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Athletes In Business

Less is More: How Andrew Luck Handles Off-The-Field Partnerships

From BODYARMOR to DirecTV and more, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback is all about finding quality in every deal he makes.

Mike Piellucci

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Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

“I don’t particularly enjoy dancing while people are looking at me,” said Andrew Luck, with a laugh, by way of explaining why he donned disco garb and dance battled Mike Trout as part of a new ad spot for BODYARMOR.

His decision to overcome nerves and self-doubt and perhaps a tinge of embarrassment to bust a move in front of millions of people, on repeat, owed itself to the thought that “it’s important to poke fun at yourself regardless of what you do in this world.”

But it was also an exercise in belief, something he told Front Office Sports is the centerpiece for how he selects his off-the-field partnerships.

READ MORE: Alex Rodriguez Takes Fans Behind the Curtain With New YouTube Channel

“Believing in the people, believing in the brand,” he said of his criteria for ad partners. “I don’t want to feel like I am ever put in a situation where I have to compromise my beliefs and sell something that I don’t use or don’t believe in… I don’t want to feel inauthentic.”

To that end, Luck said, it’s all about less is more. That philosophy is hardly unique among athletes but it carries extra weight for the 29-year-old Indianapolis Colts quarterback, whose advertisement portfolio is relatively measured for being one of the best players at the marquee position within the country’s biggest sport.

After being chosen with the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Luck’s only initial high-profile endorsement was his shoe and apparel deal with Nike, something he characterized as deliberate choice “to make sure I could prove myself on the football field before I did anything.” Gradually, he took on additional partnerships, but several high-profile deals like TD Ameritrade and Visa were more short-term agreements than bigger-picture, bedrock partnerships.

The recipe for staying power, then, begins with a partner whose product he actually uses. Such was the case with DirecTV. In BODYARMOR’s case, he first stumbled onto the sports drink during his final season at Stanford. By the time he turned pro, he was using it often enough to take the unusual step of courting the company.

“I was talking to my agent once I graduated and became professional and I was like, ‘You know, I really like this drink BODYARMOR. We had it in our weight room. You think you can reach out to them?'” Luck recalled.

Luck ultimately invested in the company in 2013, and became a pitchman shortly thereafter. Six years later, BODYARMOR is now the official sports drink of the NCAA and features athlete partners throughout the sports world. According to BODYARMOR Vice President of Marketing Michael Fedele, those two developments are intertwined.

“As one our earliest athlete investors, Andrew has been with BODYARMOR since the beginning and has helped us grow from a small brand with regional distribution in select stores into the company that we are today,” Fedele said. “He’s been an invaluable asset to the BODYARMOR brand both in marketing and connecting with consumers but also importantly behind the scenes given his deeper involvement with our company.”

Still, Luck has been careful to compartmentalize his off-the-field work, no matter how strongly he believes in the partnerships that do make the cut. Such was the case from 2016 through early 2018, when Luck missed more than a full season recovering from an injury to his right throwing shoulder. The physical and mental strain of the rehab led him to pull away almost entirely from the public eye, a strategy that other athletes might deem drastic but for Luck proved essential.

READ MORE: P.L.A.N. Helps Current And Former Players Prepare For Life After Football

“I had to get away and that was the best thing that ever could have ever happened to me,” Luck said. “It was awesome to have great partners like BODYARMOR that allowed me, in a sense, and I never felt any pressure during that time to do anything, which I very much appreciated. And I needed, in a sense — I don’t want to say sabbatical, that’s the wrong word, but I was unhappy and I had to go figure myself out before I could help anybody else out, that’s for sure.”

Just because he’s back on the field doesn’t mean that approach will change. He has no plans to stop being selective, nor any to stop being open-minded about what else comes his way. He said “yes” to DirecTV because, in addition to liking the service, he thought the commercials were funny. He agreed to the latest BODYARMOR spot because he thought he’d have a good time.

“I try to keep it small, focused and about quality,” he said. Even if, it turns out, that means learning to dance with the whole world watching.

Athletes In Business

UNINTERRUPTED Teams Up with Rapinoe and Bird

The brand, USWNT star, and WNBA vet have teamed up for a limited edition hoodie to pay homage to LGBTQ activism over the years.

Front Office Sports

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*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

In celebration of Pride, UNINTERRUPTED has teamed up with Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird to design a Love is UNINTERRUPTED hoodie. 

What’s the story?

The hoodie design, also a collaboration with streetwear designer Melody Ehsani, is inspired by Nigel Shelby, the 13 year old boy who tragically committed suicide in April due to homophobic bullying.

Inspiration for the design on the back was drawn from the LGBTQ pride flag, as well as in honor of Nigel (a photo of Nigel in a white hoodie with the rainbow flag became symbolic after his passing). The Lambda Symbol on the sleeve was first used by the Gay Activist Alliance in the 70’s, and later became a sign for gay liberation in general. The figure on the bottom of the sleeve consists of a stone texture, paying homage to the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots this year. 

Will they be sold?

Only 200 hoodies will be made, with all of them being sent to athletes with a pledge card attached in an effort to be worn as a symbol of each athlete’s commitment to protecting and supporting LGBTQ youth, signing the pledge and taking action.

More than athletes…

“UNINTERRUPTED, Megan and I believe that every single person should have the freedom and the opportunity to love and be loved, openly. We made this hoodie to raise awareness and empower peers and allies alike to protect queer youth and speak up against homophobic violence and bullying.” – Sue Bird on the project

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Athletes In Business

NFLPA Inspiring Players To Be More Than An Athlete

“We encourage all of the players to think of themselves as more than just football players,” said NFLPA Senior Player Manager Dior Ginyard.

Ian Thomas

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Photo Credit: Kevin Koski

The NFLPA is rolling out a new initiative asking players to define themselves beyond their playing careers – writing their own endings to the phrase “Athlete and ___.”

The motto is the brainchild of NFLPA Senior Player Manager of Player Affairs Dior Ginyard. Ginyard was reading Twitter comments about off-the-field football player stereotypes, and decided he wanted to help showcase the successes that many players had found in their careers beyond the NFL.

That led the NFLPA to create a new #AthleteAnd Workshop around its externship program. At the event in February, 24 active players met with executives from companies like LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as from the NFLPA and NBA, gaining insight into how to grow professional and leverage the opportunity their playing careers provide them.

The #AthleteAnd campaign is now being pushed even further. The NFLPA is reaching out to players to provide their own #AthleteAnd definition on social media, as well as capturing content around the concept at events. The organization is also giving players who share their message an ‘#AthleteAnd ____’ t-shirt and a Sharpie, so that they can fill in that blank themselves.

“We encourage all of the players to think of themselves as more than just football players,” said Ginyard. “That could be career-focused – maybe they’re an athlete and a photographer; it could be business-focused – an athlete and an entrepreneur or an investor; or perhaps it’s around education – an athlete and a graduate. Our goal is to really help the guys build confidence to figure out what their ‘and’ is.”

The phrase aims to encapsulate not only the pursuit of a career outside of football for players, but also how they can enhance their personal brand and continue their own education and personal growth – all providing them the confidence to define themselves as more than just an athlete.

This new campaign and content series comes at a crucial time for NFL players, who now on average have a career that lasts just three and a half years, and are facing a potential work stoppage following the 2020 season – making the ability to transition into a second career even more important.

“Even just five or ten years ago, it was taboo for players to express what they were interested in off the field,” said Brandon Parker, NFLPA communications manager. “Talking to some players, they want to focus on football and say ‘once I retired I can do these investments and build this business’ – we stress to them that their brand and stock is highest when you have that uniform on, so we want to help them find the time and bandwidth to pursue that while all eyes are still on them.”

READ MORE: Chase Minnifield Looks To Shift Entrepreneurial Stigmas for Athletes

Offering players career development tools and advice is nothing new for the NFLPA. However, Ginyard said rallying around this motto has allowed the organization to further evolve and hone its efforts.

“As part of our externship program, we’ve had a professional development day that was about resume building and elevator pitching – that was somewhat too in the weeds,” Ginyard said. “We wanted to take a step back, and get into how players view themselves and their identity – it can often be intimidating for a player to be with a top level executive if they just see themselves as an athlete, so we wanted to take that head on with a career development event.”

The NFLPA’s externship program saw 66 active players gain work experience this offseason at 27 different companies and organizations, ranging from Fanatics and Fox Sports to NASA and the LAPD.

The workshop featured sessions were hosted by a variety of executives, including Andrew Hawkins, a former NFL wide receiver who is now the director of business development of UNINTERRUPTED, and Carrie Leger White, chief operating office  of AthLife, which helps athletes pursue academic and career goals.

NFL linebacker Brandon Chubb, one of the 24 players who participated in the workshop, said that it helped him prepare for “life after football, even while football is going on.”

“I am an athlete, and I believe in myself as that, but the ability to gain insight and exposure allows me to expand upon that – I can be multiple words and adjectives beyond just an athlete,” he said.

READ MORE: NFL Helps Former Players Succeed In New Business Ventures

Asked how he would fill in his blank that followed athlete, Chubb described two of his off-the-field pursuits. He and his brother Bradley, who plays for the Denver Broncos, launched the Chubb Foundation in 2017, which he said aims to use “sports as a platform to activate human potential.” Brandon Chubb said he’s also working to open his own private equity firm by the end of 2019, and is in talks with an Austin-based business regarding an investment.

Parker said the message to players like Chubb is that by even becoming an NFL player “makes you one in a million – it takes incredible sacrifice and dedication to get to this point, so now how can you use those skills to translate to another industry?”

The NFLPA is aiming to make sure it’s highlighting the stories of players like Chubb who are pursuing their wide variety of passions off the field. For example, Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback Josh Dobbs flew an F-16 fighter jet with the Air Force’s Thunderbird demonstration team this offseason; Brandon Copeland, the New York Jets linebacker, taught a financial literacy seminar at the University of Pennsylvania this spring.

Ginyard said the program will return again next February, expanding its programming and diving deeper into more engaging topics. He said the NFLPA also hopes to develop a network around the #AthleteAnd message so that players can share their personal experiences. The program may also be expanded to include athletes beyond the NFL, which could include WNBA and U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team players.

“There’s a fire drill that is inevitable when a playing career is over,” Ginyard said. “This is all about figuring out what does that second career look like, and where do your passions take you.”

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Athletes In Business

Female Golfers Open Up About Influencers’ Role in Shaping the Future of the Sport

In order to grow both the game and interest in women’s golf, both professional golfers and influencers agree that they have to help each other.

Anya Alvarez

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Photo Credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

As a young female collegiate golfer, Paige Spiranac shared the same ambition of many like her: “My original dream was to play golf on the LPGA Tour,” she said.

After finishing up her collegiate golf career at San Diego State University in 2015, she began posting on Instagram. Soon after, the website Total Frat Move posted an article about Spiranac, and her following skyrocketed from 10,000 to 100,000.

“Plans changed a little,” Spiranac said.

Her newfound social media fame led to an invite for the Omega Dubai Ladies Classic in December 2015. Suddenly, Spiranac had an opportunity to create a business for herself as a social influencer in golf. Four years later, she now has more than 1.7 million Instagram followers, and brand partnerships with Philip Stein, Mizzen+Main, 18Birdies, Troon and Myrtle Beach Golf Tourism Solutions.

The 26-year-old has found an emerging niche in golf: whereas LPGA golfers struggle to find sponsorship, female golf influencers have gained leverage with brands in a sport watched and played more by men via social media – not at tournaments.

“I think part of the reason why women do so well in this space is that we look different than the typical golfer and we represent another part of the game,” says Tania Tare, 30, a golf trick shot artist. The New Zealand native has more than 200,000 followers on Instagram alone.

Like Spiranac, Tare never imagined Instagram could be her pathway toward a career. She joined the platform to post about her life for friends and family, and her profile was set to private. When she began creating videos, friends would try to tag her and share her posts, only for her privacy settings to block them.

“It got to the point that I was tired of having to send them the videos so they could share them, so I just decided to open my profile to the public,” Tare says.

As Tare’s following climbed, offers rolled in for branded posts. Tare has a current deal with Adidas, along with partners in Audemars Piguet watches, Troon and Oncore. She also gets paid regularly for golf outings. Tare has created a career arguably steadier than the tournament-to-tournament hustle of many pro golfers.

Just competing in professional golf can exact a heavy financial toll – that’s especially true for women. The average season on the LPGA Tour can cost upwards of $60,000 a year just to compete. Based on the LPGA money list in 2018, a player would have to finish 125th to break even. By contrast, the 125th spot on the PGA Tour brought in $847,000 last year.

LPGA Tour player Marina Alex, 28, who got her first win at last year’s Cambia Portland Classic, knows the grind. After playing at Vanderbilt, Alex worked her way through the Symetra Tour to get a shot at the LPGA Tour in 2013.

“At the end of the day, I believe with more TV exposure and a larger audience, corporations will see the value of their dollar invested in female golfers,” Alex says. “Influencers with a lot of followers get more traction than LPGA tournaments that are on tape delay. However, it would be great if more female golf influencers use their platform to promote [women’s] golf.”

In comparison, the top-ranked American female golfer – Lexi Thompson – has more than 419,000 followers on Instagram.

From the outside, it may seem like these influencers are just posting photos and videos, but that does not tell the whole story.

“This is a full-time business and a lot of thought goes into my posts, YouTube videos, and everything I do around my social media,” Spiranac says. “The brands I work with, I have to understand them in order to promote them on my page, and it’s not simply a matter of taking a photo and then posting it online.”

Nikki Bondura has more than 72,000 followers on Instagram, and while she has never aspired to play professionally, she saw an opportunity to build a career on social media with a focus on a sport she loves. The former Sacramento State golfer has strategically built a following around the lifestyle side of the game. She founded a company called ForeHerSports with business partner Tisha Alyn, which focuses on engaging and connecting with women in golf.

“You have to know who you’re talking to, what you are talking about and what value you are providing to your audience,” Bondura says. “With every post, there needs to be a call to action. Is it to sell a product, promote an event, inspire change, or to simply entertain? Furthermore, once a brand grows, there are multiple obligations at any given time, so it’s making sure every sponsor, partner, campaign and contract is met in a timely fashion.”

On her own, Bondura is a partner with Adidas and Rukket Sports, and she often posts sponsored ads on her Instagram platform. Perhaps the biggest milestone for Bondura was getting hired by Golf Channel and the LPGA as a social media correspondent at various tournaments. Players on the LPGA Tour consult Bondura for advice on how to build a following.

Working together with the LPGA is something that Spiranac, Tare and Bondura all want to do to help grow the women’s game overall – something that would make Alex and her tourmates excited.

READ MORE: Topgolf Lounge Opens New World of Possibilities For Golf

“Collaboration over competition is key and what I preach on a daily basis,” Bondura says. “In a market that is starting to get saturated like every other influencer industry, we have to stick together and learn how to build each other up,” Bondura said.

Influencers are proving that there is an interest in women who golf from both the brand and fan perspective, even if the focus is not on the LPGA players themselves. How the two sides will choose to work with each other to amplify the women’s game is still to be seen.

Editor’s Note: Anya played professionally on the LPGA Tour for almost three years from 2011 – 2014.

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