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Athletes In Business

BDA Sports Management Thrives with Unique Activations for Clients

With a major client roster, BDA Sports Management prides itself on providing holistic services to further players’ careers both on and off the court.

Bailey Knecht

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Photo by Spotify

There is more to modern-day sports figures than just their impressive athletic performances.

Athletes are dedicated to their personal brand more than ever before, and earning that off-the-court recognition has become just as essential as the on-court product.

That’s why sports agencies like BDA Sports Management have become indispensable for athletes.

“We focus on strategic partnerships that will amplify a client’s visibility while developing organic brand recognition,” said Shauna Smith, vice president and chief strategy officer at BDA. “With the steady influx and growth of personalities in our industry, staying relevant and interesting is imperative for lasting success in the marketplace.”

BDA is a full-service basketball agency with U.S. and international branches that represent clients in their on-court endeavors, as well as marketing, public relations, community relations, and brand development.

As a firm, BDA strives to know its clients inside and out — their interests, stories that make them unique, and the personal image they want to portray. With that knowledge, BDA works with various organizations to secure activations and partnerships for its clients.

READ MORE: Inside the Life of Allison Galer, One of the WNBA’s Most Prominent Agents 

Many ideas for those activations arise organically. For example, BDA client and Phoenix Sun Deandre Ayton loves music, especially Caribbean beats that remind him of his Bahamian roots, so the BDA team was inspired to pursue a partnership with Spotify. It recently secured an opportunity for Ayton to become the first individual athlete to curate his own #GameDay playlist on the music streaming service.

“Watching Deandre be so engaged and have so much fun selecting his songs made me so proud,” said Arielle Moyal, the BDA marketing and PR coordinator who spearheaded the project. “He loves music, all types, so being given an opportunity to create something that highlighted that passion and had a cultural spin was incredible. The playlist was received very well, so kudos to a company like Spotify for believing in the project and supporting the fun we wanted to have with it.”

Another recent BDA activation highlighted the Chicago Bulls’ Zach LaVine and his interest in American Sign Language and working with the deaf community.

“There are not a lot of pro athletes working with or representing the deaf community, so Zach has a lot of ownership in that space,” Moyal said. “He has a natural connection and passion for the community, and as a firm, we’ve worked really hard to have him recognized as the go-to guy in the NBA for raising awareness and support for their needs and initiatives.”

After learning that Starbucks would be opening a signing/ASL location in Washington D.C., BDA reached out to have LaVine partner with the brand in a social campaign, where he signed a special message in ASL.

The video was shared on his own social platforms, as well as the Starbucks channels. Moyal explained that the activation provided both personal fulfillment for LaVine, as well as publicity from a large brand, giving him exposure to an audience that he normally wouldn’t have.

Another part of BDA’s role means knowing how and when to push the athletes out of their comfort zone. Building trusting relationships with clients is key.

“You want the ability to present unique opportunities and know the client is willing to take that leap because we have their best interests at heart,” Moyal said.

BDA capitalized on that trust with its client Nikola Vucevic of the Orlando Magic, who considers himself an environmental enthusiast, but had a tendency to keep his off-court interests private. With a bit of reassurance, Vucevic made a guest appearance on the animated TV show “Planet Blue” through an activation secured by BDA.

READ MORE: How Teams Are Using Technology to Increase Ticket Sales

“We knew we needed to support him, and part of that meant encouraging him to use his platform to bring awareness to causes he felt were important,” Moyal said. “We told him, ‘This will get you out of your comfort zone, but you’ll be respected for it.’”

In addition to earning its clients’ confidence, the BDA staff must also be ready for opportunities to arise at any moment.

“You never know where inspiration is going to strike,” Moyal said. “You have to be prepared for all of that. We like to tell brands, ‘Give me your funky, weird, obscure ideas because I probably have a client for that.’”

BDA’s wide range of activations is proof that a diverse skill set is necessary to succeed in the sports agency field. Most important, though, is an emphasis on the client.

“You have to be on at all times,” Moyal said. “It’s a client-based business, so the first thing you recognize in our job is ‘client first’ — always.”

Bailey Knecht is a Northeastern University graduate and has worked for New Balance, the Boston Bruins and the Northeastern and UMass Lowell athletic departments. She covers media and marketing for Front Office Sports, with an emphasis on women's sports and basketball. She can be contacted at bailey@frntofficesport.com.

Athletes In Business

McGregor Keeps Branching Out With Proper No. Twelve

Conor McGregor’s latest foray outside the octagon is his most ambitious — and perhaps authentic — idea yet: Irish whiskey.

Max Simpson

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Photo Credit: Proper No. Twelve

Conor McGregor has been a professional sports icon for years thanks to his work in a UFC octagon. But his outside ventures have played a major role in elevating him to a global star. In 2017, it was his cross-sport boxing match with Floyd Mayweather. In 2018, it was a clothing line with David August that includes hand-tailored suiting and luxury menswear. And, in 2019, it might be the most on-brand product of all for a proud Irishman — whiskey.

Proper No. Twelve, a distilled Irish whiskey brand, launched in September 17, 2018. The idea, however, was in place for years.

“Since his rise to stardom in MMA and beyond, Conor’s been approached by countless Irish whiskey brands asking him to endorse their product,” said Brian Axelrod, US Director at Proper No. Twelve and Eire Born Spirits. “Conor has nothing against endorsement deals, he participates in a few for brands he truly believes in and supports. But something about endorsing an Irish whiskey didn’t feel right to him. Conor wanted to make his own Irish whiskey.”

READ MORE: How Two Top Brands Market Products Via Partnership With NASCAR

McGregor and the Proper No. Twelve team decided to start wide, canvassing top distilleries across Ireland. They ultimately settled on one of the oldest, Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland’s County Antrim,
which had a reputation for fresh water quality, a long record of top-notch product and a master distiller who previously worked for Guinness.

With McGregor’s vision and the distiller’s expertise, the two congregated with the rest of McGregor’s team to fine-tune the custom blend. McGregor and his team selected whiskey from hundreds of barrels, a months-long process. The end result was worth it: A complex flavor profile that but one that retained a smooth and approachable taste.

But McGregor funneled that same energy into promotion.  Shortly after launch, he also embarked on a cross-country trip of the United States, stopping in multiple cities each day to personally market the brand and product to fans. McGregor went everywhere from Conan to AT&T Stadium in Dallas for a Cowboys game.

Yet one of the less buzz-worthy meetings resonated most. During one of the final stops of the trip, McGregor and the Proper No. Twelve team visited the Boston Fire Department. McGregor shook each department member’s hand and later surprised them with World Series tickets to see their hometown team in action. According to Axelrod, the day owes itself to one person in particular.

“Visiting the Boston Fire Department was all Conor,” he said. “Everything we did was completely organic or by invite. Conor’s enthusiasm is contagious. People just want to be around him.”

READ MORE: How Professional Bull Riders Successfully Introduces Its Culture to New Audiences

While the tour may have ended, the brand’s growth is only beginning. McGregor frequently posts about the whiskey on his personal Twitter and Instagram to his near-38 million followers across both platforms. Axelrod, meanwhile, says the brand is targeting much bigger distribution and visibility. And, of course, what better time to start than this weekend?

“As for St. Paddy’s Day, you better start preparing now,” Axelrod said.

The party is just getting started if McGregor has his way.

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Athletes In Business

Former Pro Baseball Player Shows Value of Athletes In Data Tech World

Following seven years in baseball, Josh Wilkie transitioned to the tech world and now helps athletes understand data from products to prevent injuries.

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Photo credit: Athos

With ever-increasing amounts of analytics and data, it helps technology companies to have a former athlete on staff — just like Athos’ Josh Wilkie.

Wilkie, a former professional baseball player, joined the startup in June 2018 and has provided an inside look at how the company’s products integrate with an athlete. As regional director of team partnerships for Athos, Wilkie helps teams understand the benefits of the product: Compression shorts with embedded sensors.

“My mission with this company is getting players and elite athletes into these shorts and understand what movements they are doing that can put them at risk for injury and what they can do to prevent it,” said Wilkie, who spent seven seasons in the Washington Nationals’ organization from 2006 to 2013.

“This is a layer of muscular data that is different than what’s out there. When I was playing, there was zero technology and monitoring. It was just this workout and why, but there wasn’t a lot of why behind what we were doing.”

Wilkie ultimately ended his playing career because of a shoulder injury, which caused him to begin his search for another path. Always an early adopter of technology — he studied electronic music at George Washington University — from his earliest memories of Microsoft Encarta to tinkering with primitive Mp3 players, new technology was always interesting to him.

READ MORE: Former Athletes and Business: ‘The Breeze of Opportunity Is Always Blowing’

As he wrapped up his career, a friend living in San Francisco was an obvious move to get off the East Coast and into the tech mecca of the world.

He found his first technology job through Craigslist, before finding himself in an early stage startup. Eventually, he made the jump to Athos, a sports-based technology company Wilkie said couldn’t be a more perfect fit.

Wilkie has had several surgeries as a result of his baseball career and by using the product he now sells, he can get an idea of where his potential future issues are. He said a few months ago his knee was aching, so he looked at data, which said his left hamstring was taking on 70 percent of the load.

“Those are the things you can intervene on,” he said. “You alleviate it before it’s a real issue and nip an injury in the bud; align the tires.”

He plays an important role in a startup in helping clients understand how the technology works. A lot of the tech measuring data being put on the market really doesn’t help athletes much.

“It’s been eye-opening to see what’s possible and how much bull is out there,” he said. “It’s cool there’s all these numbers, but a lot of them are arbitrary and don’t mean much of anything. They just are spit at you.”

The former relief pitcher added, “Like your pitch rotation is XYZ, what do you actually do with that?”

Athos CEO Don Faul said there are certain backgrounds he likes employees to have to keep up with demands of a growing tech business, and an athlete fits the bill.

READ MORE: USOC Continues Turn to Tech to Increase Medal Counts in Tokyo

“With an accomplished athlete background I know that means a strong work ethic, grit, smarts, a sense of teamwork, and equal parts confidence and humility,” Faul said. “Josh brings all of that and experience in another tech company. That’s a powerful combination that has made him an outstanding addition to Athos. 

“Josh was able to [have an impact] very quickly as his background prepared him so well for this opportunity, and that alignment will enable him to continue to grow his impact at Athos.” 

Wilkie said he feels his presence is valued, as the company’s team of 45 full-time employees are constantly iterating and seeking the feedback of players and coaches. For him, he likes the aspect of providing useful data that could help a future player avoid a career-ending injury and keeping teams at full-strength.

“We’re building a platform for injury prevention. That’s where we started and now building at a scale for player availability,” Wilkie said. “From a fundamental level, if teams have more players available, they’ll win more games.”

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Athletes In Business

Could We See a ‘Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’ League?

If “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” made a comeback, the legendary skateboarder would welcome the chance to start a league around it.

Adam White

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Photo via Laureus

Video games changed Tony Hawk’s life. He’ll be the first to admit it.

The numbers prove it too.

From 1999-2015, “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” saw 19 different versions created, bringing in an estimated $1.4 billion in sales, making it one of the most successful video-game brands in history.

During that time, Hawk was able to transition from being a competitive skater to focusing on things outside of the sport that he wanted to accomplish.

“Video games changed my life,” said Hawk at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco. “They gave me the resources and the name recognition to be able to go do those things I wanted to do.”

Not only did the success of Pro Skater help propel his career forward, it also helped move the industry forward.

READ MORE: Former NFL Player Andrew Hawkins Is Building a New Career Playbook

Hawk credits the success of the video game to growing awareness around the sport as well as getting more people interested in it.

Although video games have played an important role in taking Hawk from skater to icon, he believes that if the game was just taking off today, it would do even better.

“If we would have first come out on consoles within the last five years or so, the online element would be much, much bigger and would have probably given it more longevity.”

Seeing what has happened in the world of esports in the last few years, Hawk even believes that there would be room for a Pro Skater League, similar to the leagues of other titles like “Overwatch” or even “Madden.” If the game was to ever make a comeback, he would embrace the opportunity to potentially create something that brought people together over the love of the game.

“It would be great. It would be a blast. There’s still hope.”

For now, though, Hawk is focused on “Tony Hawk’s Skate Jam,” his new mobile game he launched just under three months ago.

With an online competition coming in the next update for the app-based game, Hawk is excited about having a more robust online opportunity for the game’s users.

READ MORE: Former NFL Lineman Hopes to Change the Way We Share Music

“It would have been different on the console side. We could have been pushing updates,” he said, talking about the opportunity “Pro Skater” could have had if it was still being produced to this day. “With the app, even though it’s on your phone, we will have the competition mode, which gives it that online element. That’s pretty exciting to me.”

Now 50, Hawk has seen the peaks and valleys of skateboarding, experiencing them all through his own opportunities or his business dealings.

Regardless, he sees a sport that is in a good place thanks to it being established as a hobby, lifestyle, and a pastime.

“It’s in a good place in terms of it being more of a recreational hobby as well as the lifestyle. In the past, the only people that liked skateboarding were the ones who were into it deeply. Now, it’s something that people do just as easily as they play team sports.”

While there might not be a lot of hard evidence to prove it, one can imagine Hawk’s video-game franchise played some sort of role in that evolution. 

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