs, it doesn’t meet every program’s need exactly. Given that Good Sports supports athletic programs from kids ranging from age three to 18, there is a large breadth of equipment needed to meet specific age group and sports’ need. With that, an excess in product doesn’t usually match perfectly with what a specific community needs. There may, for example, be an excess of soccer balls, but a community needs baseball gloves. When a gap like that occurs, corporate partners come into play.

Good Sports’ corporate partners include organizations like Keurig Dr. Pepper (Formerly Dr. Pepper Snapple Group), Empower Retirement, ESPN, and Target.

“We use their dollars to essentially fill the gaps and source equipment that will meet the needs that we don’t currently have an inventory for,” explained Harper.

While the portfolio of partners is diverse, all share a common value of encouraging active play for youth.

Keurig Dr. Pepper, for example, originally partnered with Good Sports through a pilot program started in 2009.

“We teamed up because we really have the same goal to give more kids across the country a chance to get out and play,” explained Shawna Jackson, a philanthropy analyst at Keurig Dr. Pepper. “We know kids want to get involved in organized sports, whether it be schools or their communities, but sometimes there’s an issue of lack of budget and it can be cost prohibitive.”

Later, in 2014, the company launched its Let’s Play initiative, with the goal of helping kids and families make active play a daily priority. It leveraged its partnership with Good Sports to execute the initiative, so far investing nearly $7 million into the non-profit as a part of Let’s Play.

Empower Retirement is another organization that values health and wellness and partners with Good Sports to see its corporate social responsibility plan through. Years ago, as the company built out its plan, it immediately identified youth as an area it wanted to serve due to a very active and passionate employee base. Originally working with the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs’ foundation to get involved in youth sports, Empower Retirement was introduced to Good Sports as it looked to deepen its commitment in the area.

Philanthropy is a core component of Empower Retirement’s culture. Each employee receives 16 hours of paid volunteer time per year and has the freedom to nominate organizations that are near to their hearts, like the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club, to receive the equipment that Good Sports allocates through the company’s funding.

The company’s partnerships with professional sports teams, in addition to Good Sports, help provide more ways for their employees to get involved in giving back. Tapping into the relationships with teams, Empower Retirement looked to make the employee volunteer experience even more hands-on and exciting, using stadiums and bringing in alumni players for equipment packing events.

“It has been such an incredible opportunity for our employees and these agencies and the teams too because we’re able to all bring them together in a really unique meaningful way,” explained Christina Frantz, the AVP, corporate social responsibility, talent acquisition, diversity and inclusion at Empower Retirement.

To date, the company has had about 110 employees participate in the volunteer program and sent more than 13,665 pieces of sporting equipment to more than 114,000 children.

For corporate partners, such as Keurig Dr. Pepper and Empower Retirement, whose core businesses objectives are often unrelated to sports, Good Sports helps ease the burden of their CSR teams in supporting philanthropic endeavors. Before the organizations, there was a financial and administrative hassle for many corporations, particularly smaller ones, to accomplish their philanthropic goals.

“[Good Sports] is a really strong community partner with a ton of relationships across the United States and they are efficient and effective,” explained Frantz.

“They also just do a really good job of maximizing our impact and both the financial and human capital that we invest in. We can really make an investment in them and then they can grow that investment in the community because of their relationships. For me to go out and find those partners would be less efficient than partnering with Good Sports. Then having them translate that relationship, that’s really a big win.”

Good Sports emphasizes the importance of mutually beneficial relationships when working with all of their partners, because, at the end of the day, all have the end goal of making improving access to youth sports.

“Our approach to partners, whether they’re equipment or financial partners is to basically take the core of what we do, which is giving kids in need equipment to have access to play and layer on what those partners are trying to accomplish,” said Harper.

The model Harper and Keswick have created has been successful and the work they are doing is making a difference.

Since 2003, Good Sports has donated over $26 million in new sports equipment, footwear, and apparel to nearly five million children in all 50 states. After donations, the organization consistently sees an average of 55-65 more minutes of play each week per kid.

Youth sports programs that have received support from Good Sports have proven the impact of the organization’s donations. Over the last five years, 89 percent noted an enhanced overall experience which helped retain youth in the program, 62 percent of donations enabled organizations to expand their existing programming and 60 percent reported they were able to decrease program costs for youth and their families. Almost half of the organizations that received a donation from Good Sports were able to add an additional team or age group, thus boosting the opportunity for more kids to play.

While the organization is working hard to change the real challenge that athletics brings to families nowadays, Harper believes the thinking around youth sports needs to change.

“It’s important for people to realize that this isn’t a nice to have. Moving every day is core to what children should have access to at all levels in all communities, not just for those who can afford it. Play should be a right, not a privilege,” she explained.

As a new school year approaches and youth sports become top of mind again, Harper and Good Sports will continue to tackle the barrier that keeps kids from getting in the game.

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