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Meet your new finance professor: Portland Timbers player Amobi Okugo

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The MLS player is hoping to change how professional athletes view financial literacy.

(Photo via Amobi Okugo)


Amobi Okugo, professional soccer player for the Portland Timbers, is realistic. One day his athletic career will come to a close and there is a chapter that will come once he hangs up his cleats that he needs to be ready for. Two years ago, with this in mind, he started taking serious steps to prepare himself for life off the field.

Okugo has been an entrepreneur for as long as he can remember. Almost as long as he’s been playing soccer.

When he didn’t like hot lunch as a kid at school, he convinced his mom to make him lunch every day. Soon enough, he was selling his extra food to turn a profit. As he got older and advanced in soccer, he received hoards of new apparel and equipment for being a part of U.S. Soccer’s Youth National Team. He found he could sell some of that to earn extra money as well.

“I’ve always wanted to be financially independent and have never wanted to have to ask anyone for money or struggle to make ends meet,” says Okugo.

His ambition led him to leave UCLA following his freshman year when he was drafted into Major League Soccer (MLS). The drive and creativity that powered his entrepreneurship as a child stayed with Okugo as he turned professional.

While building his reputation on the field, he continued in school, first taking classes in community college and eventually transferring to the University of Louisville where he’s been studying online and is set to graduate this December.

Outside of school, he stayed informed on topics that interest him.

“I’ve always been interested in how athletes transition after sports. Do they go into business do or they’re high up as a CEO or president of operations for a team?”

He followed that topic closely and paid particular attention when the 30 for 30 Broke came out. Watching that documentary, something struck a cord.

“I started to look for players who didn’t go broke. I was looking and it kept showing players who lost their money through unfortunate situations and investments or athletes who are killing off the court business wise, but it was players like Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson. Franchise players. I’m going to be honest with myself, I’m not Lebron James. I play in the MLS. The pay fields are different,“ says Okugo.

That experience led to conversations with his brother and best friend, both former D1 basketball players, who all came to the same conclusion.

“There’s no platform that showcases athletes who are good with their money…there are occasional articles here and there from The Players Tribune that highlights it, but there’s nothing consistent,” says Okugo.

So he created Frugal Athlete.

His mission for the site is to educate athletes about something he’s seen lacking in the sports space: financial literacy. His goal is to empower athletes, ranging from the best of the best like Lebron James, to the rookies, who are living off the salary minimum.

“The two main pillars of Frugal Athlete are promoting financial literacy for athletes and showcasing prudent financial playbooks or practices from different athletes,” explains Okugo.

Off the field, Okugo is an entreprenuer (Photo via Amobi Okugo)

He recently started Team Frugal Tuesdays where he interviews athletes and features stories of those who have successfully managed their money or navigated their way into the business world post-sports. He also shares information on the site that breaks down financial terms like burn rate and 401 (k), as well as certain tax laws that apply to athletes.

A conversation with Okugo will blow your mind. He’s poised, polite, and well-spoken. He’s able to rattle off financial terms at the rate of a professor. It’s clear he knows what he’s talking about.

Okugo’s wealth of knowledge has been a combination self-taught and learned from a great team of advisors. He has actively sought mentors in the sports business field and aligned himself with an off-the-field team that has educated him while looking out for his best interests.

Not every athlete has that.

“There’s a lot of work to be done. You could be interested in [prudent financial practices], but there are guys in four major sports leagues who are making a minimum of $400,000. When you have that much cash you aren’t really thinking about the things you should be thinking about long-term because you can get anything you need at really short notice,” says Okugo.

One of the hard things about athletes’ participation in their personal financial management is the fact that their careers are limited.

“It’s tough because you’re playing a sport you can only play for a certain amount of time so you’re trying to compete at the highest level. At the same time, you have to be smart with your money, but a lot of time athletes just trust their financial advisors to do all the work for them.”

That shouldn’t be the case. Okugo believes there should be a collaboration between the two where the athletes are aware of what is happening with their finances so they are better prepared for the future.

He’s building a platform to create that.

At only 26 years old, Okugo still has several years of a soccer career ahead of him, but that isn’t stopping him from planning ahead. His goal over the next few years is to build out Frugal Athlete so it is able to reach and empower more athletes. He’s developing pamphlets to promote financial literacy and would eventually like to explore a partnership with leagues, such as the NFL or NBA, to integrate Frugal Athletes’ resources with rookie trainings.

When his soccer career does come to a close, he hopes Frugal Athlete will be acquired by a larger sports business publication so he can shift his focus to creating a management consulting firm with an emphasis on sports.

In the meantime, Okugo will continue to educate athletes from the Kevin Durants of the world to the newly signed rookies. While growing Frugal Athletes platform, Okugo will continue to live its values and share its resources with all those who are ready to learn.

Check out Frugal Athlete at https://www.afrugalathlete.com/ and follow Amobi Okugo on Twitter @amobisays.


This piece has been presented to you by SMU’s Master of Science in Sport Management.


Front Office Sports is a leading multi-platform publication and industry resource that covers the intersection of business and sports.

Want to learn more, or have a story featured about you or your organization? Contact us today.

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Lucy is a contributing writer for Front Office Sports. A storyteller and brand strategist, she has worked in the sports industry for organizations including the United States Olympic Committee, IMG/WME and the Miami Open, the University of Miami Athletic Department, Florida Panthers, and Minnesota Twins. She spent 2016 living in Colombia where she accomplished a life-long goal of becoming fluent in Spanish while working for the Ministerio de Educación Nacional. Lucy is a graduate of the University of Miami.

Business

Dontrelle’s Diary: Life of an NFLPA Extern — Day 4

My final day at the NFLPA was filled with conversations and even a random drug test from the league.

Dontrelle Inman

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Rolling squad deep at the NFLPA. (Photo via me)

It might be the offseason and I might be externing at my “second job,” so to speak, but yesterday felt a lot like I was in the middle of the NFL season. Here’s why.

I started off the day with a morning workout, which is always good and necessary to staying ready for the season ahead. I also got a call from someone at the NFL. It’s a call that all players get at some point during the year; you just don’t know when it’s coming. Yesterday, I had to take a drug test.

For those not familiar with how these things work, let me explain. No, I’m not some drug offender or in a rehab program! As part of the CBA and to keep things clean across the sport, all players have to take random drug tests. Mine just happened to come yesterday.

The way it works is that they call or text you to let you know that you will undergo a drug test today and to confirm your location. Most of the time, they have your address on file, but in the cases where you’re going to be somewhere else for the day — like my case being here for the externship — you have to give them the address and they’ll tell you when they’ll be there to meet you.

So during my lunch break, I went back and filled the cup with you know what for them to test. The first few times I did it, it was kind of weird because the person has to be in the same room with you to make sure there’s no funny business or that you try to tamper with the test. But being in the league for as long as I have, you get used to it. Plus, I don’t have anything to worry about since I’m certainly not taking any drugs.

The only drug tests that I’m not a fan of are the ones that they make you take right after a game. You might remember Josh Norman from the Washington Redskins being mad during a postgame interview because they made him take a drug test following a game they won. Again, I’ve got nothing to hide, but it just kind of throws you for a loop after a game. And then if it takes a while or if you can’t “go” at the moment, you might hold up the team bus or plane. But it is what it is.

Anyway, the rest of my day was meeting with more good people as I continue learning the ins and outs of the NFLPA. I met with the events to talk about their goals in putting on stuff for the players and I tried to offer some perspective based on what I saw during my time at NBA All-Star Weekend.

I met with the legal department to talk about the CBA, contracts, agents and other topics like that. I got my first copy of the CBA and wow, is it a lot of reading! Salute to the legal team for knowing all they do about the CBA to help protect our player rights. We also talked some about the drug policy, go figure.

Then I met with the player managers to discuss what they do for the players and ways to improve on our communication. There’s a common perception in the public that the NFL and NFLPA are one in the same when that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

But there are similarities and programs that overlap, so at the same time, sometimes it can be confusing for players because the NFLPA has the player managers who work with rookies and second- and third-year players, while the NFL has advisors and directors of player engagement to work with veterans and they’re around players more on a day-to-day basis since they are employed by the teams. Still, it’s great that we have so many people looking out for us.

Today marks my first day with NBC Sports Washington and ESPN980, which I’m really excited for. I’ll be back next week with one more blog to wrap up my externship experience, so stay tuned!

This piece is part of a collaboration between the NFLPA and Front Office Sports in order to give players the opportunity to showcase what they are doing in the business world. If you’d like to learn more, send an email to austin@frntofficesport.com.

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Cut the Cord: How Ticketing Professionals are Shifting with the Times

Not only do traditional broadcast companies have to compete with streaming services, so do live events.

Owen Sanborn

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Image result for apple tv menu

Photo via: howtogeek.com

I have an Apple TV in my apartment. Two in fact — one for the living room and one for my bedroom. (It’s such a great experience that I had to take it to the bedroom.)

Its library of apps and interfaces gives me access to every NBA game (thanks, NBA league pass!), MLB game (thanks, MLB.tv!), NFL game (thanks, NFL Sunday Ticket Max!), and more college football and basketball games than I can handle (thanks, ESPN!). And I didn’t even include the onslaught of TV and movie options I have at my disposal because one of my friends has a friend that knows a friend whose cousin has a login hookup for HBO GO, Netflix, and Hulu.

Have you ever searched for your favorite sports talking head’s studio show on YouTube? I assure you that you will find each segment from that day’s episode cut up into separate videos so that you can pick and choose which one is worth your time. If the video is not straight from the source (ESPN, Fox Sports 1, etc.), then some ambitious YouTuber out there felt the desire to share it just for you. You are a search bar and a click away.

And people wonder why us millennials stretch a mile wide and about a half of an inch in with our brains?

Pretty soon it may not be necessary for me to summon the courage to leave the couch. What’s the point? Everything I’ll ever need can be found in this little black box provided by Apple, Amazon, or Roku — along with a second and third screen to boot.

That last part has a hint of hyperbole sprinkled in — I will relinquish the throne of my couch. I do not consume sports on three screens at once … at least not ALL the time. But the point of my prelude is: the in-arena experience has stiff competition on its hands. Professionals in the ticketing business are well-aware of this fact and are readying themselves to shift with the times.

Like an NBA wing switching along the perimeter, sales staffs have to be ready to cater to a myriad of fan desires. Some may be looking for a single-game ticket or traditional season ticket membership, others want a flex pack, and a new wave of buyers may seek a monthly payment for the right to obtain tickets to every game. As a ticketing professional, you have to be quick on your feet and ready to supply an experience worth paying for.

“I think it speaks to how the consumer is coming to the realization that they really only HAVE to pay for the things they REALLY want,” Mike Hinson, VP College Athletics Sales at AudienceView told Front Office Sports. “Unless you have something compelling and personalized to each type of fan, you run the risk of alienating a large percentage of your fan base with “one size fits all” products (such as season tickets). That shift is why the memberships and experiences become not just compelling, but critical.”

Memberships and flexible ticketing plans are two areas where I could see the future of the industry going. I may not be willing to dish out fifty dollars per ticket to go see a Phoenix Suns game, but would I be willing to pay fifty dollars a month for the right to have a ticket to each home game (with the location of my seat shifting based on supply) that month? That idea at least makes me raise a brow.

In that case, the Suns would already be making fifty dollars more per month from a fan of my ilk than they would have been previously, and that doesn’t even account for the ancillary revenue (parking, concessions, merchandise, etc.) that comes along with me merely entering the building.

It makes sense for some teams more than others — the Dallas Cowboys are going to find no trouble selling out their venue on Sundays. However, what the Pittsburgh Pirates are trying to implement with their monthly payment program is an admirable pursuit. It should serve as a trailblazer for other franchises or college programs to follow.

“Consumers are so smart and adept at getting discounts,” Brent Jones, Deputy AD of External Operations at Troy University told Front Office Sports. “We have to add value with our ticket packages — promotional items, bobbleheads, vouchers, fan experiences and affinity-building items are all things that we consider.”

For the time being, the opportunity cost of missing the at-arena experience is too low compared to manning the fort in your living room, three screens on hand, monitoring the downfall of your fantasy team with each passing quarter. Millennials are conditioned to control what they consume.

As Hinson puts it, “They still want to consume content and experiences, just on their terms.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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It’s All Fun and Games (‘Till Somebody Brings Up the Money…)

With Spring Training around the corner, upwards of 90 free agents remain unsigned.

John Collins

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Hit By Pitch

Usually, as anticipated and celebrated by those in baseball as the unveiling of the Hess Truck commercial signaling the start of the holiday season, MLB Truck Day is much more somber this year. (For those unfamiliar, “truck day” is the marketing campaign teams have created around packing up their equipment and making the trek south for the start of Spring Training). It’s designed to generate enthusiasm and buzz for the upcoming season…except not this year.

Instead of that traditional excitement and joy, the last few days have been clouded by contention and animosity among the Players Association, their agents, owners, and even fans of the game. At an estimated $10 billion dollars, league revenues have risen steadily to record highs, yet team payrolls and player salaries are falling this offseason for the first time since 2009. That has players and fans crying foul; haranguing owners they see as working to generate a profit for themselves at the expense of paying talented players what they’re worth and fielding competitive teams.

In place of the typical talk of “hope springing eternal” and optimism throughout the league are harsh accusations of “tanking,” “collusion,” and greedy owners tearing apart the fabric of the game. Murmurs haven’t been about new teammates or World Series expectations; the news has been soaked with thinly veiled threats from players and their agents about potential retribution and/or striking because of their outrage.

Now, I’m not one to side with the powerful rich (although in this case, it’s really a matter of choosing between the millionaires and the billionaires…) but enough with the vilification of the teams and the owners! The players did this to themselves. Good, bad, or indifferent, it’s simply the reality of the situation. The Players Association signed off on the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2017 that set this system up. They were more focused on “creature comforts,” like better travel conditions and extra off days instead of paying attention to the financial issues affecting the economic structure of the game.

Brandon Moss Takes Swing at Glacial Pace of Free Agency (Photo via fansided.com)

As Oakland Athletic Brandon Moss astutely noted, owners are just responding to a situation that “we [the players] created ourselves.” In an interview with MLB Network, Moss candidly admitted “We put things that are of less value to the forefront. I just feel like we’re starting to have to walk a little bit of a tightrope that we’ve created for ourselves.”

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw echoed the sentiment, responding to a question about the free agency stalemate going on by saying, “More than anything, it’s just the way the market is going right now…everybody talks about the CBT (Competitive Balance Tax)…maybe that’s on the players’ association for what we agreed to.” Put simply, players dropped the ball. Intended or not, the new CBA has incentivized owners to curtail their spending and stay under the Luxury Tax Threshold ($197 million), lest they go over and get hit with the harsher penalties included in the new agreement. Teams now stand to lose draft picks and international signing money, as well as face a much steeper tax on their payroll every year they exceed the threshold.

Yet owners have continued to bear the brunt of criticism for this slow offseason, getting chastised for what is their otherwise innocuous, rational reaction to the rules established by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Teams have been harangued for their lack of spending; accused of everything from colluding to being destructively parsimonious and leaving highly qualified players out in the cold merely because they’re cheap and greedy.

Players, agents, and union director Tony Clark have expressed outrage at the number of talented players unsigned, calling the lack of big-money offers to players a “destructive cancer;” saying that “the record number of talented free agents remaining unemployed in an industry where revenues and franchise values are at record highs…is a fundamental breach of trust between the team…that threatens the integrity of the game.”

As Rob Manfred pointed out, what these accusations fail to take into account is that many players do, in fact, have offers on the table; they just aren’t as high as originally expected. Eric Hosmer, J.D. Martinez, and others remain unsigned because they and their agents are not adapting to the realities of the market, which is essentially what free agency is. As financial analysts love to say, it’s merely a “course correction” reflecting the changing demands of teams in the game.

Interestingly, most fans and media have come out in support of the players, furious at teams and their owners for letting their star players sign elsewhere, breaking up what had been competitive rosters filled with fan-favorite athletes. It’s all the owners’ fault for letting their greed break up the team. But wait a minute…what about the players’ role in these negotiations?

Part of it is on the players for pricing themselves out of certain markets, a la Eric Hosmer of the Royals, Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates, and most of the Tampa Bay Rays. There are comfortable contract offers out there from the hometown teams, but players go elsewhere chasing the money.

That’s not to say it’s wrong of the players to want their full value, or advocating for them to selflessly accept “hometown discounts;” it’s merely an acknowledgment that both parties bear some responsibility. Aging players overprice themselves, leaving franchises with two choices: waste money and sign ineffective players, or make smarter business and roster decisions by focusing on younger, less expensive players with more of an upside. As with any business decision or investment, it’s all about ROI.

So we’re left with this: Spring Training report dates right around the corner, with upwards of 90 free agents still not sure where they’re going. That’s why the Players’ Association has decided to stage a makeshift “spring training,” at the IMG facility in Bradenton, Florida for what is essentially a very talented “31st” team of unsigned players lingering out there. Wonder if that’s an open invitation to head down and find a role on the “team…” I don’t have a contract either…that mean I can be their broadcaster or batboy?

“If You Build It, They Will Come…” (Photo: Variety.com)

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