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Athletes In Business

Athletes Turn to LW Branding to Help With Personal Brand

With big-name clients such as Kirk Cousins, Darius Philon, and ESPN’s Olivia Harlan, LW Branding is poised for even more growth in 2019.

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Photo credit: LW Branding

In today’s world, college athletes looking to turn their talents into a professional career need more than raw ability. In order to remain relevant and profitable off the field or court, athletes need to develop a personal brand that makes them memorable with fans and future employers. Unfortunately, this is something that many athletes don’t consider before pursuing a professional career.

This is where LW Branding comes in.

A former Purdue University cheerleader, Lauren Walsh graduated from college in 2010. After graduation, she worked with Purdue football as a mentor for student-athletes. It was during that time that Walsh saw a need for athletes to have someone in their corner who was helping them to maximize all their capabilities off the field.

“While working at Purdue,” Walsh remembers, “I realized that a lot of these guys had spent their entire lives focused on football and missed out on some of the general life things that some of us may take for granted. It was basically at that point in time that helping athletes maximize their potential off the field became a passion of mine and something that I new I would continue to pursue.”

READ MORE: Meet the New Creative Team for the Alliance of American Football 

Walsh continued to work with the Purdue football team until 2012 before returning home to Chicago, gaining additional experience in the corporate world, and then making the leap to start LW Branding in 2015.

Based on her observations at Purdue along with her personal experience of watching friends navigate their way through their own NBA and NFL careers, she determined that there was not enough being done to close the gap and educate athletes on how to build their personal brand outside their sport.

Walsh and her team take a very strategic approach toward working with each client. “We really dig deep into who our clients are,” Walsh states. “One of the areas that most people miss the mark on when building a brand is that they focus on what they think everyone else around them wants them to be.

When the reality is that to build a strong personal brand that can convert to opportunities, you must understand who you are and then bring that to life. We spend a lot of time getting to know our clients as humans, understanding what their why is, their core values, goals, and non-negotiables. We then we leverage that to build a platform with them.”

This personalized approach and attention to detail is why LW Branding has grown their portfolio by 150 percent in the last nine months.

They have been featured in the national spotlight by outlets like the Associated Press, MSN, and the Huffington Post, while also continuing to receive client referrals, some even coming from agencies like Siam Sports and OTG Sports Management.

Walsh and her team help their clients build out a social media presence that allows them to convert their followers to dollars, while also enhancing their overall media footprint, including press opportunities. But perhaps the most important thing that LW Branding does for their clients is get people to not only know who these athletes are, but care who they are.

“There are a lot of players who think that just because you get drafted that you have a brand. It’s a huge misconception,” Walsh says. The reality is that just because you play on a professional team does not mean that you’re guaranteed to make money off the field or off the court. Prior to attempting to engage with any brands or endorsement opportunities, we work closely with our clients to increase their exposure as much as possible.

On top of helping players with creation of original social content, they also encourage players to engage in the content that their teams are producing, while also ensuring that they have a philanthropic footprint, leveraging their platform to give back. In particular, the agency encourages players to create behind the scenes content, which allows them to “humanize” themselves and create a personal connection with fans.

“Fans want to feel like they can relate to a player,” Walsh says. “If a Chicago fan sees that their favorite player on the Bears loves the same restaurant that they like, all of a sudden this fan now feels like they have a connection to this player. It happens all the time. I encourage my clients to lend as much insight into their life, but of course, only as much as much as they’re comfortable sharing.”

READ MORE: Overtime Is a Sports Network for the Next Generation 

LW Branding’s growth can also be contributed to Walsh and the team’s admirable hustle over the last several years.

“Our current state as a company is a culmination of years of hard work,” Walsh states. “The reality is that I spent the first three years or so just grinding…working 16 hour days, being at every event I could, every single draft, combine, and All-Star Weekend just shaking hands and trying to get my name out there. Then for the clients that we did have, we were consistently going above and beyond. Our clients were our best marketing tools. We also did a comprehensive rebrand of our own mission, values, website and social accounts recently. It’s been a long process and three years of ups and downs, tons of failures, and personal sacrifice to get here.”

After achieving the success that she has through all this hard work, Walsh advises any aspiring sports-industry entrepreneurs to be prepared for a similar path that will not always be easy, but certainly worth it.

In the new year, Walsh and her team will be busy spending time managing client engagements and networking at events like the Super Bowl, NFL Combine, NFL Draft, and Spring Training. LW Branding recently broke into the world of professional baseball, partnering with SSG Baseball, an industry leader with clients like Matt Carpenter and Jon Duplantier.

Now with names on their roster that many fans know like Kirk Cousins, Darius Philon, Uchenna Nwosu, Lance Lenoir, and ESPN’s Olivia Dekker, LW Branding is poised for even more success and growth in 2019.

Joe is currently a freelance marketing professional, writer, and podcaster. His work can also be found on the SB Nation network. Joe earned his bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Louisville in 2014 and a master's degree in sport administration from Seattle University in 2017. He can be reached via email at joe@frntofficesport.com.

Athletes In Business

Former Athletes and Business: ‘The Breeze of Opportunity Is Always Blowing’

Player business opportunities were the heart of a discussion between two former NFL players Dhani Jones and Isaiah Kacyvenski at CES.

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Photo via Dhani Jones

The time of athletes being “dumb money” in business is over, and player business opportunities were at the heart of a discussion between two former NFL players at CES: Dhani Jones and Isaiah Kacyvenski.

An 11-year NFL veteran, Jones has since led an accomplished TV career and invested in 35 companies, many in the FinTech industry. He said the amount of people who want to engage with athletes is incredible and provides more opportunity than ever for athletes to have a place at the table. He also said it’s important for businesses to understand athletes have a lot to offer.

“A lot more athletes are pushing the envelope and embedded in the process, wanting to learn and use the platform,” Jones said.

Jones said his life has been defined by a combination of curiosity and discipline imprinted on him from having two military parents. The curiosity helped him define who he was off the field and what he’s done since stepping off it for the last time.

Now, it’s easier for athletes to find a spot for themselves, beyond the one percent of athletes with major marketing deals.

READ MORE: Competitive Pressure Forcing Industry to Adopt New Technology

“The democratization of tech is affording the opportunity for athletes to get involved,” Jones said. “Football and sports used to be a uniform; now it’s full frontal and people see everything that an athlete is, no longer as just a test subject. We’re now the experts consulted to make a better case for what you want to accomplish. The doors are knocked down.”

Athletes have a finite amount of time playing the game and therefore a finite earning opportunity in their athletic lives. Kacyvenski brought up a statistic that nearly 80 percent of athletes end up bankrupt. Jones said part of an athlete’s business success is about changing their mentality and realizing their voice has value.

The transition to business also isn’t too difficult, he said, as all athletes treat their bodies as though they’re entrepreneurs. A harder jump is into investment, but he made an easy analogy to help that transition.

He equated a sports career to youth being seed investments, with parents buying equipment and early training. College is Series A with the scholarship. Meanwhile, professional sports is further Series investments, and the longer they play, the more they can invest in themselves and learn the ins and outs of investment.

“A lot of guys are starting to invest now and starting to be looked up to, like, Chris Bosh and Andre Iguodala,” Jones said. “Guys that are investing now have reached that level of investor and now we can achieve by learning from those that have done it.”

A lot of athletes have the passion, ability, and desire to make it in the business world, and often all it takes is an extra step of mentorship from a business person, Jones said. He has benefited greatly from a relationship with Dan Gilbert.

“Most players need that final inch, a final lesson as well as a nudge,” he said. “Those same skills to get to an elite level are just an unbelievable value as you step away from the game.”

Finding the right opportunities are all about listening to the surroundings, he said, explaining one of his two rules: the breeze of opportunity can come from anywhere. The second is, it’s not about you, it’s something greater than yourself.

READ MORE: A Pivot Back to Video Seems Unlikely for Sports Media in 2019

“It’s a 2019 cliché, but do whatever it is you’re passionate about,” Jones said. “But also, the breeze of opportunity can come from anywhere. Do what you really love to do, but also listen to the surroundings and have some level of sensitivity to what people are saying to you. If people keep talking to you about clothes and clothes and clothes — well, you know what? You might want to go into clothes.”

Those hoping to work with athletes also don’t need to go for name recognition, Jones said. Establishing a relationship with an athlete also isn’t hard; it only takes finding common ground.

“Make sure they’re authentic to what they do,” he said. “If they are, it won’t be like work. It’s a partnership in the same way you formulate the people you’re working with. Build a community filled with the best ambassadors for your business.”

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Athletes In Business

Reigning BMX Gold Medalist Finds Balance Between Managing Sponsorships and Training

2016 BMX Gold Medalist Connor Fields is focused on the 2020 Tokyo Games — all while handling the business challenges of his career.

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Photo credit: Connor Fields

The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games are still more than a year away, but many athletes are already well into their preparation.

The hard work doesn’t start and stop with the physical training, but also the logistics and financial aspects of being an Olympic athlete. A majority of athletes’ annual salaries aren’t in the millions, so to provide their freedom to be elite athletes, they have to take on extra responsibilities.

Reigning BMX Gold Medalist Connor Fields is preparing for what would be his third Olympic Games, which includes a fine balancing act between training responsibilities and sponsorship responsibilities.

“The older you get, the more natural it becomes,” Fields said about the business side of his nine-year BMX career. “When I first started, I was 18 and living at home with no bills. Everything was for the love of the sport. Now, life is expensive. I have to make decisions based on what helps me financially and career-wise.”

READ MORE: Inside Sports Tech Tokyo’s Aspirations to Be Gateway to Asia for Sports Tech Businesses

“It’s a delicate balance because you don’t want to lose the passion,” he added. “But at the end of the day, I have a mortgage due every month.”

For a solo athlete like Fields, financials can be tricky. In some sports, like men’s basketball, year-round earning for Olympians is a given. Some other sports, like skiing, can offer athletes handsome earnings year-round even in non-Olympic years. Sports like BMX can support elite participants, but not much beyond those few. Still, some sports offer almost zero earning potential beyond the Olympic cycles.

“For some sports, the Olympics really is the holy grail,” Fields said. “There is an opportunity in BMX, but it’s very feast or famine.”

Fields has two full-time sponsorships: Chase BMX and Monster Energy.

More sponsors will come as the Olympics draw nearer, especially those who sponsor the general USA Olympic team. Over the last cycle, Fields was sponsored by Polo Ralph Lauren, one of the team’s major sponsors. Other major sponsors, like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, come in and can sponsor individual athletes too.

“The marquee athletes get first bite at the apple,” he said.

His first Olympics in 2012 didn’t bring any sponsorship interest. Unless an athlete is already world-class heading into their first Olympics, sponsorships are virtually non-existent, he said. Prior to 2016, he saw more as he finished seventh in London.

Now, as a gold medalist, he should see a significant surge.

“Coming into this next one, I’m an Olympic champion,” Fields said. “A sponsor can say they’re attached to an Olympic champion.”

Now with his main BMX sponsors and eventually with the Olympic cycle sponsors, Fields has to balance time commitments. Training five or six days a week for his races is mixed in with photo shoots and corporate meet-and-greets. It’s all about working with the sponsors to ensure it doesn’t take too much time away from the training. An athlete also has to be careful to not take on too many sponsors to ensure all parties are happy.

They want you because you’re successful, and if you do too much, it backfires,” Fields said.

READ MORE: Toyota Grows Olympic Involvement With Six New Partnerships

The Olympic media cycle will begin later this year, in terms of sponsorship media commitments for the Olympics, Fields said. Athletes expected to make the Olympics can sign sponsorships with clauses that pay a portion up front and then tender the rest of the money if they make the team — since some aren’t decided until even a month prior to the games.

“It’s tough for sponsors, because they have to look at past Olympic results, but also current efforts,” Fields said. “They’re investing in an athlete and creating a story around them.”

Along with performance, Fields said sponsors are more interested in athletes with a story hook.

Fields hasn’t made Team USA yet, but in his third cycle, he’s not too nervous about the process.

“I’ve done it twice before and I know exactly what to expect so it seems easier and I’m less nervous,” Fields said. “It’s more like a job now after nine years.”

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Athletes In Business

Everlast Worldwide Invests in the Future of Boxing With New Event

The company has teamed up with entrepreneur Adrian Clark to bring a unique, new opportunity to boxers.

Adam White

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Image via Everlast Worldwide

Boxing is unique when it comes to the world of sports.

Whereas other sports have players associations or unions, boxing is one of the few sports without such infrastructures.

While Everlast is not actually taking the steps to put together a formal union, it is trying to help fill the void left without one by teaming up with Adrian Clark and Protect Yourself at All Times.

Having worked with Clark and the organization since 2016, the latest evolution of the partnership includes a symposium that will focus on education and how to help boxers navigate the increasingly complex business world of boxing.

Clark himself knows a thing or two about boxing, having fought as an amateur boxer and working with the likes of Errol Spence Jr. Jarell ‘Big Baby’ Miller, Frank Galarza, and a host of others.

What started as a video blog series and a book put together by Clark will now be a full-fledged event with a setup that will mirror how a typical boxing match would normally play out.

“This isn’t going to be your typical symposium where I’m going to stand up and (only) talk. I am going for a more theatrical approach. I want the fighters and the general public to feel like they are attending a boxing match. The theatrics in this symposium include satire, comic relief, hard truths and a wealth of knowledge. The overall goal is for people to be educated, informed and entertained.”

READ MORE: Traditional Professional Athletes Could Soon See More Opportunities With Gaming Companies

Everlast and Clark are even going to take it beyond that by creating a monthly newsletter that they hope will become a utility for boxers, providing actionable advice that they can use to better understand the business side of the sport.

The symposium will even be included in Everlast’s ‘Be First’ global ad campaign, a move that the company feels fits the narrative of what they are trying to portray.

“Everlast’s ‘Be First’ global ad campaign is committed to showcasing and supporting individuals that break ground and find unique ways to reach their goals,” said Chris Zoller, vice president of marketing and product development for Everlast. “Not only is Adrian blazing a new path for himself but for boxers everywhere. We are 100 percent behind him and what PYaAT (Protect Yourself at All Times) does for the sport of boxing.”

Since formal announcement of the symposium earlier this fall, hundreds of boxers from around the globe have reached out to Clark to issue their congratulations and inquire when the symposium will be.

With most fighters retiring from the sport either in financial ruin and/or tax trouble, Clark wants to do more than just educate; he wants to help boxers find success for themselves and their families after their fighting days are over.

“Boxing should be viewed as a business to the athletes, not just a sport. Fighters have to remember, boxing is not an associated sport; not to mention there’s not a union to serve as the voice for them. I have to step up and be the voice to educate the fighters and their families.”

READ MORE: Jordan Burroughs’ Playbook to Social Media Success for Athletes

Traditionally at a disadvantage when it comes to education, boxers don’t have the luxury that other sports have when it comes to either gaining a scholarship or being able to go back to school to finish a degree like a football player might.

Clark is on a mission to change that.

“I fought as an amateur boxer while earning my undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. I mentored young fighters at the Neighborhood Center Boxing Club. I once took a few of the fighters to campus and showed them what college was like. I wanted them to see that college was possible while they fought for their dreams.”

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