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P.L.A.N. Helps Current And Former Players Prepare For Life After Football

The Priority Sports initiative aims to invest in their clients’ post-playing careers long before their cleats are hung up.

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Photo Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Mike McCartney hasn’t forgotten Isaiah Pead’s story.

Pead, a four-year pro out of the University of Cincinnati, was awaiting his next NFL opportunity in 2016 when he was involved in a serious car accident. He was rushed to a hospital for emergency surgery and ultimately had his left leg amputated. His football career was abruptly over at 26.

“We had a really powerful moment,” said McCartney, director of football operations at the sports agency Priority Sports. “He never thought life after football would begin at such a young age. No one knows when it’s going to end. A lot of times, players think they’ll have an eight- to 12-year career and unfortunately, it doesn’t often last that long.

“Too many players wait until it’s too late to think [about] what’s next.”

READ MORE: Why Athlete Retirement Transitions Can Be So Devastating

Pead shared his story at Priority’s most recent Preparing for Life After the NFL symposium in March, a semi-annual event the agency puts on to help their clients transition into life after retirement.   

This year’s P.L.A.N. was held in Las Vegas at the Cosmopolitan, with nearly two dozen current and retired players attending the one-day event. It was the third P.L.A.N. event in Las Vegas and fifth overall, as McCartney said the draw of Las Vegas helps add a little flair to the event. Every little draw gives him a better chance of coaxing players who might be hesitant to buy into the program. He says those that do will receive the agency’s full backing in turn.

“It’s when they show up and when they’re willing to invest in their future, we should be willing to invest in their future,” McCartney said. “There’s a lot of scary statistics, we don’t want them to be a statistic.”

The program features a full day of seminars broken down into two themes. The first half of the day is spent discussing the transition out of football. The second concerns post-playing career paths. Should a player demonstrate an interest in a career path not covered by the event, Priority then seeks out someone to speak on the subject.

New York Giants quarterback Kyle Lauletta just completed his rookie season but nevertheless made his way to Las Vegas already thinking about life after football, which he hopes will be related to his business degree and marketing concentration.

“It’s always been a priority in my life,” Lauletta said, dating back to his time at Richmond College after only receiving two Division I scholarship offers. “At some point, you’re not going to play in the NFL and, for me, I’d like to have another skill and have other options.”

Two recently retired players, offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz and tight end Ben Hartsock, were also in attendance at this year’s P.L.A.N.

More active players are thinking about their post-retirement careers, said Schwartz, an eight-year NFL vet and current Sirius XM and ESPN Radio host and author. Still, the number is too few. “It’s hard to line up something when you don’t know when the end is,” he noted. Nevertheless, conditions should improve as the NFL and more peripheral organizations like Priority provide access to resources to help — and, in Priority’s case, genuinely wants to help.

“Priority actually does it, it’s not just lip service,” he said. “The easier it is to access, the better.”

Hartsock is a frequent attendee of events like P.LA.N., even though he’s firmly entrenched in a broadcasting career with Fox Sports Radio. “I’m a guy that’s a junkie, I’ve done so many,” he joked. He’s always looking for information, but said he also loves to share his story to help current players learn, even though the demographic that needs to hear it most aren’t there to listen.

“The guys who need it most won’t go,” he said. “That’s an uphill battle that the NFL, NFLPA and Priority are trying to battle.”

Lauletta says he’ll go to any event like P.L.A.N., no matter who puts it on. He sees the opportunities put in front of him as an NFL player, so Lauletta will use every asset he can before it’s too late. He knows he won’t always have the opportunity to sit in front of an Adidas executive, for instance. Played for the Giants sounds a lot different than I play for the Giants.

“There’s always something to learn,” he said. “Some players are really narrow-sighted and think they’re really good at football and don’t need a Plan B. I just want to take advantage of resources, and I realize when I’m out of the NFL, it’s probably done. Those resources aren’t there anymore.”

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

That’s exactly the message McCartney is trying to get across. He’s integrated P.L.A.N. into his pitch to prospective clients and hopes to instill in each player the urgency to think ahead to a post-football life long before they actually are living one.

“If we can play a role in helping them make that transition a little easier, a very difficult transition, that’s our goal,” McCartney said. “When you take that identity away, it leaves a big hole. We want to send the message football is what you do, not who you are.

“That transition will be hard, but let’s find ways to make it easier.”

Pat Evans is a writer based in Las Vegas, focusing on sports business, food, and beverage. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2012. He's written two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer. Evans can be reached at pat@frntofficesport.com.

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.

READ MORE: “I Thought This Was a Good Deal”: AAF Vendors Speak Out

“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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