Athlete x Brand Jumpstart Event Recap

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On Friday, July 12th, more than 50 athletes and industry executives joined Front Office Sports and BrandForward for Athlete x Brand Jumpstart, a one-day event presented in partnership with INFLCR at the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas designed to help athletes be as successful off the field as they are on it.

Below are some of the highlights of the event, which featured some of the industry’s top business minds in athlete branding, financial literacy, investing, sports tech and partnerships.

State of the Industry: Athletes as the CEOs of their own Brands

Co-Founder & Managing Director of BrandForward Stephanie Martin opened the day chatting with Front Office Sports COO Russ Wilde about the impact athletes are having on the sports ecosystem as a whole and some of the top trends that are accelerating the next generation of athlete brands.  

The six trends covered: 

  • how athlete social media channels are driving deeper fan engagement than teams and leagues;
  • the growing interest by fans in longer form athlete content;
  • how merchandise has become the latest extension of content; 
  • how athletes are not just lending their voices to social issues, they are taking the lead;
  • how athletes are using their downtime – whether free time, offseason or due to injury – to pursue other professional opportunities 

Building the Modern Athlete’s Brand 

The first panel of the day featured Zach Soskin of Voltage Management, Jim Cavale of INFLCR, and professional basketball player turned entrepreneur Malcolm Lemmons. The trio spoke to the audience on the importance of athletes owning the content that they put out on their own channels.

Another focus: rather than spread themselves too thin on several platforms, the panel recommended that athletes should focus on building an audience on one or two platforms before expanding their digital presence. But before diving into content creation, developing a strategy that is based on the athlete’s brand is key. Where to begin? Think about your unique message, the market you’re trying to reach and the media through which you’ll reach them.

Aligning Athlete Brands with Partnerships, Appearances and Passions

Minnesota Timberwolves VP of Basketball Development John Thomas and Chief Revenue Officer Jene Elzie of Athletes First Partners spoke to how athletes can build strong, supportive communities and properly take advantage of opportunities that can come through being part of a professional team or league. 

A reminder from this panel: some things can be lost in the digital age, so remember the importance of in-person communication as well as on social media. It’s important to build your network both online and in-person. Engagement, in both forms, remains an incredibly important factor in building relationships and, in turn, communities.

Building Financial Fluency: From Influence to Influencer

Joey Brander and Wayne Kimmel, Managing Partners of First Serve Partners and SeventySix Capital, respectively, spoke on how athletes can turn their social currency into financial gain through a solid strategy, opportunities for brand monetization, and working their downtime for their personal and professional benefit.

The keys to success for athletes in entering the investment space are being authentic and finding areas where the athlete can add value for a brand or partner. This is why patience and strategic timing are also incredibly important.

One-on-One with Joe McLean – Managing Partner, Intersect Capital

McLean manages the wealth of roughly 50 professional athletes and helps them plan for their long-term future. He also provides athletes with tips and advice for not only acquiring wealth, but keeping it. Some of McLean’s tips include trademarking their name or brand, having a will or trust, and insuring themselves for all types of risk. 

McLean spoke with Wilde on the importance of self control when it comes to wealth management as well as the importance of respect and trust when it comes to professional relationships. Among the advice McLean shares with his clients: Just be blessed, instead of trying to look blessed. 

One-on-One with Baron Davis – Founder, Baron Davis Enterprises

The former NBA star and founder of Baron Davis Enterprises was always business-minded, even before he began to play professionally. The founder of  Business Inside the Game, UWish, SLiC, and No Label Productions, the multihypenate has long been an advocate for athletes investing in themselves and being authentic in their storytelling.

In this conversation with Stephanie Martin, Davis shared how he is building his brands using the studio model typically seen in the entertainment industry, how he is continuing to push cultural change across business and the ever-growing opportunity in Asia for athletes to extend the reach of their brands.

Davis also explained the importance of calculating diligent, measurable results for one’s self when looking at any partnership. Davis put this idea into practice as a brand ambassador for Vitamin Water when he built an incentive-based equity program for himself that leveraged his network, as well as other partnerships he has developed where he can flex his creative muscle.