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Nike NFL Rookies Explain Why They Chose Brand of Their Youth

What factors go into an NFL rookie choosing his apparel partner? When it comes to Nike, not all of them are about pure dollars and cents.

Jeff Eisenband

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Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The life of an NFL Draft prospect changes in January. One day, the player is a student-athlete. The next, he can start negotiating sponsorship deals.

And of course, he can start making money.

Former North Carolina State wide receiver Kelvin Harmon is 22 years old and figured that out over the past few months. He was born in Liberia and moved to the United States at age 4. He has yet to play in an NFL game, but he has already cashed in.

“It takes the average person like 40 years to get to this point I’m at,” Harmon says of his pre-draft income. “It’s like, I was just in college. Just in high school three years ago.”

A huge chunk of that money comes from the Swoosh. Harmon was announced Wednesday as part of Nike’s 2019 NFL Draft Class, a group of 27 rookies that also includes Kyler Murray, Damien Harris and Bryce Love.

“I always loved Nike growing up, I just didn’t wear it in college because I went to NC State, but Nike was always my favorite brand growing up,” Harmon says. “It’s fits me as an athlete, a person, the brand. It’s the guys like LeBron, Serena Williams, Kobe. Those are the types that made it a brand I could see partnering with.”

On Wednesday, Harmon was joined by fellow rookies Deebo Samuel (South Carolina) and Devin Singletary (Florida Atlantic), and NFL veterans Ndamukong Suh (Rams) and Darius Slay (Lions) for a media combine. While Darren Rovell stole the show, the idea for the event was to take the media through the training drills of NFL prospects. The prospects also had a chance to explain why they chose Nike in the first place — an important decision considering that apparel deals are often the first sponsorship agreements players enter into as professionals. 

Samuel wore Under Armour at South Carolina. The other four athletes in attendance all wore adidas in college.  Now they’re all Nike clients, and the brand’s popularity among youths is a piece of leverage here. All five individuals at the event mentioned they grew up on Nike, despite wearing different brands in college. The numbers back it up. In Spring 2015, research firm Piper Jaffray listed Nike as the top preferred clothing brand (19 percent) and footwear brand (46 percent) among teens.

While adidas has notably made a push in the industry – and announced an NFL rookie class of its own this week – Nike can still use its brand recognition among this generation in pitches.

“I grew up a Nike and Jordan guy,” Samuel says. “The shoes I wore in college were a different brand, but I didn’t like it as well. So it was kind of a no-brainer for me, where I was going.”

“Growing up, I always loved Nike because I was an Air Force guy, a Jordan guy, and then they [got] Jordans off the Nike account and I was ready,” echoes Slay, a two-time Pro Bowler who was drafted in 2013. “I couldn’t see myself in Under Armour. I heard they were the most comfortable shoe, but I still can’t wear them because they’re ugly. Nike got all the swag.”

In the midst of draft preparation, much of January through April is spent listening to pitches inside and outside of the apparel sphere. For a player like Harmon, who believes he flew a bit under the radar at NC State, a partnership was far more about acknowledgement than free gifts. 

“I really want a side-by-side partnership with me being able to have the leeway to do other things with the brand, use the brand and not be, like, locked down,” Harmon says. “If I want to use the brand for a charity event or something, I just want to be able to expand my brand the way I want to.”

While Harmon and Samuel are projected to go in the first few rounds of the draft, Singletary is expected to selected later in the weekend. Singletary notes he was not necessarily looking for brands who might shine an immediate spotlight on him but instead ones who will stand by him throughout his journey. He believes that Nike, despite its lofty client list of names like  LeBron James, Tiger Woods and Odell Beckham Jr., checks that box.

“They always have my back. If, God forbid, I get injured, it’s still going to be there for me,” Singletary says. “If I’m balling, they’re going to be able to put me on the highest platform.”

Not everyone makes their apparel choices with that bigger picture in mind. But for the first time in their playing careers, this year’s rookies get a say in what brands they represent. If current trends are any indication, expect a steady supply of young players to keep signing on with Nike.

Jeff Eisenband is a broadcaster and writer based in New York City. He previously served as senior editor of ThePostGame and has contributed to the NBA 2K League, NBA Twitch channel, DraftKings, Tennis Hall of Fame, Golfweek, Big Ten Network, Cheddar and Heads Up Daily. A graduate of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, Jeff truly believes Northwestern will win national championships in football and basketball.

Athletes In Business

Master & Dynamic Becomes Latest Equity Partnership for Kevin Durant

Audio company Master & Dynamic is the latest venture for Kevin Durant and his Thirty Five Ventures, a diverse business portfolio.

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Photo Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Durant continues to collect a diverse array of investments and equity partnerships, most recently in the audio world.

Durant’s Thirty Five Ventures recently announced it became an equity partner of Master & Dynamic, adding to a portfolio that includes Postmates, Acorns, Overtime, Coinbase  and the ESPN+ show “The Boardroom.”

Durant, along with business partner Rich Kleiman, became attracted to the brand due to its technology and luxury design.

READ MORE: Champ Bailey Uses Bailey Companies to Corner the Business World

“Master & Dynamic has been elevating the audio game since they launched in 2014 and I felt that they were a company I had to get involved with,” Durant said in a release. “Music is such a huge part of my life that their products have become an important part of my day-to-day and I’m looking forward to some amazing collaboration between our teams.”

The relationship started as Kleiman’s family friend introduced Durant to the brand and Durant saw the potential in the products. The company could not yet afford Durant as a brand spokesperson, but Kleiman and Durant saw the fit with what they are building at Thirty Five Ventures.

“They were open to partnering on a major level, creatively and building the overall business,” Kleiman says. “It’s one of the key investments we’ve made that works across all verticals.

“It’s something Kevin himself is very gung-ho to move the needle on and something you’ll see more of, it’s not just checking the box on an investment list.”

A special edition of “Studio 35” colorway of the company’s MW65 Active Noise-Cancelling Wireless Over-Ear Headphones will be launched and Durant and Thirty Five Ventures will continue to have the ability to help influence the company as it builds into the intersection of sport and music.

“The more time I spent with Kevin and the Thirty Five Ventures team, the more I realized how Kevin’s deep love of music and technology and approach to his craft – basketball – mirrors that of Master & Dynamic: Concentration, focus, and a tireless and dynamic pursuit of mastery,” says Jonathan Levine, founder and CEO, Master & Dynamic. “And he does this based on his own internal drive rather than a need to impress the world.”

Thirty Five Ventures stemmed from Durant’s desire to be more than a basketball brand persona. The business was started in 2017 and ranges from content production to investment portfolio to the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation.

“We didn’t set out to build a media business, studio, investment portfolio, but we knew wanted to create an enterprise, be entrepreneurs and do something that was ours, a myriad of everything,” Kleiman said. “Kevin is truly the force behind the business we’re building, not the face.”

Durant is one of many athletes now venturing further into equity partnerships, which Kleiman says is a result of athletes realizing they should utilize their larger-than-life brands with authenticity and building something they’re connected with. This formula is priceless and not solely about the money.

READ MORE: Nike’s KD 12 An Exercise In Innovation, Teamwork

The strategy behind Thirty Five Ventures’ business development depends on the project. For investments, there is a small team, including Kleiman and Durant, who analyze deals to determine if it is a worthwhile venture. Some deals the duo acts as passive investors, while on others, they look to dive all the way in as partners, as is the case with Master & Dynamic.

“We’re investing in early stage companies for the most part,” Kleiman says. “Some companies, like Postmates, you see obvious synergies. Some are CEOs we connect with on an incredible level personally and believe in what they’re building.”

Whether it’s turning “The Boardroom” into the preeminent cultural sports business show or building brands Durant can be proud of, he’s working both on and off the court to cement his legacy. Master & Dynamic is the latest piece of the puzzle.

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Athletes In Business

Lagardere’s Rosenberg Brings Athlete’s Competitiveness to Charity Agency

From the tennis court to the agency world, Lagardere’s Carla Rosenberg has carved out a high-profile niche in the charity agency world.

Mike Piellucci

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Photo Courtesy: Carla Rosenberg

From the time when she was old enough to harbor professional goals, Lagardere’s Carla Rosenberg had a plan.

First, the lifelong tennis player and scholarship athlete at the University of Illinois would win Wimbledon. Then, after her playing days wound down, she would study medicine in the hopes of curing multiple sclerosis, the disease which her mother was diagnosed with in 1993 shortly after their family relocated from South Africa to suburban Dallas. Her career would take shape at the intersection of competition and compassion.

Wimbledon didn’t happen. Neither did med school. But she credits the ethos behind those goals as the driving force for her sports industry career as the founder of MatchPoint Agency, which works with athlete foundations and nonprofit organizations to both plan events and manage overall operations.

READ MORE: Gus Kenworthy Starts Next Chapter as Activist, Athlete, Actor

“This is the way for me to stay involved in sports, and I love feeling good about giving back every event we do make an impact,” she says. “This is definitely an area that not only interests me but inspires me.”

Rosenberg cut her teeth on the team side, first for the Texas Rangers and later for the Dallas Stars. It was with the latter where she broke into community relations work by serving as the director for the Dallas Stars Foundation as well as a senior director for community marketing. She entered the agency world in 2010 and spent two years primarily focused on marketing and branding across stops at SCA Promotions and Zelo Public Relations.

But it wasn’t until August 2012 when her interests crystalized. She was happiest when she was working with charities, but she also the agency world. The solution, her family insisted, was to start her own shop. The first step was to come up with a name, so she headed to a place renowned for inspiration – Starbucks. Within five minutes, she came up with MatchPoint, a tie-in to her tennis career and, as she says, “the only point that matters.”

“Quickest decision I’ve ever had to make was the name,” she says with a laugh. “Everything else, not as easy and not as quick.”

Athletes’ philanthropic work can be as diverse as the players themselves, both in structure as well as cause. Some simply want to plan a single event. Others want a full-on foundation. Some have a passion project. Others prefer broad-based work. And all of them have a different way of handling it.

Fundamentally, Rosenberg’s job boils down to two components: Plan successful charity events and help foundations realize a profit. But no two clients have the same road map for getting there, which forces her to wear a wide variety of hats. She must be adept at speaking legalese with attorneys to form the foundation; understand the athlete’s brand well enough to handle the foundation’s marketing and public relations; network to raise funds; keep a trained eye on website design; and be meticulous enough to organize seven-figure events. She’s blended them all well enough to count the likes of former NBA MVP Dirk Nowitzki, women’s basketball legend Nancy Lieberman and all-time Dallas Stars win leader Marty Turco as clients.

“It’s not like we’re doing rocket science, but everything we do here is strategic and everything is custom,” she says. “There is no cookie cutter. Everyone is at a different stage in their career. Every charity at a different stage of their formation.”

It’s a diffuse, complex skill set, which helps explain why charity agencies remain a relatively small niche. Yet Kern Egan, President, Americas at Lagardere Plus, believes it’s the sort of sphere that more athletes will begin to gravitate toward at a time when hands-on brand management is becoming more ubiquitous.

“When you’re going to raise your game in that space like you might do on the field or on the court, I think the days of it being your sibling or your spouse or an uncle managing that for you starts to become not as practical as somebody more professional in that space,” Egan says. “As athletes want to give back more, as they want to formalize that part of their brand more, they want more sophistication in and around how that’s managed.

“And there are very few people like Carla that can do that.”

Egan would know. He first befriended Rosenberg through Dallas Influencers in Sports and Entertainment, a professional networking group in Dallas, and wound up leasing her office space in Lagardere’s Uptown Dallas building. It afforded him an up-close view of her work. He ultimately was so impressed that he orchestrated a deal for Lagardere to acquire MatchPoint outright in 2018.

“You’ve got people that understand the nonprofit space. Then you have people that understand the events space. But to be at that intersection… is really special,” he says.

Turco, who now serves as the President of the Dallas Stars foundation, agrees. After years of working with Rosenberg as both a current and former player, he compares her breadth of high-level talents to those of a five-tool player in baseball.

“[As athletes], we think about our own reputation,” he says. “You attach Carla Rosenberg to yours, and it only enhances it.”

Now, with a year under her belt at Lagardere, Rosenberg has a fresh set of goals. Lagardere’s client roster opened up doors to a new list of clients to help and events to plan. But on a macro level, she’s channeling her old competitiveness from the tennis court into setting a new standard within her field.

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“I’ll put it out there: The ultimate goal is to take this group and really make our thumbprint and that we become like kind of the benchmark for other agencies in this field,” she says. “Like IMG, Wasserman, CAA, Octagon – I hope we can make a big enough impact that everyone’s looking at it like, ‘We want to do what they’re doing,’ or ‘We want to have the group they’ve having.’ I hope we can become that.”

At least one person is convinced she’s already there. Now that he’s on the charity side himself, Marty Turco can’t foresee any of Rosenberg’s competitors rallying past her.

“Anybody who wants to accomplish what she has, I wish them all the luck in the world,” he says.

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Kobe Bryant Increases Chinese Presence through New Web Store

Kobe Bryant’s flagship online store in China looks to further connect Chinese fans with Bryant’s already massive brand in the country.

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Photo Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Kobe Bryant is capitalizing on his massive brand recognition and a gigantic e-commerce economy in China by launching an online store last month.

The store is the first outlet for Kobe Bryant-licensed products in the Chinese market, including lifestyle and electronic items through the Taobao and WeChat platforms. The store on Taobao is the “Kobe Official Enterprise Store,” while on WeChat it’s “Kobe Bryant 24.”

Bryant is the most-followed global athlete in China, which necessitates the direct-to-consumer opportunity for his fans, said Andrew Collins, CEO of Mailman Group, the agency running the store.

READ MORE: UFC Looks to Asia as Next Frontier of Expansion Efforts

“His fans are spread across the country with a large majority across the southern parts of China,” Collins told Front Office Sports by email. “Almost all of them will never have the opportunity to see Kobe live, and they long to celebrate his 20-year NBA legacy. The branded e-commerce store was a great way to offer a line of merchandise to his fans and offer products at a more reasonable price point and more variety of products endorsed by himself.”

Products available through the store include trolley suitcases, mugs, phone cases, sports bracelets, sunglasses, backpacks and pendants. Collins believes the Kobe brand has come to represent “success” and “hard work” among his Chinese fans, and is particularly attractive to the nation’s middle class.

“All parents aspire for their children to develop a great work ethic, and they long for success,” he said. “Kobe captures that very well. His on-the-court success and cutthroat attitude captured the hearts of many.”

In a video to Chinese consumers announcing the store, Bryant said, “I hope you continue to be motivated by the ‘Mamba Mentality’ when using these products, whether at home, work or at play. Thank you for visiting the store, and I hope you like the collection we’ve put together.”

The online store play by Bryant is a wise one in China, the largest and fastest’growing online retail market in the world. A 2017 article from consulting firm McKinsey & Company pegged the market’s worth at approximately $830 billion. The article also found 67 percent of Chinese consumers shop on mobile devices.

“And Chinese consumers aren’t just buying Chinese products from Chinese websites,” the article reads. “Cross-border e-commerce is experiencing explosive growth, powered by Chinese consumers’ desire for lower prices and higher-quality products.”

Mailman Group’s other clients include the NFL, NHL, UFC, Tottenham Hotspur, Juventus and Cristiano Ronaldo. Collins said the company’s mission is to help athletes, teams and leagues to build their brand story in China by leveraging social media and digital platforms to create opportunities for partnerships, content, commerce and tours. In Bryant’s case, Collins believes that work is all but complete and current ventures are more about deepening connections to his already established fanbase. Possible avenues include live streaming interviews, branded partnerships, appearances and short video engagements with fans.

READ MORE: Former NHL Defenseman Tells Canadian Stories Through Whitby Watch Co.

“All this activity adds to the overarching brand theme for Kobe in China,” Collins said. “He maintains engagement with his fans and his commitment to China hasn’t wavered post-NBA career.

“As he now expands his career into publishing and entertainment with his book and TV projects, there is an ever-present brand narrative that is always evolving.”

With more than 1.3 billion people in China, Kobe Bryant has a long runway to capitalize on with his brand. There’s plenty of room for the rest of the American sports industry to try and catch up, too.

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