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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

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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Career Advice

A Real-Life ‘Jerry Maguire’: How You Can Become a Successful NFL Agent

Do you want to be an NFL agent one day? Well, there’s a lot more to it than what “Jerry Maguire” presents in the movie. 

Jarrod Barnes

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The fast-paced lifestyle of a sports agent today can involve working with some of the biggest names and brands in sports, traveling to the best sporting events, and investing in the lives of professional athletes.

While the image of life as “Jerry Maguire” can seem glamorous, building a career as an NFL agent and negotiating contracts for first-round draft picks doesn’t happen overnight.

SEE MORE: How You Can Build Your Personal Brand Through Social Media 

For example, there are about 840 agents certified by the NFL Players Association for approximately 1,800 players in the NFL. With approximately 75 percent of NFL players represented by just 17 percent of all certified agents, making a career out of this profession can be a challenge for many.

So, how exactly does one become an agent? Better yet, how does one remain an agent for the duration of their career?

Seek Formal and Informal Education

“You can never consume enough information. Our job is constant and a grind in every sense of the word,” said Chris Coy, an NFL agent who began his career by completing his law degree at Georgetown University and signing his first NFL player shortly afterward.

SEE MORE: Athlete Brand Building and Its Importance

Coy attributed his early success to what he described as “knocking on doors and flirting with annoyance.” His informal experience came through numerous networking and internship opportunities by making himself available to others in the industry like Andrew Goodman, a wealth manager and financial advisor who helped Coy gain practical experience in contract negotiation, recruiting new talent, and client promotion.

“Do as much research as you possibly can before you decide to get in. There is a myth of what agents really do, and I was able to get experience before investing a significant amount of money,” Coy said. “Look at the numbers of how many agents are certified, how many actually represent players, and how many have players on second contracts. That’s where the real benchmark is.”

While it never hurts to network and understand the industry, the NFL and other professional leagues do require a certification from their Players Associations. Studying the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement and having a postgraduate degree are some of the requirements for becoming a certified agent — not to mention, the NFLPA exam has just under a 40 percent passing rate.

Hone Your People Skills

Becoming a successful agent isn’t always about the hard skills; honing your people skills can make or break you in this profession.

“It’s one thing to understand business, contracts, and negotiation, but the true value is in connecting with people,” said Jack Mills of Capital Sports Advisors, who represents Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield. Mills has been in sports business for over 50 years and represented four first-round picks in the 1970 NFL draft alone.

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

When Mills started his career, players were making $25,000 (and that was big money at the time). Much has changed since then, but Mills’ foundation for success hasn’t, thanks to having “a servant’s mentality.”

While that may sound counterintuitive, “the ability to recruit will determine your level of success in this business,” stated Mills. With the key being acquiring new clients, people skills are in high demand, and Mills hasn’t lost a step.

“It’s all about trust, getting to know people on the club side and becoming known as a trusted voice in the industry.”

Be Patient

“It can be hard to open the door,” said David Lisko, an NFL agent and attorney for Holland & Knight. “The reality of signing a first-round pick early in your career is slim. Make sure you’re building something outside of being an agent in case it doesn’t work out or if you don’t have a ton of capital to invest.”

A former college football player at Ohio State, Lisko has worked with Olympic athletes and conducted sponsorship deals and legal deals that allowed him to grow in the industry and work towards signing NFL players.

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

Becoming a sports agent may be one of the most challenging roles within sports business, but also may be one of the most fulfilling. As Mills would say, “a plan is only as good as the people who execute it.” 

Seeking educational opportunities, both informal and formal, along with honing your people skills and patience just may open the door for you to begin your career as an NFL agent.

Seeking additional information on a sports law degree or potential sports agencies to contact? The University of Miami has a Sports & Entertainment Law Degree along with a host of other institutions that offer similar programs. Forbes Magazine released a list of the 2018 “Top Sports Agencies” that included the likes of Creative Artists Agency (CAA), Wasserman, Octagon, Independent Sports Entertainment (ISE), Roc Nation Sports and Athletes First.

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Career Advice

Why Scoring a Career in Minor League Baseball Is Anything but Minor

Interested in chasing an opportunity with Minor League Baseball? Here are some insights you won’t find anywhere else. 

Jarrod Barnes

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Minor League Baseball - MiLB

Attracting over 41,832,364 fans in 2017, Minor League Baseball continues to be a staple of professional sports in America.

According to Forbes, Minor League Baseball’s 20 most valuable teams are worth an average of $37.5 million, putting it right on par with a mid-major Division I athletic program. MiLB boasts a total of 18 different leagues with 160 teams, in 43 states, and likely has the highest volume of unique team names of any sport. Just ask the New Orleans Baby Cakes.

For nearly half the year — over a 140-game season from April to September — staff members and front office employees are all working hard, often wearing multiple hats.

SEE MORE: 4 Tips to Begin Your Broadcasting Career

Have you been wondering what it may be like to work for this rapidly growing organization? Here are some interesting insights you won’t be able to find on Glassdoor or anywhere else.  

Getting Started

Due to the nature and pace of sports business, entry-level employees are oftentimes expected to hit the ground sprinting. MiLB, while still expecting professionals to work at a fast pace, has taken a different approach to development.

“At the MiLB office, we are committed to providing opportunities for young professionals to learn as much as possible about all aspects of the business of baseball and preparing them for successful careers in professional sports,” said Tara Thornton, a human resources manager for the MiLB office.

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

Thornton discovered her opportunity in baseball through a friend and would describe her role in HR as a “partner” to others in the office.

“I am often a sounding board for others, in any department, and at any level within the company, to bounce ideas around and discuss concerns or implications of certain initiatives as they relate to MiLB employees’ well-being and the company’s long-term growth and success.”

Rich in Opportunity

In addition to development, MiLB is unique in that no two roles are the same, offering the opportunity to work with teams organization-wide.

While baseball has been dubbed America’s Pastime, Minor League Baseball is in a state of progression. “While we stay true to who we are as a professional baseball organization, we are also in a state of evolution. When I first started working at MiLB, another employee described the company to me as a 116-year-old startup,” stated Thornton.

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

Creativity and innovation are celebrated and can have a real impact on the communities of minor league teams, who oftentimes would not have a professional sports team otherwise. Thornton said: “Some of the biggest ideas in sports, entertainment, and business have come from MiLB and those of us who work here feel a real sense of ownership and passion for what we do.”

In fact, the Dayton Dragons own the longest sell-out streak in all U.S. professional sports — 18 consecutive years (not games) through 2017.

Diversity and Inclusion

Not only is MiLB is evolving in fan engagement, strategic partnership, and technology, but also in how it is reaching fans and employees from a diversity and inclusion standpoint. Vince Pierson, the director of diversity and inclusion for MiLB, is on the front lines, stating that his role is “a hybrid of multicultural marketing and organizational culture.

In 2017, MiLB launched the “Es Divertido Ser Un Fan” (It’s Fun to be a Fan) campaign via a four-team trial and is looking to expand to 33 teams in the future.

A role in D&I is anything but minor; Pierson focuses on “internal education to develop cultural competency, external engagement to increase awareness of job and business opportunities and authentic fan development strategies to penetrate previously untapped markets.”

The responsibility is high, but so is the impact. Pierson stated, “it’s important to be in tune with the needs of your people.” 

Get Your Foot In the Door

As MiLB continues to grow, so do opportunities to join the organization. While you may not find the perfect role initially, Thornton encourages professionals to find a way to get in the door because “once they are in, the possibilities are really endless, and it will be worth it in the long run. We have several examples of this in our office.”

Thornton also alluded to new opportunities for recent grads in 2019, “specifically a post-graduate program designed for individuals looking to enter the professional baseball industry.”

Don’t feel pressured to limit yourself to a singular role. “Marketing, community relations, communications — all departments need people who are in tune with the needs of diverse communities,” said Pierson, who also hinted about an entry-level position in D&I opening in January.

Still unsure of a specific position you may be interested in with MiLB? Take a look at its careers page or try conducting an informational interview.

Your next role in professional baseball could be one meeting, phone call or email away.

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