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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

McGregor Keeps Branching Out With Proper No. Twelve

Conor McGregor’s latest foray outside the octagon is his most ambitious — and perhaps authentic — idea yet: Irish whiskey.

Max Simpson

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Photo Credit: Proper No. Twelve

Conor McGregor has been a professional sports icon for years thanks to his work in a UFC octagon. But his outside ventures have played a major role in elevating him to a global star. In 2017, it was his cross-sport boxing match with Floyd Mayweather. In 2018, it was a clothing line with David August that includes hand-tailored suiting and luxury menswear. And, in 2019, it might be the most on-brand product of all for a proud Irishman — whiskey.

Proper No. Twelve, a distilled Irish whiskey brand, launched in September 17, 2018. The idea, however, was in place for years.

“Since his rise to stardom in MMA and beyond, Conor’s been approached by countless Irish whiskey brands asking him to endorse their product,” said Brian Axelrod, US Director at Proper No. Twelve and Eire Born Spirits. “Conor has nothing against endorsement deals, he participates in a few for brands he truly believes in and supports. But something about endorsing an Irish whiskey didn’t feel right to him. Conor wanted to make his own Irish whiskey.”

READ MORE: How Two Top Brands Market Products Via Partnership With NASCAR

McGregor and the Proper No. Twelve team decided to start wide, canvassing top distilleries across Ireland. They ultimately settled on one of the oldest, Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland’s County Antrim,
which had a reputation for fresh water quality, a long record of top-notch product and a master distiller who previously worked for Guinness.

With McGregor’s vision and the distiller’s expertise, the two congregated with the rest of McGregor’s team to fine-tune the custom blend. McGregor and his team selected whiskey from hundreds of barrels, a months-long process. The end result was worth it: A complex flavor profile that but one that retained a smooth and approachable taste.

But McGregor funneled that same energy into promotion.  Shortly after launch, he also embarked on a cross-country trip of the United States, stopping in multiple cities each day to personally market the brand and product to fans. McGregor went everywhere from Conan to AT&T Stadium in Dallas for a Cowboys game.

Yet one of the less buzz-worthy meetings resonated most. During one of the final stops of the trip, McGregor and the Proper No. Twelve team visited the Boston Fire Department. McGregor shook each department member’s hand and later surprised them with World Series tickets to see their hometown team in action. According to Axelrod, the day owes itself to one person in particular.

“Visiting the Boston Fire Department was all Conor,” he said. “Everything we did was completely organic or by invite. Conor’s enthusiasm is contagious. People just want to be around him.”

READ MORE: How Professional Bull Riders Successfully Introduces Its Culture to New Audiences

While the tour may have ended, the brand’s growth is only beginning. McGregor frequently posts about the whiskey on his personal Twitter and Instagram to his near-38 million followers across both platforms. Axelrod, meanwhile, says the brand is targeting much bigger distribution and visibility. And, of course, what better time to start than this weekend?

“As for St. Paddy’s Day, you better start preparing now,” Axelrod said.

The party is just getting started if McGregor has his way.

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Athletes In Business

Former Pro Baseball Player Shows Value of Athletes In Data Tech World

Following seven years in baseball, Josh Wilkie transitioned to the tech world and now helps athletes understand data from products to prevent injuries.

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Photo credit: Athos

With ever-increasing amounts of analytics and data, it helps technology companies to have a former athlete on staff — just like Athos’ Josh Wilkie.

Wilkie, a former professional baseball player, joined the startup in June 2018 and has provided an inside look at how the company’s products integrate with an athlete. As regional director of team partnerships for Athos, Wilkie helps teams understand the benefits of the product: Compression shorts with embedded sensors.

“My mission with this company is getting players and elite athletes into these shorts and understand what movements they are doing that can put them at risk for injury and what they can do to prevent it,” said Wilkie, who spent seven seasons in the Washington Nationals’ organization from 2006 to 2013.

“This is a layer of muscular data that is different than what’s out there. When I was playing, there was zero technology and monitoring. It was just this workout and why, but there wasn’t a lot of why behind what we were doing.”

Wilkie ultimately ended his playing career because of a shoulder injury, which caused him to begin his search for another path. Always an early adopter of technology — he studied electronic music at George Washington University — from his earliest memories of Microsoft Encarta to tinkering with primitive Mp3 players, new technology was always interesting to him.

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

As he wrapped up his career, a friend living in San Francisco was an obvious move to get off the East Coast and into the tech mecca of the world.

He found his first technology job through Craigslist, before finding himself in an early stage startup. Eventually, he made the jump to Athos, a sports-based technology company Wilkie said couldn’t be a more perfect fit.

Wilkie has had several surgeries as a result of his baseball career and by using the product he now sells, he can get an idea of where his potential future issues are. He said a few months ago his knee was aching, so he looked at data, which said his left hamstring was taking on 70 percent of the load.

“Those are the things you can intervene on,” he said. “You alleviate it before it’s a real issue and nip an injury in the bud; align the tires.”

He plays an important role in a startup in helping clients understand how the technology works. A lot of the tech measuring data being put on the market really doesn’t help athletes much.

“It’s been eye-opening to see what’s possible and how much bull is out there,” he said. “It’s cool there’s all these numbers, but a lot of them are arbitrary and don’t mean much of anything. They just are spit at you.”

The former relief pitcher added, “Like your pitch rotation is XYZ, what do you actually do with that?”

Athos CEO Don Faul said there are certain backgrounds he likes employees to have to keep up with demands of a growing tech business, and an athlete fits the bill.

READ MORE: USOC Continues Turn to Tech to Increase Medal Counts in Tokyo

“With an accomplished athlete background I know that means a strong work ethic, grit, smarts, a sense of teamwork, and equal parts confidence and humility,” Faul said. “Josh brings all of that and experience in another tech company. That’s a powerful combination that has made him an outstanding addition to Athos. 

“Josh was able to [have an impact] very quickly as his background prepared him so well for this opportunity, and that alignment will enable him to continue to grow his impact at Athos.” 

Wilkie said he feels his presence is valued, as the company’s team of 45 full-time employees are constantly iterating and seeking the feedback of players and coaches. For him, he likes the aspect of providing useful data that could help a future player avoid a career-ending injury and keeping teams at full-strength.

“We’re building a platform for injury prevention. That’s where we started and now building at a scale for player availability,” Wilkie said. “From a fundamental level, if teams have more players available, they’ll win more games.”

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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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