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From SLAM Magazine to Athlete Representation: The Journey of Ronnie Zeidel

Tyler Endebrock

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This interview is presented to you by the University of Nebraska — Lincoln Master of Arts in Business with a Specialization in Intercollegiate Athletics Administration

By: Tyler Endebrock, @tjendebrock

 

Ronnie Zeidel, Founder and Owner of RZA Sports. Image via Ronnie Zeidel

Ronnie Zeidel, Founder and Owner of RZA Sports. Image via Ronnie Zeidel

Ronnie Zeidel’s goal has always been to stay as close to the game of basketball as possible. After getting his start in basketball operations with the New York Knicks, Zeidel’s journey started to take shape. From helping build SLAM Magazine as an associate publisher and serving as president and founder of Clutch Media & Marketing to working for the NBA and NCAA, Zeidel was making his mark on the sports industry. However, Zeidel is now up for a new challenge in helping players: athlete representation with his agency RZA Sports.

As a Queens, New York native, Zeidel stayed in-state for college to study English at the University of Albany. He moved to California for a year after college, but knew he would find his way back to his home state in hopes of working within player personnel at the NBA level. He understood he would face hurdles since he didn’t play professional basketball, so he had to try different ways to break into the industry.

“I wasn’t a college player and I certainly didn’t play in the league, so for me, the focus was to just get in and work my way up.”

Zeidel’s high school classmate, former NBA player Duane Causwell, secured Zeidel his initial meeting with the Knicks. Zeidel started working directly under Ed Tapscott and current Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld. In his role with the Knicks, Zeidel conceptualized and ran the first New York Knicks Youth Camp.

“This was before computers were out in the early 90’s, so it was really more of a guerrilla marketing effort than anything else. I literally took over a closet where I made my own office and worked for free as an intern for over a year.”

While loving his work, Zeidel continued to prove his worth. His perseverance eventually led him to scouting opportunities with the team. After a few years with the Knicks, Zeidel received a call from Dennis Page.

“Dennis had just created a new basketball magazine called SLAM. We had a three-hour interview, and Dennis and I really clicked. He really saw my passion for the game of basketball. After our conversation and seeing what that first issue of the magazine was about, I was on board.”

Zeidel served as advertisement director and eventually associate publisher for 14 years and enjoyed every minute of it.

“We had a great team and our covers were extremely creative, but it was really hard at first. Nike, adidas, Puma, Reebok, Pepsi and Coca-Cola all laughed at us at first saying, ‘Oh you’re going to do a basketball-specific magazine? There are plenty of sports magazines out there.’ We didn’t really care. We had a certain flavor to our magazine and had a great editorial staff. We were a bunch of basketball guys who really just loved the game.”

After his time with SLAM Magazine, Zeidel had a three-year stint as president and co-founder of Clutch Media & Marketing, a full service sports marketing, public relations and media firm. Following his time with Clutch, the NBA and NCAA approached Zeidel to help them launch iHoops, a joint initiative by both associations.

“iHoops, now under the umbrella of USA Basketball, was a youth basketball initiative where I served as vice president of marketing partnerships and brand development. My role was in business development, sponsorships sales and brand development, which meant I had to co- produce national commercial spots that would air on CBS, TNT and ESPN. Former Big 12 Commissioner Kevin Weiberg was the CEO, and we had a really terrific board of directors that consisted of people like Adam Silver, Stu Jackson, Coach K, Kathy Behrens, Len Elmore and Greg Shaheen.”

Although Zeidel enjoyed his time with iHoops, he decided to move on to other ventures. After iHoops, Zeidel transitioned into consulting positions where he worked with many basketball related brands and products.

“I’ve been in the industry for 25 years and I’ve touched so many facets of the game. Now, I want to use my skill set, network, capabilities and knowledge to help players grow.”

Within all of his experiences, Zeidel built a nice network with connections to brands, agents, players, team operators and scouts. From those connections, he received offers to work for agencies in the past, but he never felt fully comfortable with what was in front of him. Now, he is taking the agency business into his own hands by creating RZA Sports.

“Over the course of this past summer, I decided I really wanted to work as an advocate for basketball players who want to continue their basketball careers after college. My goal is to work as a mentor and partner with these athletes and to help them navigate the basketball landscape, which can be tricky, throughout their career”.

“Even the most skilled players that have a great work ethic only play at the professional level for four to five years. The lucky ones will play 10 to 12 years, but they still wind up retiring at a young age. Often times these kids have nothing to fall back on, so my goal is to help them identify their interests and strengths so that we can collectively find opportunities for them outside of basketball once they are ready to move on. This will begin to take shape the day I sign them because waiting until their playing career is over can be damaging.”

“I’ve been in the industry for 25 years and I’ve touched so many facets of the game. Now, I want to use my skill set, network, capabilities and knowledge to help players grow.”

Zeidel’s prior work gives him a leg up on most first-time agents since he has scouted, worked in the media, sold sponsorships and is extremely connected to the game. He understands that only 60 players get drafted each year and the more experienced agents will fight for those first rounders. Accordingly, he takes a slightly different approach to the representation side.

“Yes, I want to recruit the best of the best, and in due time I will, but in addition to first-round NBA talent, I’m looking to build a network of players who can thrive overseas at a very high level.”

Zeidel continues to network with scouts, European agents and college coaches here in the United States so he can best serve his clients. He has been doing a tremendous amount of due-diligence on opportunities for his clients outside of the country.

“Over the course of the last three to four months, I have spent time studying and understanding the landscape of the international leagues and creating the best possible partnerships all over the world. Now, my website is off the ground and I have networked with the entire European and Asian landscape. I am ready to start recruiting to the point where I can look someone in the eye, whether it’s the player, his mom, dad or coach, and tell them, ‘You may be an NBA caliber player, but if not, I can take your skill set and help you navigate a great career overseas.’”

Coming over to this side of the business, Zeidel understands and respects what many other agents have been able to accomplish. However, he also believes he has the skill set, network and experience to make an impact.

“I think I bring something incredibly unique to the table that helps set me apart from traditional agents. I may not have signed players to my own agency in the past, but I have so much experience across so many mediums within the basketball industry and have signed many NBA players to marketing deals. From Vince Carter to J.J. Redick and Shaq to Stephen Curry, I have worked with so many athletes at a very high level. I know it will be an uphill battle and it won’t happen overnight, but if I work with the right people and we work really hard collectively, we can really make a difference.”

Want to learn more about RZA Sports and Zeidel? Check out his website.

Tyler is a contributor with FOS. He recently graduated from the St. Thomas University School of Law, where he received a joint JD/MBA in Sports Administration degree, and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Florida. He has held positions with Select Sports Group, Sure Sports, the University of Florida Athletic Association, Gatorade, and more. Tyler can be reached at tyler.endebrock@gmail.com.

Career Advice

3 Ways to Hone Your Sales Skills for Your Sports Business Career

Whether we realize it or not, each of us has some aspect of “sales” in our day-to-day lives. The key to lasting success, however, is constant repetitions.

Jarrod Barnes

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Sales - sports - sports business

Whether we realize it or not, each of us has some aspect of sales in our day-to-day lives.

It could be selling an idea, product, opportunity, or selling ourselves. Daniel Pink, author of “To Sell Is Human,says it best by stating,“To sell well is to convince someone else to part with resources — not to deprive that person, but to leave him better off in the end.”  

With more than $71.8 billion U.S. dollars in revenue forecast for 2018, the North American sports market is one of the largest in the world. In addition, some $19.6 billion U.S. dollars in revenue is expected to be generated through 2018 ticket sales alone in North America. There is no doubt that the sports industry as a whole is thriving, but with success comes increased competition.

Jobs are continually being created, but careers are harder to come by. Ticket sales are known to be the entry-level job for recent grads and those looking to break into the sports industry. But what other opportunities are available for those who have a knack for sales?

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

Current and former NBA, NFL, and NHL professionals shared some thoughts on how to refine your sales skills and open the door to a career in sports sponsorships, partnerships, and group sales.

Ask the Right Questions

When it comes to sales, it sounds straightforward to lead with a product. Yet, Travis Misner, manager of partnership development with the Charlotte Hornets, begins his sales process by asking potential partners,“What are you trying to achieve?”

Misner began his career working in collegiate athletics at Northern Illinois and Ohio University in the Development Office, where he learned the importance of building trust. At the time, it was with potential donors; now it’s with potential partners.

“Partnerships are personable, the relationship matters more than the actual sale,” said Misner.

Entering with the mindset of transformation — rather than transaction — has served Misner well. “The root of every partnership is helping someone build their business,” he said. “Regardless of what industry, it could be insurance, an airline or a car dealer — I have to learn how multiple businesses work and how they make money. I make sure to understand their consumer behavior, studying LinkedIn and IEG sponsorship reports, but more importantly, I have to know my current market and fans of the Charlotte Hornets.”

Misner concluded by saying, “Sales is really about helping someone achieve their goals.”

In order to understand someone’s goals, it begins by asking the right question and understanding how to best fill their need.

Key takeaway: Fully understand your product and listen to your customers’ needs before attempting to close a deal.

Find Balance Between Patience and Persistence

“Our jobs aren’t as easy as people think they are,” admitted Sam Cole, former director of corporate partnerships for the New Orleans Pelicans. Sales not only require asking the right questions, but also a healthy balance of patience and persistence.

“The two attributes that I have found to be the most helpful to me are patience and persistence. Sponsorship deals hardly ever come together on a property’s timeline,” stated Cole.

Empathy isn’t often discussed in the fast-paced environment of sports business, but an attitude of understanding can be a difference-maker in sales. Cole said, “I have seen many deals fail when a salesperson became impatient and pushed for an answer, or decided to stop pursuing a prospect because they were dragging their feet.”

Key takeaway: Be patient enough to let the sale happen, but persistent enough to make the sale happen.

Seek Reps and Practice Reflection

Training never ends. Learning never ends. Those are two of the most important lessons one can learn throughout their careers — no matter what industry. 

“As a new sales rep, you should soak up as much knowledge as you can. Don’t just rely on your manager to do all of the educating. Set aside some time each week on your personal development,” stated Carl Manteau, senior group sales director of the Milwaukee Bucks.

Getting your role in sports business is the first step, but it’s growing in your role that will keep you there. “Use the human resources around you; go on meetings with your colleagues just to observe and add to the conversation.” says Jeff Longo, former VP of marketing for the New Jersey Devils and now an associate professor at Johnson & Wales University.

READ MORE: Mastering Twitter: Personal Branding Tips for Sports Business Professionals

Failure can hurt but also be one of your greatest assets. “You have to fail, you have to get as many reps as you can. It’s no different than playing sports — the more reps, the better you get,” said Patrick Stack, former manager of corporate sales for the Cleveland Browns and director of business development for GMR Marketing.

Stack would go on to say that the true learning is found in reflection, or simply stated, “rep and reflect.”

Key takeaway: Failure is only your enemy if you allow it to be. Unpack your interactions, learnings, and approaches. Test out ideas with colleagues during “practice” before your “game” with a client.

Overall, a career in sales can be intimidating at first, but by actively listening, remaining persistent, and reflecting on your experiences, selling can become second nature and the gateway to a lasting career in sports business.

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Career Advice

6 Sports Business Books That Should Be on Your Holiday Wish List

Having trouble with your holiday wish list? Be sure to ask for these highly recommended sports business books that will surely help your career.

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Sports - Books - Business

The holidays are upon us once again. While we may have grown out of writing letters to Santa Claus, plenty of us still keep track of the things we want to give or get on our Amazon Wish List or something similar. To quote the late, great Nelson Mandela, “If you make one gift this year, make it the gift of knowledge.”

The SportsBiz Book Exchange is a project headed up by Mark Hodgkin of NeuLion College in which sports industry professionals can share their favorite reads with one another. The exchange includes folks from every stage of their careers from interns to CEOs, all learning from each other as well as the material.

A few of their most active members offered recommendations for your must-read list this holiday season.

Year of Yes” by Shonda Rhimes

Rhimes, a very successful television producer, has a lot going on. But in this book, she details how being open to new experiences and new challenges helped push her to the next level both as a person and as a professional.

“I’ve been on a kick to read more books written by women, and after checking out the reviews, I quickly ordered this one. This book was absolutely incredible and I recommend it to everyone I know who enjoys a good read. Like me, Shonda is an introvert; she works hard and spends whatever free time she has at home with her family.

“However, she challenged herself to a yearlong journey of saying ‘yes’ to everything, whether it be media requests, speaking engagements, family time, etc. The book is her story of that year and what she learned about herself. Easily one of my all-time favorites!”

– Katie Gwinn Hewitt, associate director of external communications and PR at the University of Michigan

Brands Win Championships” and “Athletes Are Brands Too” by Jeremy Darlow

A veteran of the brand-building world, Darlow wrote two books that are essential for every marketing student. In “Brands,” Darlow details the key elements of building brands that top-level athletes want to play for. In “Athletes,” he focuses more on how to create a personal brand for individual athletes, or anyone else.

“I really enjoyed Jeremy Darlow’s ‘Athletes Are Brands Too,’ his follow-up to ‘Brands Win Championships.’ ‘Athletes Are Brands Too’ focuses on how building a brand can lead to success off the field during and after an athletic career is over. The book serves as a blueprint on how to capitalize on opportunities that will reach far beyond sports. Even if you are not an athlete, the book highlights how to build a personal brand through strategic marketing. Both ‘Brands Win Championships’ and ‘Athletes Are Brands Too’ should be on your holiday wish list if you are in the sports industry.”

Joe Centeno, art director at Team Infographics

Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight

Ever been curious about how Nike grew from a prototype shoe in the 1960s to a multi-billion dollar company today? In “Shoe Dog,” Knight goes over that process extensively, as well as the experiences that helped shape him into the kind of businessman that he is today.

“It’s a fascinating read for sports junkies and entrepreneurs. Nike is about as transformative a company as there’s ever been in sports business, and though I wish this would have a sequel on the later years, it’s fascinating to see where the company started.”

– Mark Hodgkin, director of product innovation at Neulion College

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration” by Ed Catmull

This book contains lessons on leadership and overcoming creative obstacles that came from the inception and rise of Pixar Animation Studios. Catmull’s stories are helpful in not only showing new ways to find way good ideas, but in how to make good ideas become great ideas.

“What I found most appealing in ‘Creativity, Inc.’ was learning about creating a culture of creativity and originality, being comfortable with breaking the norm. I was so refreshed by the self-awareness, humility, and sense of whimsy that was woven throughout Catmull’s messages. And what I love about the #SBBX, in general, is that Mark Hodgkin has paired me with such great reads that I may not have picked up otherwise, while also fostering an environment of stronger relationships with others in the sports industry.”

– Katie Cavender, strategic communications and digital/social media at the College Football Playoff

What Made Maddy Run” by Kate Fagan

An essential quality of anyone who works with young athletes is empathy. The story detailed in this book is evidence of what high school and college athletes deal with in terms of pressure and, hopefully, can lead to fewer outcomes like this in the future.

“Fagan does an excellent job telling the story of Maddy Holleran, a Penn track student who committed suicide because of the pressure she put on herself and unrealistic expectations she set for herself. Maddy’s story is more common than people realize, and anyone who works in college athletics or interacts with student-athletes should read this book.”

– Hannah Bradley, media relations for the Southern Conference

For more great reads that can help you take the next step in your professional development, consider joining the SportsBiz Book Exchange. They do new exchanges every couple of months. To get updates on new exchanges, follow the #SBBX hashtag on Twitter.

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Career Advice

Lessons from Long Island Nets Coach Will Weaver’s Journey to the NBA G League

A successful career is crafted through a long journey of hard work and dedication. Just ask NBA G League coach Will Weaver of the Long Island Nets. 

Jarrod Barnes

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Will Weaver - Nets - Long Island

Photo via the Brooklyn Nets

The Long Island Nets of the NBA G League have started the season on fire, and no one could be more pleased than Will Weaver, the team’s newly appointed head coach.

After spending time with the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers, Weaver was given an opportunity to lead a young organization in its third season of existence. Owning the role of head coach is no small feat; it’s an honor few can claim and even fewer can keep. But Weaver’s non-traditional path that began in Austin, Texas as a middle school basketball coach and teacher has allowed him to succeed despite the odds.

Interested in a career in the NBA G League? Weaver offered us three key lessons from his journey.  

Don’t Let Your Title Stop You

After graduating from the University of Texas in just three years, Weaver began his coaching career at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, a private school in Austin. During that time, Weaver volunteered to work camps for the Texas Longhorns men’s basketball program and built relationships with the staff.

“I became obsessed with basketball and learning the game,” stated Weaver, who focused on being the best he possibly could be, even if it meant coaching young fifth- and sixth-grade players.

However, Weaver’s consistency would eventually lead to a graduate assistant position with Texas. Four years and a few promotions later, he was then named an assistant coach at Sam Houston StateWeaver’s drive continued to grow following his stint in collegiate basketball, as he would then transition to Philadelphia in pursuit of working in the NBA.

“I knew I wanted to be around the best. I visited about 75 or 100 practices of the Philadelphia 76ers and began to do advance scouting and build relationships.”

Weaver went on to write reports for Sam Hinkie, who, at the time, was the storied franchise’s general manager. He didn’t allow his current title determine his work ethic or level of execution; he let his preparation reflect the role he aspired to be in.

Become a Master Observer

Becoming a head coach doesn’t happen overnight, nor does learning all the nuances of basketball. “The size and scope of the game can feel massive,” claimed Weaver. “People coaching professionals are the best who do it.”

We tend to admire those who grind their way to the top, but often neglect the learning curve that takes place in order to get there. After landing a role with the 76ers, Weaver asked himself the question, ‘Who does something unique and outside the status quo?’

SEE MORE: Inside Life as an NBA Video Coordinator

This caused him to approach Brett Brown, now head coach of the 76ers, and inquired about the Australian Men’s National Basketball Team, which had been known to take an innovative approach to the game. Weaver’s curiosity would open the door for him to join the club as a coach — and at the time, the only foreigner.

“There is a real collective appreciation for good basketball that exists across all levels,” stated Weaver, who is still part of the team today and hopes to make a run for a gold medal in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Start Now

Following his time with the 76ers, Weaver joined the Brooklyn Nets as a special assistant to head coach Kenny Atkinson in 2016, and, in July of 2018, was named the head coach of the Long Island Nets. Weaver’s development continues to grow, as does the competitive nature of professional basketball.

“The quality of people in the sport is growing. It’s hard to understand how good they are,” stated Weaver.

SEE MORE: How Katy Winge Blazed Her Way to an Analyst Position with the Denver Nuggets

Caris LeVert, one of Weaver’s former players with the Brooklyn Nets, shared his perspective on coach’s mentality, stating, “I remember his scouting reports were always very, very in-depth and very detailed, and if you ask a question, he has the answer right away… I did a workout with him one time, all left-handed, and I was pretty exhausted afterward, probably more mentally than physically.”

Looking to begin your career in basketball, specifically? Weaver had some wise words.

“Don’t wait. People underestimate the different avenues to break in. Start a Twitter account and share interesting ideas on it. Publishing content and putting things out there that scales allows for people to see your work,” he said.

Adding value and building relationships have been a consistent theme throughout Weaver’s career, but he cautions young professionals to “make it reciprocal.” In other words, be sure to give before you ask.

With the expansion of new teams, the NBA G League will continue to foster more opportunity and increasing talent.

“This is a very interesting brand opportunity for NBA teams. We’re under the wing of the Brooklyn Nets, and the same thing can happen in other markets,” stated Weaver. “The leadership in the G League is massively sophisticated and innovative; it’s arguably the most innovative league in the world.”

From volunteer to now head coach, Weaver demonstrates the value of persistence, patience, and perspective along his journey in sports.

Who knows, the next volunteer opportunity could lead to your career in the NBA.

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