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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

Detroit Lions Linebacker Devon Kennard Is Thinking Beyond His Playing Career

Devon Kennard knows football won’t last forever, so he’s thinking ahead, using his elevated platform for business and philanthropy.

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Devon Kennard knows football won’t last forever, so he’s thinking ahead.

As a fifth-year veteran in the NFL, Kennard’s philanthropic efforts go back to his college days at USC. Included in those endeavors as a student-athlete was a trip to Haiti following the earthquake, where he and several teammates built five homes.

“I’ve always had a passion for giving back and figuring out what things I need to give back,” Kennard said. “I recognize the platform and unique perspective I have being a professional athlete. I have a perspective kids need to hear because I recognize the importance of having an education and dreams outside of sports.”

Now in his first season with the Detroit Lions, the linebacker extends his work to the Motor City.

Kennard is heavily involved in the local nonprofit Midnight Golf Program. He’s a supporter of the program because he’s a fan of golf as a business tool, but also the program’s mentorship components.

“It’s teaching them how to choose not just where you want to go to college, but which one they can afford and understanding that stuff,” he said. “If I wouldn’t have been on a full scholarship, I really could have used all of this information and guidance.”

Recently, he also started the Reading With DK Challenge, a virtual book club. In the group, he asks his social media followers to read a specific book. Eventually, he’ll ask questions and engage in discussions.

“It’s really to encourage them to read,” he said. “We live in a society where people are stuck on social media, video games and TV. Getting back to books, which is a passion of mine, is something I’ve really tried to do.”

Likewise, during Thanksgiving, he matched with a family from the Midnight Golf Program and provided them a whole Thanksgiving meal and three months of meals into the New Year. They also received tickets to their first Lions game.

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

Kennard is just one example of the growing trend of players working off the field, beyond team-suggested involvement, said Maxx Lepselter, the president of Maxx Branding and Management and Kennard’s off-the-field management. Overall, he specializes in marketing, brand management and endorsements.

“A lot of guys would rather separate things and let agents do what they do best, maximize earnings on the field, then have someone like myself build a brand around each athlete while also diversifying their portfolio across a multitude of fronts,” Lepselter said. “Then there’s someone like myself; that’s where guys are able to elevate their brands.”

Kennard said he has to keep football the main focus during the season, which is when he values having a professional like Lepselter in his corner. Still, he knows the focus can’t solely be on football as there’s a long life after his career.

“You make time for things that matter, and off the field, giving back and making an impact is important to me,” he said. “I don’t take this platform for granted. But to take advantage of it, it takes discipline and time management. And the help around you is essential.”

Along with football and his philanthropic endeavors, Kennard also thinks about money beyond football. He already has a real estate company and invests in a portfolio of properties. Kennard wants to avoid a pitfall he believes many former players struggle with: a passion for anything beyond football — and, even worse, financial issues.

READ MORE: Former NFL Player’s New Political App Aims to Instill Change

“I consider myself a businessman,” he said. “I have a strong interest in business, and after football, I’ll expand that and my philanthropic efforts. I encourage my peers to find other things they’re interested in. Even if they’re not actively involved, just to start to explore and network.

“People will be more willing to talk to an NFL player than an ex-NFL player. They need to think about the doors that might open.”

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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.”

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Athletes In Business

Sports’ Silicon Valley Insider

Rudy Cline-Thomas is one of the people helping professional athletes navigate the waters of investing both inside and outside of Silicon Valley. Know mostly for his work with Andre Iguodala, he takes us inside how athletes are approaching their investments.

Front Office Sports

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