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Professional Development

Athlete Brand Building and Its Importance

When it comes to building an athlete’s brand, the CEO of Firestarter wants athletes to know it’s about sticking to their laurels and who they are.

Blake Yagman

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Your reputation is the basis for your brand. Your brand is how your reputation is projected to the world.

With respect to athletes, how they brand themselves is imperative to the individual’s overall success; it helps them convince their current — and future — employer(s) that they are a good fit for the organization. Meanwhile, it also persuades potential endorsers that the athlete is a great spokesperson for their product, and it allows them to create enough public goodwill to start and maintain their own philanthropic organizations.

Frances Reimers, the founder and CEO of Firestarter, helps athletes, coaches, and executives develop, manage, enhance, and protect their key professional asset: their personal brands. Firestarter, which is a personal consultancy located in Alexandria, Virginia, also provides integrated marketing services, crisis communications, and public relations consulting, analysis, and strategy, in addition to day-to-day brand management for clients such as former Ravens kicker Matt Stover and his Players Philanthropy Fund.

SEE MORE: Former NFL Star’s Players Philanthropy Fund Is Bigger Than Sports

Reimers has eclectic experience, which helps her to navigate any kind of public relations or marketing challenges. Prior to launching Firestarter in 2016, Reimers spent more than 15 years leading integrated marketing and public relations campaigns around the world for many corporate, non-profit, and government clients.

So, what goes into building a brand? Some of the key questions that Reimers offers when evaluating or constructing a brand include:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What do they need from you?
  • Where do they need to hear from you?
  • What kind of corporate sponsors are you trying to engage?
  • What type of person are these corporations looking for?
  • What charities, companies or products do you plan to launch in the future?
  • What kind of paid, earned, owned or shared media will help support these objectives?

“Above all else, your brand narrative needs to be authentic. This term is becoming slightly cliché, but it’s importance can’t be overestimated.”

Additionally, Reimers stressed:

“Authenticity is vital for two fundamental reasons. One, athletes want to ensure that the persona that appears online, in advertising, etc. is the person they are in real life. Few things kill a brand faster than the discovery that it’s not genuine. Two, remaining authentic allows for differentiation. In the crowded sea of successful professional and amateur athletes, the development of presenting your authentic self helps an athlete find a way to stand out.”

How important is brand strategy to an athlete?

“You don’t play a game without a plan. Managing your brand is no different. Regardless of whether you’re deploying your content through individual social media platforms or using an all-inclusive platform, there has to be an objective before a single piece of content is created.”

SEE MORE: Carolina Hurricanes Put Local Emphasis on New Marketing Initiatives

When it comes to athletes who want to manage their own brand, Reimers advised sitting down with a professional or attending a training session to learn some basic tips and tricks or to get assistance on how best to draft their personal narrative and build a long-term strategy.

Just like with legal and financial matters, there are times when it’s best to leave a person’s brand creation and development in the hands of a professional.

At the end of the day, “an athlete’s brand isn’t and shouldn’t work in isolation,” Reimers said. “It should always remain top-of-mind as the athlete makes any career, legal, family, business, philanthropic, or financial decisions. Ideally, I enjoy being considered an integral part of an athlete’s entire support system, along with his or her spouse, agent, attorney, etc. When everyone is working in concert, the athlete truly derives the most benefit.”

Everyone – not just athletes – should consider the advice that Reimers gives on personal branding.

Blake, a recent law school graduate, lives in New York City. Blake attended undergrad at the University of Miami where he worked for Hurricanes football, WVUM and student government. Blake writes about legal issues related to the sports industry for Front Office Sports.

Professional Development

Chicago Blackhawks Partner with Business Operations ‘Incubator’ to Provide Development Opportunities for Employees

The hockey MBA program focuses on professional development and seeks more NHL partnerships to help boost the economic results of professional organizations.

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The Business of Hockey Institute continues to establish itself as a premier organization for professional development in the sport.

The BHI recently announced a partnership with the Chicago Blackhawks, which includes a designated number of class registrations for Blackhawk employees within the institute’s curriculum.

Founded in 2015, the BHI partnered with Edmonton’s Athabasca University to offer the first MBA in hockey management as well as the standalone Certified Hockey Professional education program.

“The CHP is designed to be the ideal professional development program for business employees in hockey organizations,” said Brian Burke, BHI co-founder. “It would definitely benefit a lot of people working for NHL franchises. We are proud to have the Chicago Blackhawks as our first academic partner and look forward to working with their valued employees.”

SEE MORE: William Hill and Devils Bring Sports Lounge to the Prudential Center

The organization also awards honorary CHPs to established hockey executives, including the first presented to Blackhawks President and CEO John McDonough.

“We approached Mr. McDonough with a proposal to provide professional development opportunities to their employees and he was on board with it,” BHI Managing Director Manav Deol said.

The Blackhawks partnership has broadened the institute’s mission to include more professional development, and BHI intends on seeking out more NHL partnerships, Deol said. There’s also hope Blackhawks employees will impart peer-to-peer real-world experience and knowledge to other BHI students, as well as networking opportunities.

“BHI continues to innovate and grow the business side of hockey by providing professional development opportunities for those that are both currently working in hockey and those who strive to join this competitive industry,” McDonough said.

Students and hockey professionals alike can enroll in the CHP (for CAD $50,000) or take part in the entire MBA in hockey management (for CAD $80,000). Terms of the Blackhawks partnership were not disclosed.

SEE MORE: How the Golden Knights Landed Their Sportsbook Partnership With William Hill

“The costs can be flexible, depending on if a team enrolls an employee or employees enrolls on their own,” Deol said.

In Canada, hockey organization employees enrolled by teams can see the costs reduced to a third, thanks to the Canada Job Grant program. The BHI also offers scholarships starting at $5,000.

Courses at the BHI include Business of Hockey, Marketing Hockey Strategically, Integrated Marketing Communications for Hockey, Game Day Management & Marketing, Managing Franchises Strategically, and Hockey Operations. The courses are taught by sports management academics from universities across North America.

While most of the courses focus on the business side of hockey, Deol said it is important for many hockey organization employees to hold a foundational understanding of what goes on in hockey operations.

SEE MORE: Executive Buy-In Helps Propel Dallas Stars’ Digital Strategy 

Burke and Ritch Winter, a player agent, started BHI when they realized few sports management programs across the continent focused exclusively on hockey.

“We want to be the organization that the best hockey teams in the world come to train their business employees,” Deol said. “We also want to be the incubator that teams look to when they are searching for qualified candidates to join their business operations.”

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Professional Development

Former NBA Training Coach Making Difference in the Business World

Alan Stein Jr. is proof that basketball and business are very similar.

Aaron Blake

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If you have ever thought about transitioning career paths, you are not the only one.

Alan Stein Jr. spent nearly 20 years as a professional basketball performance coach before deciding to enter into the corporate world. Now, instead of helping world-class athletes improve their performance, Stein helps corporate leaders and individuals improve their collective and individual performances.

In basketball, Stein worked with highly magnified NBA superstars like Kevin Durant, Victor Oladipo and Markelle Fultz when they were in high school and events with Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, and LeBron James. Now he works with clients like American Express and Pepsi.

Stein believes the tenants of achieving success in sports and business are vastly similar, thus allowing him to position himself as an expert in a new industry.

As a corporate keynote speaker, Stein now dedicates his time to instilling organizational performance, cohesion, and accountability, per his dominating interests.

“I found myself studying, observing and learning everything I could on leadership, team cohesion, culture and accountability since those were the topics that consumed me,” Stein said. As he was approaching burnout in his basketball career, Stein knew if he was not 100 percent committed as a coach should be, then he needed to develop a new passion.

“Making a pivot from on-court basketball performance to corporate leadership, sales and organizational performance was a seamless transition,” said Stein.

SEE MORE: Athlete Brand Building and Its Importance 

The two careers are very similar in that Stein takes fundamentals from basketball and meshes them with the business world, leaving positivity and results in the wake.

Varsity Partners Principal Tim Rebich has worked with Stein in the past in branding. Rebich knows Stein’s passion and excitement can inspire any audience, and his success pays to it. When transitioning careers like Stein, Rebich puts it simply: “The personal brand needs to always be consistent, while the audience changes.”

As much as inspiration is important, Rebich knows perception is just as important.

“As humans, we make assumptions based on first impressions. It is important to align these assumptions with your brand vision,” said Rebich.

Leadership, according to Stein, is a choice and not a title — a choice everyone makes in an organization.

“Everyone has the choice to intentionally have a positive influence over someone else,” said Stein. “I now take the lessons I’ve learned and translate those into actionable strategies for businesses to implement.”

SEE MORE: Former NFL Star’s Players Philanthropy Fund Is Bigger Than Sports

By educating, empowering and engaging with his clients, Stein is able to facilitate a “game plan” as he calls it to lead others

“He provides a realistic look into teamwork and different mindsets that allow you to grow not only as a professional but as a person,” said Rebich.

Through his performance measuring metrics, analytics, and praise-filled testimonials, this new career gleans of immediate success, but Stein knows building brand recognition in a new industry was the biggest challenge.

“I went from a space where I was fairly well known and respected to a space where I was virtually unknown,” said Stein. “But nearly every skill set and intangible quality I learned through basketball is applicable in business.”

Coaches, CEOs and managers, players and colleagues, and teams and organizations all share the same traits and Stein treats these roles similarly.

SEE MORE: Personal Branding Tips for Sports Business Professionals 

Stein knows he has found a unique niche in the business world carrying learned skills and attributes from sports to deadlines, sales, and organizations, all while espousing wisdom.

“Companies that have authentic cohesion, vertical and horizontal accountability, and an unparalleled culture will outperform those that don’t,” said Stein. “This will not only result in higher profits, but a more fulfilling workplace, higher satisfaction, and lower attrition.”

If anything, Stein is actually still a performance coach, engaging a different audience, but still bringing out professional performance qualities in today’s business and innovation leaders.

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Professional Development

Lights, Camera, Action: 4 Tips to Begin Your Sports Broadcasting Career

A career in front of the camera is more than just enjoying the spotlight.

Jarrod Barnes

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One of the most visible careers in sports business, on-air sports broadcasting can seem as simple as “lights, camera, action!”

Your favorite broadcaster on ESPN, NBC, CBS, or FOX Sports probably makes their job look fun and effortless, reporting live from the sidelines or studio. Yet, with the broadcasting industry on a 14 percent decline by 2024, careers in sports broadcasting are becoming increasingly competitive.

Megan Perry, a former Division I college basketball player and WNBA executive who evolved into a sports broadcaster and entrepreneur, knows just how much effort it takes to have a successful career as an on-air talent.

SEE MORE: Mastering LinkedIn: Personal Branding Tips for Sports Business Professionals

During the college basketball season, Megan can be found in front of the camera as a sports analyst, covering games on ESPN3, ACC Network, CBS Sports Network, and the Ivy League Digital Network. However, most of her time is spent behind the camera, preparing, studying, and perfecting her skillset.

Through her experiences and various vantage points while being immersed in the broadcasting world, Perry was able to identify four specific tips for a successful sports broadcasting career.

Know Your Fundamentals

“My idea of broadcasting was what I saw on TV, a talking head who was prompted to share candid thoughts without any scripting,” said Perry, who quickly discovered that broadcasting is far more than what you see on TV. “To be a good broadcaster, you have to have the fundamentals in place. You have to have an understanding of the details in order to be the best you can be at your craft. The amount of training and educational components, I had no idea.”

SEE MORE: How Social Media is the Key to Your Next Opportunity 

Gaining as much practice as you can through researching teams, informational interviewing, active listening, and — most importantly — public speaking, will allow you to hone your skills and find the story beneath the headline.

Start Small

Landing on-air time with ESPN as your first role likely won’t happen — but that’s OK.

Perry took her career desire and volunteered her time by calling games at St. Francis Brooklyn College, a small private institution in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. She reached out to the athletic department and began to develop her routines and skills that she uses today on the ACC Network.

Practical aspects such as “getting to know the away team just as well as the home team; reaching out and acquiring information from SID’s (Sports Information Directors), and coordinating times to speak to coaches and players are all necessary parts of doing the job well. Conducting research like this takes forward thinking. It’s not where you start, but rather, who you become in the process.”

When looking for your start, leverage social media platforms to gain practice and feedback. Live-video streaming accounted for 75 percent of all internet traffic in 2017 and is expected to jump to 82 percent by 2020. Don’t just attend a sports event, use it as a platform to build to your resume.

Constantly Evolve

It’s one thing to practice; it’s another to improve.

Perry stated that she’s in a constant progression of redefining. “I didn’t fully understand that when I first got into the industry. Every day is a redefining process. Constantly updating, revising, and seeking new opportunities, people to learn from, and spaces to learn in.”

But it’s not just on-air practice for early career sports broadcasters. “Editing and production are a huge part of my unwritten job description. Your resume is your (highlight) reel. It’s not who is going to do that for me, it’s ‘I have to edit.’ That way, I can continue to redefine and evolve my brand as it continues to grow.”

SEE MORE: 4 Ways to Making Breaking Into the #SportsBiz Much Easier

Becoming comfortable with wearing multiple hats is critical to evolving as a sports broadcaster. Knowing enough about how everything should be done gives you a frame of reference and baseline for attention to detail.

“If you know how to do it right,” Perry said, “no one else can do it wrong for you.”

Remain Authentic

Pressure to conform can sometimes cause us to lose the very thing that makes us unique, our authenticity.

“My authenticity is really valued with my interactions on camera,” Perry said. “The relationships I develop are authentic; I want to know your story. I care about it. It’s different. It comes from a perspective that others may not have. I pride myself on those relationships, the work that’s put into getting to know who I’m interviewing. I strive to get to know the person who they are outside of sport.”

Part of remaining authentic is in how we gain access to opportunity.

“Be aggressive about asking questions; no one will know that you’re interested if you don’t (ask questions). Sometimes it’s hard to self-promote and how it’s received by others. But, no one will invest in what you don’t show off. You won’t give them the opportunity to showcase your talent,” Perry said. 

Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that we may not always get every opportunity for which we’re looking. Perry suggested being comfortable with the word “no” — but don’t accept it.

“I sent countless emails to producers and heads of conferences. No, No, No… You can’t be discouraged. Push further. It only takes one ‘yes’ to have an opportunity. Your job is to stay ready. You can’t forecast the moment; shame on you if you weren’t prepared. Don’t stop learning, networking, preparing. The moment can pass you by.”

Sports broadcasting can be made out to seem effortless by professionals we see every day, yet, for those looking to break into the field, the journey is far from it. By understanding the fundamentals, starting small, constantly evolving and remaining authentic, you can position yourself to be discovered.

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