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Ronnie Zeidel and His Continued Quest for Agency Success

Tyler Endebrock

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A year after founding his agency, Zeidel is poised for a big 2018.

Ronnie Zeidel’s basketball client Reggie Upshaw. Image via Ronnie Zeidel

About a year ago, Ronnie Zeidel sat down with Front Office Sports to talk about his transition into the athlete representation side of basketball with his founding of RZA Sports.

With a resume full of accomplishments that run deep in the basketball space, Zeidel has worked in marketing, collegiate scouting, sponsorship sales, media and more. His unique blend of experience, including working for the Knicks, the NBA, and SLAM Magazine, gave Zeidel a great foundation to take a confident, yet risky leap into the sports agency world.

One year later, Zeidel can already see his new venture is paying off.

“Year one was certainly a handful, but it wasn’t more than I anticipated,” said Zeidel. “I was eager to establish an identity by getting my website and branding created quickly. I also had to study for the NBPA and FIBA agent exams, begin recruiting and networking, develop strong and reliable relationships overseas and solidify my great contacts at the NBA. It was a lot to take on, especially since I don’t cut corners.”

Ronnie Zeidel’s basketball client Reggie Upshaw. Image via Ronnie Zeidel

He must have done something right, as year one saw RZA Sports sign a handful of impressive players to contracts in prestigious European leagues, such as Spain’s ACB and Germany’s BBL. From Tim Kempton and Reggie Upshaw to Marquis Wright, Eric Fanning and others, Zeidel is seeing success with his guys overseas.

He has also had some difficult choices to make in recruiting players. He was hesitant at first to sign Jaylen Morris, a division 2 player, because he knew that reputable European teams were unlikely to take a chance on a D2 kid. But Zeidel really believed in Jaylen, and decided to sign him, knowing he would have to work much harder to help guide this young prospect.

“I took Jaylen out to Vegas to showcase his game, and he played great, but we had no takers in Europe,” explained Zeidel. “I was able to secure five G League workouts, and he was drafted in the 2nd round by the Erie Bayhawks. His stat that makes me the proudest is that he is leading the team in minutes. Now, a D2 kid with no prospects is proving to the industry that he can play at a high level, and he is not even close to his ceiling. I doubt I’ll ever take on another D2 kid, but I guess never say never.”

With year two of RZA Sports off and running, Zeidel can focus more on his current and potential clients rather than the first-year startup hurdles.

“It was a great first year, but now I want to step things up a bit. I often refer to this year as RZA 2.0.” Zeidel explained. To that end, he’s been traveling, recruiting, building relationships and making sure his clients are happily situated with their teams.

“It is not always easy for an American player to acclimate to a new country and new culture,” said Zeidel. “It’s just not for everyone. They need their agent to be a mentor that cares enough to stay the course in order to help them adjust.”

Whether it’s a language barrier or even food barrier (one client lost 17 pounds), Zeidel does everything in his power to make his clients more comfortable without physically being there for them.

He can now look to market his current clients for better opportunities and other options around the world next year. He plans to use the relationships he built in year one and over his 27 years in the business to help navigate the collegiate recruiting landscape for Year 2.0. However, he’s very particular in the way he recruits.

“I’m a big believer that these student-athletes should not have distractions throughout the season, whether that’s from agents or anyone else,” explained Zeidel. “They should be focused on their team, their coaches, and their game. It doesn’t really help anyone if I bug them during the season. It’s just too disruptive and that’s not my style.”

With a better understanding of the representation landscape, and more time to focus on recruiting and building his client base, Zeidel can use his experience to go after NBA caliber talent.

“Obviously, only a select few college kids play in the NBA year one,” Zeidel added. “With Reggie and Tim as my first two building blocks, I hope to help lead them and my future partners to success at the NBA level. There are also many terrific opportunities overseas or at the G League for talented, hungry ball players. I want partners who are committed to making it as a pro in whatever league fits them best.”

If a player is talented but a handful to deal with, that relationship might not be right for Zeidel.

“Some of the kids I recruit are unrealistic about the NBA, so if we’re not on the same page, I will usually step aside and not pursue signing them.”

Zeidel understands the importance of relationships. He cares for his clients deeply, and wants to see them succeed. Zeidel can feel the stress of taking care of his clients.

“The one thing that keeps me up at night is the possibility of any of my guys not having a job,” Zeidel said. “You recruit these guys all year, sign them, and then work with the NBA teams to secure as many pre-draft workouts as possible. You hope they’re drafted but if not, and if they don’t have success in Vegas at Summer League, you market them to Europe.”

“We’re in a good situation with our guys right now, but I do have one incredibly talented player who wasn’t ready for Europe in August due to an injury, and didn’t get drafted by the G League. I am not kidding when I tell you that I lose sleep every night worrying about finding him the right job in Europe. I am hoping to get him settled ASAP.”

Ronnie Zeidel’s basketball client Tim Kempton. Image via Ronnie Zeidel

“As an agent, your job is to put the player in the best position to win and be happy,” added Zeidel. “As a player, their job is to work hard, be a good teammate, and do everything they can to win.”

Zeidel knows there is so much more that happens off the court for both the agent and the player. So, for Zeidel, it is about helping that player navigate his career both on and off the court, and reading and reacting to everything that comes their way.

With two kids of his own, Zeidel sees firsthand how different two people can be from one another. The same thing translates to his clients.

“They are all amazing people but no two are the same. It’s funny, they are truly like extended family.”

Zeidel will make a trip to Europe in January to see his clients and continue to build his relationships.

“The trip will give me a chance to spend time with my guys,” said Zeidel. “I can’t wait to see how they’re acclimating to the country, the league and their coaches.”

RZA 2.0 is accelerating quickly with no sign of stopping. Zeidel can now take more time to put his years of scouting to use by traveling around the country and finding the next best client. As for what Zeidel considers when deciding whether to recruit a player?

“I look for two things when I recruit: talent comes first but work ethic and hunger are next. I recruit ballers, young men that I believe in and guys that are as hungry on the court as I am off it. And they know I grind every day, so they believe in me too.”

Zeidel sums it up as follows: “There is never a dull day in this business and I love every minute of it.”

With an optimistic outlook, a year of representation under his belt, and a budding list of clients, RZA 2.0 should be an even greater success for Zeidel and his clients.


You can find more information about Ronnie Zeidel and RZA Sports on the agency’s website, as well as Twitter (personal and company) Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.


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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Tyler is a contributor with FOS. He recently graduated from the St. Thomas University School of Law, where he received a joint JD/MBA in Sports Administration degree, and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Florida. He has held positions with Select Sports Group, Sure Sports, the University of Florida Athletic Association, Gatorade, and more. Tyler can be reached at tyler.endebrock@gmail.com.

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The Bears Join NFL Team Gym Movement with Bears Fit

The Chicago Bears want their fans to workout like their players. Well, not actually, but at least in a facility that feels the same.

Front Office Sports

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Photo via BearsFit.com

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

The Chicago Bears want their fans to work out like their players. Well, not actually, but at least in a facility that feels the same.

Yesterday, the team opened Bears Fit, a themed gym that allows fans to “train like a Bear,” according to Mick Zawislak of the Daily Herald.

What do you need to know?

1. Memberships start at $54 and climb to $149 a month for a family membership.

2. The new gym is just four miles from Halas Hall, the team’s headquarters and training facility.

3. So far, 40 Bears alumni have signed up as gym members, according to Zawislak.

4. Not only can you train like a player, you can eat like one, too, thanks to a menu of smoothies similar to those offered at Halas Hall.

What’s inside?

Once a Sports Authority before the company filed for bankruptcy, the 45,000-square-foot space has now been turned into a fitness center complete with everything from a 40-yard turf field to a yoga studio, group fitness classes, saunas, steam rooms, tanning beds and an interactive kid club.

It even has a recovery center that sponsored by Advocate Health Care that features two cryotherapy chambers and four hydromassage chairs.

They aren’t the only team getting fit…

The Bears aren’t the only ones hoping that their brand can transfer to the fitness space. In fact, both the Cowboys and 49ers have launched similar gyms with “fit” attached to the name of the team.

The Cowboys were the first team to open a location in 2017 and already added a second one this year. The 49ers followed suit, opening their first location in 2018.

All of the facilities have the same look and feel because they are part of a joint venture between each team and Mark Mastrov, founder and former chairman of 24 Hour Fitness.

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Could The NBA Shorten Its Season? According to Adam Silver, Maybe

The idea was among those floated by Commissioner Adam Silver at the league’s annual end-of-season meeting of its Board of Governors.

Front Office Sports

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Photo Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

Could we see a shorter NBA season sooner rather than later?

That idea and many others were floated by Commissioner Adam Silver at the league’s annual end-of-season meeting of its Board of Governors.

What do you need to know?

1. The league is exploring the idea of trimming games down from 48 minutes to 40 minutes, which would match both college and international rules.

2.  Silver likes the idea of adding in in-season tournaments, something that the NBA 2K League has seen success with.

3. Any changes of this magnitude are likely five-to-six years out, according to Silver.

European soccer presents a shining light…

When it comes to changes, the most radical of all could be implementing in-season tournaments that give teams something to play for during the year beyond just the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Not only would it build more off-time into the schedule, it would also give the league tentpole events to drum up larger and differentiated viewership opportunities, something that is of chief importance to the league.

While the idea of an in-season tournament foreign to U.S. sports fans, Silver pointed to international soccer as a best practice for what the NBA could do.

“I know for most of the American viewers, that’s a very foreign concept because we’re not used to having multiple goals throughout the season. But as I said, it’s very commonplace in international soccer. It would take a while to develop those new traditions because I think initially the reaction may be ‘Who cares who wins the midseason tournament? It’s all about the Larry O’Brien Trophy.’ So we need to take a long-term perspective on these things.” – Adam Silver

What about “load management?”

Is 82 games too many? While nothing is likely to change anytime soon, “load management” has become a talking point across the industry due to the fact that many fans are paying or tuning in to watch the stars play, and they aren’t playing.

“I think a fair point from fans could be if, ultimately, the science suggests that 82 games is too many games for these players, maybe you shouldn’t have an 82-game season,” said Silver. “I accept that, and that’s something we’ll continue to look at.”

In the end, it’s all about the fans…

“I think we always have to step back and remind ourselves that, at the end of the day, this is about the fan, especially as the media landscape is changing and the bundle of pay television is changing, and we may move into a world where we have to win that support of the viewer every night.” – Adam Silver on the potential future changes in regards to the NBA’s schedule

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Rick Welts Talks NBA Business, Distribution and Mental Health

In the second of a two-part conversation, Warriors President and COO Rick Welts discusses the team’s move out of Oracle Arena plus wider league business.

Mike Piellucci

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Photo Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

There are still six months to go before the Golden State Warriors play their first-ever game in Chase Center, its new home in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood. But, according to Warriors President and COO Rick Welts, “everything’s happening all at once” behind the scenes.

From its 29 retail locations to the 200-plus events it’s expected to host each year to, of course, the basketball team, Chase Center is expected to change San Francisco by providing the sort of hybrid sports-entertainment venue the city has never known. And, for the past seven years, it’s been Welts’ job to help spearhead every step of the building’s development.

Welts sat down with Front Office Sports this week to talk about the move, the team and the wider world of the NBA. In the second of this two-part conversation, he discusses the final games at Oracle Arena, the next frontier of growth in the NBA, broadcast rights both domestically and overseas, mental health and more. This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

With these being your last few months in Oracle, how do you as an organization and as a team say farewell to an arena and to a place that means so much to the history of the organization?

Great question, and we have spent the majority of this year focused on exactly that. We think from Day One, I’ve got some credit from our fans, especially our Oakland fans, for having been so transparent about every aspect of the journey the last seven years. There have been no surprises. We’ve done what we’ve said we’re going to do. But this year we themed our season ‘Celebrate 47,’ which represents the 47 years the Warriors have played at Oracle Arena, and we’ve done something every game of the year to try and recognize our history, recognize people, recognize great things that have happened there, great moments that people have experienced. We’re going to continue to do that through the last four home games and on the last regular season game, we have some even more special things planned, which will be surprises for our fans. And then we don’t know really when we’re done, right? Because then the playoffs start and who knows at that point? You won’t know ahead of time when the last game in Oracle has been played. But we really have tried to do everything in our power to honor our history there and to celebrate it.

READ MORE: Rick Welts on the Warriors New Arena and What it Means for the City

Three years ago we introduced our Town jersey, which is the nickname people from Oakland call Oakland. We’ve created the most successful jersey inspired by the Oakland oak tree that we’ve probably ever had, and we’ll be wearing it this year. We’ll be wearing it in the future in San Francisco as just a symbol of the time that we spent in Oakland. A couple of weeks ago, we announced we’re re-purposing our downtown Oakland headquarters. The basketball facility’s going to be dedicated to our camps and clinics programs, so we’ll be able to teach even more kids — thousands more kids a year — how to play the sport of basketball. And our business office complex is being repurposed for our Warriors community foundation. It’s going to house a bunch of the nonprofits that we support through our foundation that is focused on improving the educational outcomes of especially at-risk kids. We’re going to provide office space and office support for a lot of those 501(c)(3)’s that we think have related missions because they’re all being granted funds from the Warriors Community Foundation because they touch some aspect of that improving educational outcomes. I think that is a very big demonstration of what we have been saying, which is we really are going to continue to be as big a part of Oakland as we’ve always been even though we’re playing our games a few miles away in San Francisco.

Branching off that, how do you make sure that message continues to get across to the pure basketball fans who may not be as cognizant or invested in the team’s community initiatives versus simply wanting to see the Warriors play basketball in Oakland and are now no longer able to? How do you make sure you’re engaging those fans and letting them know that, whether it’s San Francisco or Oakland, this is a team for the Bay Area?

Well, just that way. I think we always have been the Bay Area’s team. The history of the Warriors, we started in Philadelphia as the Philadelphia Warriors and we moved to San Francisco as the San Francisco Warriors in 1962. Played there for nine years until we moved to Oakland. We played a year in San Jose when Oracle was being renovated. So we’ve played seasons in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose in our history. We only have one NBA team. There are two baseball teams and we still have two football teams, at least for another season. Loyalties can be split there, but everybody can be a Warriors fan, because we’re the only team representing the Bay Area and we’ll continue to represent the Bay Area in everything we do. Community outreach-wise, where our players focus their charitable attention. We really do view this as a regional team. We’re not changing the name to the San Francisco Warriors. We’re going to remain the Golden State Warriors and that is very much a reflection of how we kind of view our place in the bigger community.

Shifting gears to a broader NBA level, what do you think the next frontier of growth is for the league?

Well, I think we’re seeing a lot of it in the international focus that Adam has picked up and running with that David Stern really initiated throughout his 30-year career. I really believe the international opportunities for the NBA were something that could really distinguish us from the other domestic leagues here. I think Adam’s picked that up. We just announced a league that we’re supporting in Africa. We just announced a media distribution plan for that league. We have done a lot in China, as you know, I think we have something like 300 employees with NBA China who live in China and run the NBA’s business there. The league is doing some worldwide basketball competition especially at the youth level to try and bring together the basketball world to different countries, different continents, to try to do something to develop the great next generation of NBA players. We’re already blessed with a quarter of our players being born outside the United States.

I think the hope is that we’ll continue to develop more countries, more great basketball players, and I would say the real big difference between our model and soccer’s model — the first thing I would say is they are the number one and two sports in the world. Now, we’re not under any delusions about where soccer’s position is in the world. I think Americans, for the most part, don’t really understand how big what the rest of the world calls football is. But the second-most popular sport in the world is basketball. Now there’s a big gap in between, but the good news is there’s no other sports in between. But our model is different, right? If you’re a kid growing up in Buenos Aires, you dream about playing for your club team in Buenos Aires, you dream about maybe someday playing for Argentina in the World Cup. But if you’re a little Manu Ginobili growing up in Buenos Aires, you just have one dream, and that’s to play in the NBA. That’s where all the best players in the world play. It’s just a different structure. And once Manu Ginobili comes and plays for the San Antonio Spurs, needless to say, some of the other products we have like television have a great opportunity in a place where Manu is famous and followed.

We have a great distribution opportunity for our game programming, and as the technologies improve, we’re just around the corner from literally having the ability to deliver any game to any person in the world on a real-time basis. Now how should we organize that is a really great question, but it’s an opportunity the NBA has that very few other sports entities have, and I would argue the only one of the American leagues who has an opportunity of that size as we look forward to the future and how we’re going to build the business, how we’re going to build the game.

What have the early discussions about those broadcast distribution models been like?

We’re there in a majority of countries in the world now. It’s just that the technology is evolving in a way where we can be everywhere, distribute faster, better quality and also have an opportunity to be able to monitor who is watching and giving them an option to potentially pay for that content or go through traditional distribution in countries like we’ve had here in the United States. Every country represents a different set of challenges and a different set of opportunities for game distribution, but the crazy wonderful thing about our business is that we produce a thousand original episodes just by virtue of playing our games every year. There’s very little incremental cost in distributing those broadcasts to a wider audience. We just want to organize it in a way that, over the long run, is most beneficial to the NBA. That’s what all those really smart people working for Adam Silver in the league office spend their days doing and all businesses flowing from that, whether it’s sponsorship, the bigger the presence we create, obviously the bigger opportunity that we have as the NBA to grow as we look out to the future.

With that idea of growing internationally in mind, how are the Warriors staying on the forefront of that?

I would say it’s evolving. We’ve taken the Warriors to China twice in the last five years now. It was a very different experience. The first time we were not a very well-known team and we’re playing somebody called Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. They kind of owned the world in that moment. And then the last trip there, we were that team, which was quite a juxtaposition from where we’ve been before. Historically, we’ve really asked the league itself to organize our international activities, and the teams have been focused more on their local markets. That’s really under discussion right now on how that model’s going to evolve over time in terms of team content production and distribution and how that fits in best and how to get the most dynamic and successful programming collectively out of the NBA and its teams. I think that’s a subject of a lot of discussion internally right now.

We didn’t even talk about domestic television. The NBA has a little bit of a different situation than the other leagues in that the league entered into very long-term deals with Turner and with Disney for ABC, ESPN and TNT. With the Time Warner-AT&T merger, the landscape is obviously changing period. The number of homes subscribing to ESPN or any other traditional distribution is declining. We have to figure out over time how are we going to best deliver our game broadcast to consumers? That’s a lot of technological advance that’s going to be considered in doing that. But the deal Adam made gives us six more seasons after this season with guaranteed increasing revenues from our national television packages, which is a gigantic luxury because the world is going to look impossibly different six years from now in how we’re all receiving the games we watch. So we have a wonderful opportunity to watch others try and see other technologies develop and see a lot of people try to test different models. We’re going to learn a lot before the league is in a position to be negotiating our new television agreements, whatever they are. We certainly expect they’re going to look much different than they do today. But from a revenue standpoint, from a business standpoint, obviously that’s an incredibly important part of the puzzle.

For you as a team president, you don’t want to just be reactive but you are at the mercy of working with a larger partner and within larger strategies of what the league wants to do. So how do you prepare and how do you strategize, and what is the line of what you can do versus overstepping bounds?

Well, we have a lot of rules (laughs). It’s kind of funny, people look at us as competitors, but on the business side we’re really a pretty regulated industry. So we all agree on how best to attack the marketplace to produce the best offerings and produce them at the right price. I think the NBA, I would argue, is much more collaborative as a 30-team organization in the league then the other leagues are. We have a whole department called “team marketing and business operations” that’s 30-some wicked smart people, most of whom have got some Ivy League MBA degree on their resume who do nothing but collect business information and analyze it, distribute it back to the teams in a way that’s helpful and sharing best practices and really seeing where our own individual team opportunities are as we’re able to see what that part of the business is doing for 29 other teams.

I think people are always surprised at how much transparency amongst NBA teams in terms of sharing business data, because we certainly operate very differently on the basketball side of our business. We try to not share a lot. We try to seek advantages wherever we can. But on the business side, we think the philosophy is that we’re all going to be better if we all do better. We need to be helping each other solve problems that we all are facing and take creative solutions that work in one market and apply that to a different market. That’s just the business culture with the NBA. That’s taken 40 years to develop and I think it has served the NBA well and continues to serve the NBA well going forward. It’s just different, again, than what the other leagues have in terms of their league-team business culture. We’re, I think, the beneficiaries of that.

READ MORE: Future of Basketball Trending Toward More Beautiful, Global Game

Adam Silver’s comments at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference regarding mental health drew a lot of attention. To what level of urgency is mental health being treated throughout the league and what’s the responsibility of organizations to players for support in that arena?

I think Kevin Love will be remembered as somebody who was a pioneer in this area. I think reading his story and reading his view of what it’s like to be an NBA player, the pressures that you’re under and the kind of positive and negative pressures that are put on you to act in a particular way, I think was a real eye-opener for a lot of people. Both the league and the union have jumped on this I think in a very big way to say it’s something we probably haven’t adequately addressed, historically, and that we need to pay a lot of attention to, and we as a league and as a union and as teams owe it to our employees — all of our employees — to, where there is a problem, try and offer assistance, and I think that that’s what’s going on right now probably across all leagues but certainly going in the NBA. It’s actually pretty startling and pretty wonderful to see so much focus on something that I think over time has not received the kind of focus it probably deserved.

Finally, what’s the biggest area of importance within the league that the average consumer doesn’t understand the significance of and how do you bridge that gap?

I think most of it would be sausage-making but it’s really important sausage-making. I think all leagues struggle with how to distribute the revenues they generate, right? When you talk about revenue sharing, it’s like a third rail for all leagues. Trying to figure out what the right way to make teams remain incentivized to be incredibly creative, to invest more money in their business and feel like that could be rewarded if they’re successful in doing that. I think it’s the hardest thing all leagues try to figure out is how to take all the revenues generated by teams and leagues and how to distribute them in a way that creates the right incentives for teams, creates the right competitive environment, which ultimately creates the best product for our fans.

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