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Athletes In Business

Gus Kenworthy Starts Next Chapter as Activist, Athlete, Actor

Gus Kenworthy worried that coming out as gay would kill his career. Instead, he’s more marketable than ever, and is growing his brand off the slopes.

Tim Marcin

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Photo Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

About three and a half years ago Gus Kenworthy, was the best freeskier in the world. And he was worried his career was cooked.

He was going to come out as gay. Nobody in his sport one in which athletes depend on endorsements to make a living had come out before. But he decided he couldn’t go on hiding his truth, especially after the increased limelight that followed his 2014 Olympic silver medal win.

Kenworthy expected to be a pariah. The exact opposite happened: He became more popular than ever.

“I really thought when I came out it was going to have the opposite effect, like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to lose all my followers. My sponsors aren’t going to want to sponsor the gay guy,’” he told Front Office Sports in a recent interview.

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Instead, endorsers jumped at the chance to work with him.

“Brands heading into the 2018 Olympics, were like, ‘We want to tell a story of authenticity. We also want to tell a story of diversity and in the Winter Olympics there’s just not a lot of diversity.” he said. “So being openly gay actually really opened me up to a ton of endorsement opportunities and more media attention.”

Kenworthy has been sponsored by traditional skiing brands like Smith for his goggles and Atomic for his skis but also has done work with Monster Energy Drink, Ralph Lauren, Samsung and Toyota, among others. Perhaps his most noteworthy spot was a Head & Shoulders ad that made history by featuring a pride flag, which had never been done before in a national TV spot.

So, what’s next? Kenworthy is already about as decorated a skier as possible, having won five X Games medals, an Olympic medal and eight world championships. But he’s got goals outside the sport, too, and has become a leading advocate for LGBT+ causes and has jumped into the world of entertainment and acting.

This week he appeared on a panel at a New York summit for Out Leadership, a group that works to promote LGBT+ inclusion and leadership in the business and political world. The summit featured corporate executives and high-powered politicians. It also debuted a new business climate index ranking states on its treatment and inclusion of LGBT+ folks.

It was the sort of event and sorts of people to which Kenworthy is now granted access as a famous advocate. It’s a role he takes seriously.

“When I decided to come out publicly, I knew that I was going to be stepping into that [leadership] position, whether I wanted it or not,” he said. “There was a lot of people watching me. And I did want it. I wanted to be a positive influence. The thing I always say and I continually go back to is: I want to be, and hope to be, the version of myself that I needed when I was like 14.”

In that way, Kenworthy stands apart. He is the rare winter Olympian with a presence in front of sports fans and non-sports fans alike, whether that’s through his prowess on the slopes, his prolific Instagram presence or his work for the LGBT+ community.

“In the winter athlete space he has a unique stature because he came out,” said Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing expert and creative director at Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco. “In a sport that has a once-every-four-years appeal, it’s difficult to maintain your popularity in between Olympics, especially because he didn’t win a gold medal… [He’s] not a top, top, top performer, let’s say. But what he did outside of the slope probably made him much more significant and brave and important than your average freestyle skier.”

Will Ober, the director of sports marketing at the firm Platinum Rye Entertainment, similarly called Kenworthy unique. Ober, who acquired talent for Procter & Gamble for the 2018 Olympics, landed the skier his Head & Shoulders ad by virtue of Kenworthy being relevant and having a unique story.

“And for Head & Shoulders, having great hair is obviously a key component,” he added, laughing.

The classic good looks and charisma have helped Kenworthy expand outside skiing. His hopes are to qualify for one last Olympics he’ll be 30 in 2020, old for his sport while also keeping his acting chops sharp.

“I hope by that point I’ll have gotten enough experience acting and playing these different roles that it’ll be able to be a seamless transition,” he said. “Kind of hang up my skis and know I have something in the works.”

So far, so good. He’s appeared as a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race and will act in the next season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story.  

Baker Street’s Dorfman did say there can be a career drawback to being a prominent LGBT+ figure. “[There] is a significant percentage of people out there, particularly in this Trumpian era, that will never give him the respect he deserves,” he said.

READ MORE: Sports World Takes on TikTok as Next Social Media Frontier

But if Kenworthy’s million-plus social followers are any indication, there are plenty of people who are drawn to him. It’s a busy life from the slopes, to a video shoot, to an audition, to a set, to back to the slopes–he has accomplished about everything one could hope for in athletics and is actively working to make a go of it in entertainment. It’s one longshot dream to the next. But the way his entire world shifted in 2015 is the throughline of it all.

“My dream acting role is honestly a superhero role. I know that it’s kind of cliché,” he said. “I know a lot of actors, the reason that they do superhero roles is because it’s an insane paycheck and it’s a huge audience.”

“But for me growing up, I really felt a sense of connection to superheroes because they had to hide their identity from everyone. They were one person in their real life — whether it was Clark Kent or whatever — then they had their alter ego as Superman or Spiderman or Batman and no one could know the two.”

But now, years removed from his decision to come out, everyone can know all sides of Gus Kenworthy. No alter ego necessary. 

Athletes In Business

NFL Helps Former Players Succeed In New Business Ventures

For NFL players starting new careers after retirement, finding the right job is easier said than done. The league’s NFL Legends Community was built to help.

Craig Ellenport

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Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For NFL players starting new careers after retirement, finding the right job is easier said than done. Some stayed involved in the game, but others seek new challenges. Either way, this process requires a new set of teammates.

For the past five years, the league’s NFL Legends Community has been providing that help. According to Tracy Perlman, NFL senior vice president, player marketing and communications, its mission is to connect, celebrate and engage the players.

“The biggest thing for us is building a community of care,” Perlman says, noting more than 3,000 players last year alone came back for an event with one of their former teams.

Along with connections with former teams, NFL Legends helps by offering information about players’ health and wellness, providing career counseling and seminars and giving access to financial grants and tuition assistance.

From a marketing side, the program can help retired players find the base to build a brand.

NFL Legends is working with NFL Films to create a highlight reels for those former players who make the request, at no cost to the subject.

“It doesn’t really matter how big or small you are, it’s really about your story,” Perlman says. “And we’ve really gotten everybody internally to buy into the fact that these guys busted their butts on the field, fought every day for their job, and they’re just as successful off the field. And we’ve been able to get everybody in to tell those stories.”

With approximately 9,000 former players registered in the NFL Legends Community, there are a lot of stories. Many players have built successful businesses that have nothing to do with their previous lives in the NFL. However, unlike playing in the NFL, where a player will easily get noticed for talent, some former pros need more help growing their business. The league is going so far as to create an NFL Legends Business Directory.

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“We’re going to get all of the players who own businesses into a resource guide that we can share with our partners and internally, so that we can start to give business to those companies,” Perlman says.

The NFL Legends Business Directory is expected to be available by the start of the 2019 season. To help get that done, NFL Legends is partnering with Carter Brothers, a management consulting firm founded by Pro Football Hall of Famer Cris Carter and his brother John.

“When we met with the NFL, we thought this would be a great fit for us to help them put everybody in a directory and push that out to the marketplace to help those ex-NFL Legends gain more visibility and, we believe more opportunity,” John, titled CEO and vice chairman of Carter Brothers, says.

The NFL will share the directory with all 32 teams. One former player who runs a window business is currently involved in construction of the Raiders’ new stadium in Las Vegas.

“I think the NFL has done a really good job of saying, ‘We want to help these guys after they’re done playing football,’” John Carter says. “And I think that is a value for all parties.”

Carter noted that 50% of the CEOs in corporate America played some kind of organized sport. Having worked with many former players, he knows the habits of highly successful athletes translate well into the business world.

“I think the marketplace will be highly surprised about the intelligence of current players and ex-NFL legends,” he says. “They bring a lot of creativity to the marketplace. Obviously, most of them have really good leadership skills, are able to build a good team around them. They have the financial wherewithal to invest in smart businesses. What we want to do is put all of that information in a depository, so when people want to see it or they’re looking for certain things in the marketplace, they can get to it quickly without any issues.”

READ MORE: Trio of NFL Players Work Together for A Dunkin’ Retirement

While members of the NFL Legends Community will benefit from added business they may receive, they will also gain more knowledge and experience from greater penetration into corporate America.

“Anything that we can do in assisting the NFL in doing that, that’s what we’re there for,” Carter says.

If all goes according to plan, many former NFL players will have less time to enjoy the upcoming season as they spend more time growing their business.

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Athletes In Business

Master & Dynamic Becomes Latest Equity Partnership for Kevin Durant

Audio company Master & Dynamic is the latest venture for Kevin Durant and his Thirty Five Ventures, a diverse business portfolio.

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Photo Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Durant continues to collect a diverse array of investments and equity partnerships, most recently in the audio world.

Durant’s Thirty Five Ventures recently announced it became an equity partner of Master & Dynamic, adding to a portfolio that includes Postmates, Acorns, Overtime, Coinbase  and the ESPN+ show “The Boardroom.”

Durant, along with business partner Rich Kleiman, became attracted to the brand due to its technology and luxury design.

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“Master & Dynamic has been elevating the audio game since they launched in 2014 and I felt that they were a company I had to get involved with,” Durant said in a release. “Music is such a huge part of my life that their products have become an important part of my day-to-day and I’m looking forward to some amazing collaboration between our teams.”

The relationship started as Kleiman’s family friend introduced Durant to the brand and Durant saw the potential in the products. The company could not yet afford Durant as a brand spokesperson, but Kleiman and Durant saw the fit with what they are building at Thirty Five Ventures.

“They were open to partnering on a major level, creatively and building the overall business,” Kleiman says. “It’s one of the key investments we’ve made that works across all verticals.

“It’s something Kevin himself is very gung-ho to move the needle on and something you’ll see more of, it’s not just checking the box on an investment list.”

A special edition of “Studio 35” colorway of the company’s MW65 Active Noise-Cancelling Wireless Over-Ear Headphones will be launched and Durant and Thirty Five Ventures will continue to have the ability to help influence the company as it builds into the intersection of sport and music.

“The more time I spent with Kevin and the Thirty Five Ventures team, the more I realized how Kevin’s deep love of music and technology and approach to his craft – basketball – mirrors that of Master & Dynamic: Concentration, focus, and a tireless and dynamic pursuit of mastery,” says Jonathan Levine, founder and CEO, Master & Dynamic. “And he does this based on his own internal drive rather than a need to impress the world.”

Thirty Five Ventures stemmed from Durant’s desire to be more than a basketball brand persona. The business was started in 2017 and ranges from content production to investment portfolio to the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation.

“We didn’t set out to build a media business, studio, investment portfolio, but we knew wanted to create an enterprise, be entrepreneurs and do something that was ours, a myriad of everything,” Kleiman said. “Kevin is truly the force behind the business we’re building, not the face.”

Durant is one of many athletes now venturing further into equity partnerships, which Kleiman says is a result of athletes realizing they should utilize their larger-than-life brands with authenticity and building something they’re connected with. This formula is priceless and not solely about the money.

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The strategy behind Thirty Five Ventures’ business development depends on the project. For investments, there is a small team, including Kleiman and Durant, who analyze deals to determine if it is a worthwhile venture. Some deals the duo acts as passive investors, while on others, they look to dive all the way in as partners, as is the case with Master & Dynamic.

“We’re investing in early stage companies for the most part,” Kleiman says. “Some companies, like Postmates, you see obvious synergies. Some are CEOs we connect with on an incredible level personally and believe in what they’re building.”

Whether it’s turning “The Boardroom” into the preeminent cultural sports business show or building brands Durant can be proud of, he’s working both on and off the court to cement his legacy. Master & Dynamic is the latest piece of the puzzle.

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Athletes In Business

Lagardere’s Rosenberg Brings Athlete’s Competitiveness to Charity Agency

From the tennis court to the agency world, Lagardere’s Carla Rosenberg has carved out a high-profile niche in the charity agency world.

Mike Piellucci

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Photo Courtesy: Carla Rosenberg

From the time when she was old enough to harbor professional goals, Lagardere’s Carla Rosenberg had a plan.

First, the lifelong tennis player and scholarship athlete at the University of Illinois would win Wimbledon. Then, after her playing days wound down, she would study medicine in the hopes of curing multiple sclerosis, the disease which her mother was diagnosed with in 1993 shortly after their family relocated from South Africa to suburban Dallas. Her career would take shape at the intersection of competition and compassion.

Wimbledon didn’t happen. Neither did med school. But she credits the ethos behind those goals as the driving force for her sports industry career as the founder of MatchPoint Agency, which works with athlete foundations and nonprofit organizations to both plan events and manage overall operations.

READ MORE: Gus Kenworthy Starts Next Chapter as Activist, Athlete, Actor

“This is the way for me to stay involved in sports, and I love feeling good about giving back every event we do make an impact,” she says. “This is definitely an area that not only interests me but inspires me.”

Rosenberg cut her teeth on the team side, first for the Texas Rangers and later for the Dallas Stars. It was with the latter where she broke into community relations work by serving as the director for the Dallas Stars Foundation as well as a senior director for community marketing. She entered the agency world in 2010 and spent two years primarily focused on marketing and branding across stops at SCA Promotions and Zelo Public Relations.

But it wasn’t until August 2012 when her interests crystalized. She was happiest when she was working with charities, but she also the agency world. The solution, her family insisted, was to start her own shop. The first step was to come up with a name, so she headed to a place renowned for inspiration – Starbucks. Within five minutes, she came up with MatchPoint, a tie-in to her tennis career and, as she says, “the only point that matters.”

“Quickest decision I’ve ever had to make was the name,” she says with a laugh. “Everything else, not as easy and not as quick.”

Athletes’ philanthropic work can be as diverse as the players themselves, both in structure as well as cause. Some simply want to plan a single event. Others want a full-on foundation. Some have a passion project. Others prefer broad-based work. And all of them have a different way of handling it.

Fundamentally, Rosenberg’s job boils down to two components: Plan successful charity events and help foundations realize a profit. But no two clients have the same road map for getting there, which forces her to wear a wide variety of hats. She must be adept at speaking legalese with attorneys to form the foundation; understand the athlete’s brand well enough to handle the foundation’s marketing and public relations; network to raise funds; keep a trained eye on website design; and be meticulous enough to organize seven-figure events. She’s blended them all well enough to count the likes of former NBA MVP Dirk Nowitzki, women’s basketball legend Nancy Lieberman and all-time Dallas Stars win leader Marty Turco as clients.

“It’s not like we’re doing rocket science, but everything we do here is strategic and everything is custom,” she says. “There is no cookie cutter. Everyone is at a different stage in their career. Every charity at a different stage of their formation.”

It’s a diffuse, complex skill set, which helps explain why charity agencies remain a relatively small niche. Yet Kern Egan, President, Americas at Lagardere Plus, believes it’s the sort of sphere that more athletes will begin to gravitate toward at a time when hands-on brand management is becoming more ubiquitous.

“When you’re going to raise your game in that space like you might do on the field or on the court, I think the days of it being your sibling or your spouse or an uncle managing that for you starts to become not as practical as somebody more professional in that space,” Egan says. “As athletes want to give back more, as they want to formalize that part of their brand more, they want more sophistication in and around how that’s managed.

“And there are very few people like Carla that can do that.”

Egan would know. He first befriended Rosenberg through Dallas Influencers in Sports and Entertainment, a professional networking group in Dallas, and wound up leasing her office space in Lagardere’s Uptown Dallas building. It afforded him an up-close view of her work. He ultimately was so impressed that he orchestrated a deal for Lagardere to acquire MatchPoint outright in 2018.

“You’ve got people that understand the nonprofit space. Then you have people that understand the events space. But to be at that intersection… is really special,” he says.

Turco, who now serves as the President of the Dallas Stars foundation, agrees. After years of working with Rosenberg as both a current and former player, he compares her breadth of high-level talents to those of a five-tool player in baseball.

“[As athletes], we think about our own reputation,” he says. “You attach Carla Rosenberg to yours, and it only enhances it.”

Now, with a year under her belt at Lagardere, Rosenberg has a fresh set of goals. Lagardere’s client roster opened up doors to a new list of clients to help and events to plan. But on a macro level, she’s channeling her old competitiveness from the tennis court into setting a new standard within her field.

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“I’ll put it out there: The ultimate goal is to take this group and really make our thumbprint and that we become like kind of the benchmark for other agencies in this field,” she says. “Like IMG, Wasserman, CAA, Octagon – I hope we can make a big enough impact that everyone’s looking at it like, ‘We want to do what they’re doing,’ or ‘We want to have the group they’ve having.’ I hope we can become that.”

At least one person is convinced she’s already there. Now that he’s on the charity side himself, Marty Turco can’t foresee any of Rosenberg’s competitors rallying past her.

“Anybody who wants to accomplish what she has, I wish them all the luck in the world,” he says.

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