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Athletes In Business

How Rakuten Is Leaving Its Mark on Steph Curry’s Underrated Tour

Rakuten teamed up with Steph Curry to provide funding for the Underrated Tour, which offers support for high school players trying to improve their game.

Bailey Knecht




Photo credit: Underrated Tour Powered by Rakuten

When Tokyo-based Rakuten expanded to the United States, establishing strong, influential partnerships was a major goal for the tech company. Now, Rakuten has added one of the most influential figures in sports to its list of partners: the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry.

In January, Curry announced that he was teaming up with Rakuten for his Underrated Tour, a series of basketball camps for unsigned high school players with a three-star ranking or below.

“The whole underrated story, and his story of coming up through the ranks and being told he couldn’t do it and then breaking through that — for us, in our history as a company, we’ve been underdogs,” said Kristen Gambetta, director of sports and entertainment for the U.S. branch of Rakuten. “We, as a company, relate to having that mentality and breaking into new markets like the American region and being an underdog. We’re a big global company, and we’re constantly trying to innovate and be better, so we saw this great alignment around optimism, which is something core to who we are and who Stephen is.”

Participants receive hands-on training from Curry’s trainer, Brandon Payne, and other elite coaches, as well as guest lectures, team-building exercises and information on NCAA eligibility.

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“In doing this, he’s providing a platform for kids to really have a better future and the chance of being seen by college coaches wouldn’t have seen them before,” said Gambetta, who was on the team responsible for establishing the partnership. “Our company believes in the future, and it’s really important to us that this platform is leaving an impact on kids coming out of the camps.”

“That’s the idea behind the Underrated Tour: to create a basketball camp, in partnership with Rakuten, for any unsigned high school players rated three stars and below,” wrote Curry in The Players’ Tribune. “A camp for kids who love to hoop, and are looking for the chance to show scouts that their perceived weaknesses might actually be their secret strengths.”

Because of Rakuten’s involvement, there is no cost to camp attendees. In turn, Curry will provide exposure for Rakuten’s U.S. branch, through appearances and promotions.

“We’re a growing brand in the U.S. because we’re headquartered in Japan with a massive presence, so we’re trying to take that model and build up in the U.S.,” Gambetta said. “Partnering with Steph on a global level is powerful for us to work with him and help align ourselves with our shared values.”

The tour will also take advantage of Rakuten’s established technology.

“As they were building the tour platform, they were consulting with us on different pieces, and it wasn’t all cookie-cutter,” Gambetta explained. “It was very collaborative, like, ‘Does this feel right to you as presenting partner?’ and cross-checking that and making sure we could integrate our business services, such as our messaging app, Viber. It’s used to notify attendees and give them exclusive content. It’s a private space for them to interact.”

Rakuten is already the official partner of the Golden State Warriors, so when Curry’s camp came knocking, it was a natural fit.

“They reached out to us, thinking we’d be an interesting fit because they were looking to work with someone more global in nature, so there was that international fit, as well as us being the Warriors’ patch partner,” Gambetta said.

“The Underrated Tour is Stephen’s brainchild, rooted in meaningful and authentic insights from his journey,” said Curry’s business partner, Jeron Smith. “We saw a unique opportunity to shine a light on Steph’s story in a way that hasn’t been done before and inspire the next generation of underrated athletes. This is the latest example of Steph using his platform to make a difference, and we’re thrilled to partner with Rakuten to help empower others.”

So far, the tour has made stops in Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Phoenix, with stops in Charlotte, Philadelphia, Oklahoma City and Oakland on the upcoming schedule.

“We were on the ground in Los Angeles when [Curry] dropped in, and it was amazing seeing him pull aside the kids,” Gambetta said. “I’ve worked in this industry for a long time, and to see such a big star interact with them, pulling them aside, coaching them — he’s always authentic and humble, and what he provides these kids is invaluable.”

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The most recent stop in Phoenix was exclusively available to high school girls and included an informational panel with members of the sports industry.

“This is something that is another shared value; providing that opportunity for women was something we collaborated on, to ensure an all-girls stop,” Gambetta said. “We were excited to see that come to life. He’s been outspoken about that, like the Players’ Tribune piece, and that just further instilled that we’re working with the right person with shared values that we’re passionate about. We want to ensure that we’re inclusive in our activations as well, so that gives us that opportunity.”

Considering the positive response from camp participants, Gambetta and her team are satisfied with the results of the partnership so far.

“I think giving that platform to kids who are not five-star athletes, we thought it would be powerful, but you don’t know until it comes to life,” Gambetta said. “It’s been very positive. One of our other core values is empowerment, and you could feel that these kids felt they were empowered to break through the status quo of people telling them they can’t do it and that they’re underdogs.”

Bailey Knecht is a Northeastern University graduate and has worked for New Balance, the Boston Bruins and the Northeastern and UMass Lowell athletic departments. She covers media and marketing for Front Office Sports, with an emphasis on women's sports and basketball. She can be contacted at

Athletes In Business

Former NFL Lineman Looks to Change the Way We Share Music

Jason Fox hopes his app EarBuds will help transform how people share music, an inherently social aspect of life that has catching up to do.




Photo credit: Jason Fox

While warming up prior to a game a few years ago, former NFL lineman Jason Fox noticed Cam Newton nearby with his hood up, dancing.

Fox’s Detroit Lions were set to take on the Carolina Panthers, but the routine stretching let his mind wander to what music Newton was getting into the zone to.

“Almost instantly I was like, ‘Man there are 85,000 people here and millions more who would love to be in his headphones,’” Fox said.

Jump forward several years and Fox is hard at work perfecting his app, EarBuds, to allow for better music sharing — in real time and archived — so fans can listen to what Newton listens to while he warms up or what The Rock listens to while he works out or is on set.

The final catalyst to start the business was in 2016, as Fox was finishing up his football career and watched the Olympics. Swimming great Michael Phelps had an iconic moment where he was listening to music with an apparently angry face as he waited for his event. Millions of people tweeted at him to ask what he was listening to.

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“People were so curious,” Fox said. “Music is the only medium not shared. Pictures, videos, statuses, friends, work connections all are shared readily on the major social networks. Music has remained incredibly stagnant, which is crazy  because it’s inherently social.”

Initially, Fox was held back from starting the business because he knew it would be difficult and he wondered why no one else had launched a similar service and it seemed too obvious.

Eventually, he went with it.

“I was just the type of guy that sees an opportunity and wants to bet on myself and went for it,” he said.

Fox built the beta version in 2017 and worked out initial kinks. EarBuds was then funded with what Fox called a “pre-seed” round to help iterate a real product. For a year now, EarBuds has brought all aspects of the company in-house and is headquartered in Austin, Texas.

EarBuds lets users broadcast the music being listened to at the moment and lets other users synchronize, but also allows to collaborate, save songs and is provider agnostic. EarBuds already has integrated with Spotify and Apple Music, allowing for cross listening without hiccups. Fox said the goal has never been to be a competitor to providers of music.

The app launched in January and is currently in a slow rollout so the company can solve any major glitches before any potential major wave of users. Fox said he’s preferred the organic step-by-step growth rather than a massive launch. Early on, Fox said the company has received excitement from the streaming services, labels, sports teams, athletes and celebrities, and brands.

There’s already at least one NFL quarterback enjoying the app: Cleveland Browns signal-caller Baker Mayfield.

EarBuds lets you listen in on my world, right along with me,” Mayfield said. “Whether that’s pregame, or when I’m training during the offseason, or even hanging around the house. Snag songs you love for your own playlists.

“Livestream your picks whenever you’re inspired. My music is your music, and you can be the judge. When I’m up on EarBuds, it’s real. It’s real-time. It’s authentically me.”

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While the initial idea for the product was to allow famous people to share their music with their fans, there was a broader use for the product Fox said wasn’t on the radar to start. The early testing showed people finding a variety of uses, like syncing music on the golf course, during marathons and on the ski slopes.

Sharing music is primarily done through screenshots and YouTube links, Fox said, so he believes his app to be a major disruptor.

“We’ve found so many unique use cases,” he said. “The real opportunities are in peer-to-peer music sharing. This is a way to share in real time, or just like in Instagram, see what people were doing in the past.”

He doesn’t want to spread too much excitement, but Fox shared he has several big-name athlete supporters. When the time comes, the platforms of athletes and celebrities will be important to its success.

“It’s another way for them to connect to their followers,” Fox said. “Listening to what The Rock is listening to on set or Kylie Jenner works out is our biggest ace up our sleeve to spread the word.”

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Athletes In Business

How NBA Star DeMarcus Cousins Found a Comfortable Situation With Airbnb for Work

DeMarcus Cousins has settled in comfortably with the Golden State Warriors, including off the court thanks to Airbnb for Work.



DeMarcus Cousins Airbnb

Photo credit: Airbnb

DeMarcus Cousins has settled in on the court with the Golden State Warriors, but he’s been comfortable his whole time in the Bay Area thanks to a partnership with Airbnb.

Through his first seven games with the Warriors, he has averaged 14 points and seven rebounds coming off a torn Achilles tendon suffered last year while a member of the New Orleans Pelicans. Plus, he recently had a thunderous dunk over the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma that lit up the internet.

Coming into this season, Cousins knew he had to find a fit that would set him up well in rehabilitation and give him a solid chance at an NBA championship — as the playoffs have eluded him his first nine seasons.

He settled on the Warriors, and in doing so had to move to the Bay Area quickly. Cousins found a spacious home in San Francisco that offered him the amenities he needed to comfortably recover for his return to the court.

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“We needed to get him out there fairly quickly,” said Matt Davis, senior vice president of basketball marketing at Independent Sports & Entertainment. “He was rehabbing at the time and needed a place with a comfortable environment that could accommodate his trainers and chef — and for us, Airbnb was a perfect fit.”

Davis sat down with representatives from Airbnb, headquartered in San Francisco, and forged a partnership with Airbnb for Work. It’s the first partnership with an athlete for Airbnb for Work.

“DeMarcus’ relocation represented a use case we see often — whether you’re a professional sports player or in the corporate world,” an Airbnb Spokesperson wrote in an email. “Moving to a new area is challenging, and finding a place to call home enables everyone to do their best work.”

Cousins is no longer in the home, but it allowed him the time to find the ideal home for his circumstances better than the normal corporate condominiums used for athletes in similar situations, Davis said.

As part of the partnership, Cousins shot a video with production company OBB Pictures, which included his personal chef and security detail for a look into his life off the court in the Airbnb home. Davis said Cousins is drawn to organic partnerships he truly believes in and uses.

“It just made sense, and the timing was great,” Davis said. “Authenticity is key to DeMarcus in what he does.”

The downtime from his injury has led to a number of other opportunities for Cousins, including a documentary set to be released on Showtime this spring about his recovery process. The injury was gruesome and hard on Cousins, Davis said. He teased the documentary, where Cousins apparently mentioned several times he thought retiring might be the better option than the grueling rehabilitation process.

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“We sat down and asked, ‘how do we turn this negative into a positive and use it as motivation too?’” Davis said of the documentary. “You can’t take anything for granted, and this summer was difficult and very eye-opening, looking at his contract and what would be the best for his career.”

Cousins was also announced as the face of Puma Basketball late last year and is involved with Shock Doctor and 2K Sports, in part, because he loves gaming himself.

The Warriors are cruising again, winning six of the seven games Cousins has been back while boasting a 37-15 overall record this season. The playoffs, of course, will ultimately decide the NBA champion, but Cousins has the best opportunity of his career ahead of him. What it all means this offseason and where he plays next year is up in the air, but like every other move he’s made, he’ll think about what’s best for his himself and his career.

“He’s always been focused off the court and on the court,” Davis said. “He loves taking care of it on the court, but he’s a workhorse off it. He won’t get into something unless he actually believes in it, and at the end of the day, he’s into very organic partnerships.”

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Athletes In Business

A Lesson From CrossFit: Failure Is a Key to Success

Camille Leblanc-Bazinet is one of the fittest people in the world and fiercely believes failure is one of the best things for personal growth.




Photo via Camille Leblanc-Bazinet

Camille Leblanc-Bazinet is one of the fittest people in the world and fiercely believes failure is good.

The 2014 CrossFit Games winner said she’s never had a fear of coming in last place as she progressed beyond her first competition.

“I don’t want people to think because some people are good at something it’s because it magically comes to them,” Leblanc-Bazinet said. “It’s people who fail more. You likely won’t succeed at first, and it’s OK.”

Sports are a great way to find oneself as it forces people to fail — a lot. Failure for Leblanc-Bazinet is a catalyst for growth. It’s when hard work and failure coexist that a person can truly find themselves and appreciate their own worth, she said.

Leblanc-Bazinet started CrossFit in 2009 and enjoys the challenges it constantly throws at her.

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“I like that you’re never good enough, and the beauty is the day you think you start being good, they start throwing something that brings you back down.”

Helping people is Leblanc-Bazinet’s main goal in life, as she’s realized healthier people are generally happier and contribute more to society.

Health is more than physical, but also emotional — and Leblanc-Bazinet wants to help everyone get over insecurities. The mission stems from her childhood insecurities about being naturally muscular; it’s those insecurities that make people the most wonderful, she said.

“Everyone has insecurities; they just change as we grow up,” she said. “We have insecurities because we see the world through a different lens and for whatever reason the world makes us think it’s not normal to have insecurities instead of giving people options to find why this insecurity makes you wonderful.”

“I really hope something I can do with my kids is to just celebrate their difference,” she added. “We should, because some people are boring.”

She has an ebook, “Jumpstart to Health,” which provides readers with authentic information on eating healthier and becoming more fit. She also has another book coming out about shoulder rehabilitation, as she recently underwent surgery and struggled to find good information beyond her doctor.

“It’s hard to find things that aren’t all about marketing and real information that isn’t about selling something,” she said. “I’ve been teaching people for eight years and (my husband and I) started getting questions of, ‘Can you help us?’

“So we tell people what we do and what’s worked for us.”

Social media has been an important piece of her messaging, even though four or five years ago, she thought of the channels as invasive. Eventually, she realized it could be a valuable stream of communication with fans and a useful educational tool. Now, Leblanc-Bazinet has more than two million followers across her channels.

“My only plan behind it is to hopefully motivate, inspire and educate people,” she said. “I don’t sit down to plan out posts; it’s just genuine and I hope people know they’re not alone and we’re all trying to get better.”

READ MORE: Going Social: The Foundation and Future of Athlete-Driven Social Media

Despite being constantly busy, she doesn’t plan all that much. On top of all her training and coaching, she also recently graduated with a chemical engineering degree from Sherbrooke University in Quebec. She credits the energy and mental capacity to accomplish all she has to good habits and being healthy. Remember her goal of helping people? Her degree has a specialization in recycling so she can help the planet. 

Constantly staying busy is the best way for her to exert her best effort and remain in incredible health, which, in turn, helps amp up her effort.

“When you’re healthy, your brain feels more ‘on,’” she said. “For me, having school was a good way to not obsess on training, and having training was a good way not to obsess about school. Everything, though, is as hard as I can and as good as you can. Your effort is all that matters.”

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