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Athletes In Business

LPGA Helps Golfers Build Brand Muscle on Tour

In partnership with BrandForward, the LPGA offered its players a personal branding workshop series to help them elevate their brands off the course.

Adam White

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(*BFWD is a proud partner of Front Office Sports)

“Building your personal brand.”

It might be the hottest buzzword/phrase in the industry since “experiential marketing.”

Every conference you attend, most every video you watch, and if you find your way into #sportsbiz Twitter, you are likely to see a tweet or two about the subject.

So what really is personal branding? Many think it’s about just being active on social media, or for someone who wants publicity or credit for something you’ve done. But really, everyone has a personal brand, whether you put effort into building it or not.

“Your personal brand is what you have to offer, how you add value to the world and what others come to you for, and this applies to everyone,” says Patty Hubbard, co-founder of BrandForward. “With our athlete clients, we start by asking them ‘what do they want to be known for?’ and encourage them to take an active role in building their brand, because when you don’t guide and cultivate it, you allow your brand to be defined on your behalf.”

Seeing an opportunity to bring more value to their golfers, the LPGA has jumped in feet-first to provide their membership with an introduction to brand building and how they could think about building their individual brands.

“In years past, the majority of our development would be done with our athletes once they made it to the LPGA,” said Heather Daly-Donofrio, chief communications and tour operations officer for the LPGA and former 10-year veteran of the Tour. “We realized that we really needed to get to them before they graduated to the LPGA so they could hit the ground running and be in a position to be as successful as possible once they came on Tour.”

Not only are they preaching it to them, but they have also found ways to create tangible experiences for them to learn how to be better and more deliberate about their brand, both online and in-person.

One of these ways was through a series of branding workshops they put on in collaboration with BrandForward (BFWD) which focused on everything from understanding a personal brand and defining your narrative to building your community and bringing your brand to life.

Originally meant for rookies, golfers like Maia Schechter and Leslie Cloots, who are now multi-year veterans on the Symetra Tour, joined in the workshops and were able to take away learnings from the experience.

“It was a good introduction to branding, and to things I didn’t even know about in general,” said Schechter, who, alongside Cloots, hosts a podcast called “Birdiecast”. “Although we started the podcast before we had the workshops, we were able to use what we learned to create a better social media strategy, a better overall brand narrative, and an actual marketing plan.”

The podcast has turned into a way for the duo, who spend much of the year on the road and at golf courses, to have a creative outlet that both takes their minds off of the grind as well as has helped them add another set of skills to their arsenal.

SEE MORE: Los Angeles Rams Players Get Playbook for Personal Branding

For the past 20 years, BrandForward’s co-founders Patty Hubbard and Stephanie Martin have helped companies, brands and major sporting events create brand strategy and narratives to connect with their target audiences. Last year, they decided to launch BrandForward to take their expertise and experience with brands like Beats by Dre, Nike, Super Bowl, and the America’s Cup, and help athletes to develop their own individual brand strategies.

“Having worked closely with professional athletes throughout our careers, we saw a huge disparity in the opportunities and resources available to different athletes,” says Martin. “Through BrandForward, we wanted to focus on helping athletes not only tell their own unique stories, but also be heard.”

The biggest takeaway from the workshop for golfers like Schecter and Cloots was that you can begin building your brand at any time. As long as they were deliberate about their approach and ready to put in the work, they could begin to working on it today and see results almost immediately.

“I think one of the big things that they were talking about was starting to build your brand now” said Cloots, talking about the three different sessions. “You can’t just start when you’re on the LPGA, you should start it now.”

As for Daly-Donofrio and the LPGA, it’s all about making sure they’re helping their players be as prepared as they can be, to be successful both on and off the course, no matter where their career may take them.

“To be putting time into thinking about who they are as an athlete and as a person, both on and off the golf course, and how they can translate that into expanding their own profile and their own reach is a good thing for them and a good thing for the Tour.”

(*BFWD is a proud partner of Front Office Sports)

Adam is the Founder and CEO of Front Office Sports. A University of Miami Alum, Adam has worked for opendorse, the Fiesta Bowl, and the University of Miami Athletic Department. He can be reached at adam@frntofficesport.com.

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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Athletes In Business

Missy Franklin Opens Up About Retirement and Life After Swimming

With more time on her hands upon retirement, the 23-year-old Franklin looks to spend it on philanthropic work and public speaking.

Adam White

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Photo via Laureus

At 23, most people are just entering the beginning years of their career. For Missy Franklin, it was supposed to be the beginning of hers too.

The five-time Olympic gold medalist was set to be the heir-apparent to Michael Phelps after she dominated the 2012 London Games, becoming the first woman to win four golds in a single Olympics in any sport.

It wasn’t meant to be.

In 2015, Franklin began to suffer from intense shoulder pain. Diagnosed with severe chronic tendinitis of the rotator cuff and biceps, Franklin underwent surgery on both of her shoulders in January and February 2017.

The road to recovery didn’t go as planned and Franklin was left with two options: Get another surgery and try to rehab again, or stop swimming altogether. She decided on the latter and retired from swimming in December of last year.

READ MORE: Inside Julianne Viani’s Whirlwind of a Broadcasting Career 

While Franklin was disappointed with the outcome, she knew that it was time for her to take on the next challenges in life, something that she is excited about.

“Philanthropy is going to be a huge branch for me,” said Franklin at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco. “I want to do more field work for Laureus; I want to see what different kinds of opportunities pop up.”

One of the opportunities she’s most excited about is being able to do more public speaking. Having been able to speak at a few places while she was swimming, Franklin is planning to take advantage of a schedule that won’t see her in the pool in the middle of January.

“We were in Estonia a couple of weeks ago and I was talking to the Eastern European Coca-Cola team, which I would’ve never been able to do that in the middle of January.”

Unlike other Olympians, Franklin waited to go pro, instead opting to head to the University of California Berkeley in 2013 to swim collegiately. While many observers saw a move that resulted in Franklin missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars, Franklin wasn’t as concerned.

“I’m sure I missed out on more money, but that was never my intention; that’s never why I was swimming. I was so proud to be with the sponsors that I was with. Looking back on my career, I couldn’t have imagined being partnered with better people and better companies. So even though there’s still this idea that if you don’t go pro early, you’re going to be missing out. I feel like I had the best possible experience, even with waiting.”

It was that waiting, along with the help from her agent Mark Urban, that made sure Franklin wasn’t just in a partnership for an Olympic cycle — she was in it for life.

“I always strived to have authentic partnerships and for us, the goal was to find companies who were looking for the same thing. Mark did a great job of helping them realize like this is going to be a lifelong relationship and not just an Olympic year and then. We wanted partners who wanted to work with us because they loved me and what I stood for and hopefully, we felt the same way.”

READ MORE: Immersive Media’s Infancy Creates Industry Opportunities

In hindsight, she points to the fact that she was thrust into the spotlight at an early age as one of the reasons why she was able to navigate the next six years of her life with patience that paid off in these kinds of deals.

“It was really just the basic day-to-day life changes that were so rattling. Just going to the grocery store and being stopped on every aisle to take pictures. It was a lifestyle change. At 17, and going into my senior year of high school, that was just something that was a big adjustment, but one that taught me a lot of responsibility and I’m really grateful for it.”

As to whether she will go back to swimming anytime soon, she seems pretty content on staying out of the pool for a little bit, but that doesn’t mean it will be forever.

“Ask me again in five or 10 years, but right now I I just want to use my time and energy in other areas.”

For now, it’s time to finish school (she’s set to graduate this fall), get married, and find the next thing on her to-do list.

Knowing Franklin, it will probably be something to do with trying to make the world a better place, one smile at a time.

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Athletes In Business

Former NFL Lineman Looks to Change the Way We Share Music

Jason Fox hopes his app EarBuds will help transform how people share music, an inherently social aspect of life that has catching up to do.

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Photo credit: Jason Fox

While warming up prior to a game a few years ago, former NFL lineman Jason Fox noticed Cam Newton nearby with his hood up, dancing.

Fox’s Detroit Lions were set to take on the Carolina Panthers, but the routine stretching let his mind wander to what music Newton was getting into the zone to.

“Almost instantly I was like, ‘Man there are 85,000 people here and millions more who would love to be in his headphones,’” Fox said.

Jump forward several years and Fox is hard at work perfecting his app, EarBuds, to allow for better music sharing — in real time and archived — so fans can listen to what Newton listens to while he warms up or what The Rock listens to while he works out or is on set.

The final catalyst to start the business was in 2016, as Fox was finishing up his football career and watched the Olympics. Swimming great Michael Phelps had an iconic moment where he was listening to music with an apparently angry face as he waited for his event. Millions of people tweeted at him to ask what he was listening to.

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

“People were so curious,” Fox said. “Music is the only medium not shared. Pictures, videos, statuses, friends, work connections all are shared readily on the major social networks. Music has remained incredibly stagnant, which is crazy  because it’s inherently social.”

Initially, Fox was held back from starting the business because he knew it would be difficult and he wondered why no one else had launched a similar service and it seemed too obvious.

Eventually, he went with it.

“I was just the type of guy that sees an opportunity and wants to bet on myself and went for it,” he said.

Fox built the beta version in 2017 and worked out initial kinks. EarBuds was then funded with what Fox called a “pre-seed” round to help iterate a real product. For a year now, EarBuds has brought all aspects of the company in-house and is headquartered in Austin, Texas.

EarBuds lets users broadcast the music being listened to at the moment and lets other users synchronize, but also allows to collaborate, save songs and is provider agnostic. EarBuds already has integrated with Spotify and Apple Music, allowing for cross listening without hiccups. Fox said the goal has never been to be a competitor to providers of music.

The app launched in January and is currently in a slow rollout so the company can solve any major glitches before any potential major wave of users. Fox said he’s preferred the organic step-by-step growth rather than a massive launch. Early on, Fox said the company has received excitement from the streaming services, labels, sports teams, athletes and celebrities, and brands.

There’s already at least one NFL quarterback enjoying the app: Cleveland Browns signal-caller Baker Mayfield.

EarBuds lets you listen in on my world, right along with me,” Mayfield said. “Whether that’s pregame, or when I’m training during the offseason, or even hanging around the house. Snag songs you love for your own playlists.

“Livestream your picks whenever you’re inspired. My music is your music, and you can be the judge. When I’m up on EarBuds, it’s real. It’s real-time. It’s authentically me.”

READ MORE: TranSports Group Shows That Sports Business Can Happen Anywhere

While the initial idea for the product was to allow famous people to share their music with their fans, there was a broader use for the product Fox said wasn’t on the radar to start. The early testing showed people finding a variety of uses, like syncing music on the golf course, during marathons and on the ski slopes.

Sharing music is primarily done through screenshots and YouTube links, Fox said, so he believes his app to be a major disruptor.

“We’ve found so many unique use cases,” he said. “The real opportunities are in peer-to-peer music sharing. This is a way to share in real time, or just like in Instagram, see what people were doing in the past.”

He doesn’t want to spread too much excitement, but Fox shared he has several big-name athlete supporters. When the time comes, the platforms of athletes and celebrities will be important to its success.

“It’s another way for them to connect to their followers,” Fox said. “Listening to what The Rock is listening to on set or Kylie Jenner works out is our biggest ace up our sleeve to spread the word.”

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