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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.

Business

One of Next Year’s Biggest NFL Free Agents May Not Be a Player

David Mulugheta is only 35, but has negotiated in excess of $500 million in contracts.

Scot Chartrand

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David Mulugheta with clients – (l to r) Deshaun Watson, Landon Collins, Quinten Rollins, Quandre Diggs, agent David Mulugheta, and Bobby Wagner (Photo via David Mulugheta)

David Mulugheta (@davidmulugheta) is only 35 years old, but he’s already earned his way atop the NFL agent business.

In eight short years representing players, he has already developed a roster of 30 of the league’s most exciting stars, including All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, three-time All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner, All-Pro cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and Casey Hayward, All-Pro guard Kelechi Osemele, All-Pro safety Landon Collins, Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Thomas and second-year star quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Collectively, Mulugheta has negotiated in excess of $500 million in contracts, with roughly half his roster poised to sign massive second deals in the coming years.

Mulugheta has spent his entire career as a member of industry powerhouse Athletes First (A1) and confirmed that he is engaged in negotiations with Athletes First to potentially become an equity partner as opposed to experiencing his own free agency for the first time in his career.

The Path to Becoming an Agent

Mulugheta’s path to success has been anything but conventional.

As the son of Eritrean immigrants who fled a war-torn country in search of a better life, Mulugheta learned through his parents’ struggle and sacrifice that hard work and dedication were the keys to success.

Neither of his parents spoke English when they arrived in the states and were forced to take jobs that required them to work incredibly long hours for very little pay in return.

Mulugheta’s father worked as a taxi driver by day and as a gas station attendant by night, while his mother cleaned homes and took care of the children.

Given that both parents worked full-time and were unable to afford childcare, Mulugheta’s father occasionally had his sons ride along in his cab, making for a unique babysitting arrangement.

And while his parents were proud of the opportunities they were able to provide their family, they wanted more for Mulugheta and his siblings, so they prioritized the importance of education above all else. They saw it as the key to the American Dream.

To illustrate his parents’ focus on academic achievement, Mulugheta recalled a time his eighth-grade teacher paid his parents a visit at the family’s home in Dallas.

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His father was asleep, during a rare break from work, and woke up to Mulugheta’s teacher sitting in the family’s living room. The teacher had made an in-person trip to inform Mulugheta’s parents that he had been disrupting the class.

“So, what’s his grade in the class?” his father asked bluntly. “A ninety-nine,” the teacher responded.

Mulugheta’s father, impressed with his son’s accomplishment and not concerned with nonsense, casually turned around and left to go back to sleep.

He cared that his son got the job done. He wasn’t preoccupied with the style points.

Along with Mulugheta, each of his siblings met the high academic expectations set by their household and received the education that their parents had always envisioned.

His older and younger brothers earned an MBA and J.D., respectively, each from Southern Methodist University (SMU); while his sister attended Harvard University, which led to a unique opportunity.

In the midst of her undergraduate studies, Mulugheta’s sister took a year and a half leave of absence to work for President Barack Obama’s administration at the White House. As both her service and the Obama presidency concluded, the family was invited to take a photo with the 44th President.

David Mulugheta and family with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office (Photo via David Mulugheta)

From a small village in Africa, to an invitation to meet the President of the United States in the Oval Office, Mulugheta’s parents personified the American Dream. As a constant reminder of how far they’ve come, the picture of the family standing shoulder-to-shoulder with President Obama sits on Mulugheta’s desk.

Similar to his sister, Mulugheta’s time in college led him down a unique path. At the University of Texas at Austin, Mulugheta developed friendships with, and earned the respect of, a number of football players, including running back Jamaal Charles, who was preparing to enter the NFL at the time. Having just applied to law school at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Mulugheta planned to study corporate law, however, during a trip to visit Charles in California in advance of the NFL Draft, Mulugheta met agent Andrew Kessler and everything changed.

Kessler, who was one of Charles’ agents at Athletes First (A1), asked if Mulugheta would be interested in an internship at the agency. Instantly attracted to the opportunity to not only represent athletes like his friend Charles and help them maximize their potential but also to work in an industry that he loved, Mulugheta began to imagine a new career path upon graduating from law school.

Mulugheta with Earl Thomas (left) and Jamaal Charles (right) (Photo via David Mulugheta)

Hitting the Ground Running

Mulugheta began his career by signing future hall of famer, Earl Thomas. With over 800 certified agents competing to represent the best talent entering the NFL, Mulugheta’s ability to sign Thomas, immediately made him a viable player in the industry. Eight years later, Thomas is a six-time Pro Bowl selection and Super Bowl champion who has earned in excess of $50 million on the field.

Following Thomas in 2012, Mulugheta continued to sign big names, including current Raiders All-Pro guard Kelechi Osemele and former Giants linebacker Keenan Robinson.

Once Mulugheta’s breakout draft class of 2013 was announced, NFL insiders and key industry stakeholders began to take notice.

After landing first-round safety Kenny Vaccaro as a client, he also signed additional draft picks Marquise Goodwin, Alex Okafor, and Brandon Jenkins.

Mulugheta believes that Earl Thomas’s success on the field and his status as a former Longhorn was one of the keys to recruiting other Texas Exes (Vaccaro, Goodwin, and Okafor all attended UT).

Mulugheta’s success continued, as he secured first rounder Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama in 2014, followed by first-round pick Malcom Brown (DT) and fellow Texas alumni Quandre Diggs, and Malcolm Brown (RB) signed on two years later in a class along with second-round safety Landon Collins and cornerback Quinten Rollins of Miami University (Ohio).

Mulugheta with Jalen Ramsey (right) and Corey Coleman (middle) (Photo via David Mulugheta)

First round picks continued to come Mulugheta’s way — Jalen Ramsey and Corey Coleman joined Mulugheta’s roster in 2016. Deshaun Watson, Malik Hooker, Charles Harris, Budda Baker and Montravius Adams headlined an impressive 2017 NFL Draft class.

Add in several star veteran signees, and his current client list becomes unprecedentedly stacked for such a young agent.

Most recently, Mulugheta landed projected 2018 first round pick, Florida State safety Derwin James. Coupled with the fact that he and his wife welcomed their third child, 2018 is shaping up to be another good year for the Mulugheta family.

All told, Mulugheta’s roster includes:

  • 9 total 1st Round draft picks
  • 7 total 2nd Round draft picks
  • 25 combined Pro Bowl appearances
  • 3 Super Bowl championships

Mulugheta’s 2017 Draft Class – (l to r) Charles Harris, Budda Baker, Deshaun Watson, agent David Mulugheta, Montravius Adams, and Malik Hooker (Photo via David Mulugheta)

The 2017 season was particularly successful for Mulugheta’s clients. A whopping nine of them were selected to the Pro Bowl in Orlando, and a tenth (Deshaun Watson) almost certainly would have joined them if not for a season-ending knee injury.

“Because of what my parents had accomplished, I grew up knowing the only limits that exist are the ones we set,” Mulugheta noted looking back on the unprecedented success from 2017.

Only in his mid-30s, it’s incredible what he’s been able to achieve in a business where the vast majority of elite agents have 20+ years of experience under their belts.

Mulugheta with Deshaun Watson (Photo via David Mulugheta)

Keys to Success as a Rising, Young Agent

How has Mulugheta been able to gain such significant success? He attributes it to his commitment to building and maintaining genuine relationships.

Handling 30 clients while attempting to create a 1:1, relationship-based experience for each individual is no small task in his business.

In order to preserve the level of personal attention and connection with his players, Mulugheta has been thoughtful about how to effectively grow his clientele.

“You have to be tactful and critical. You want good players, but more importantly, you want good people,” Mulugheta said.

Since Mulugheta prides himself on his hands-on approach to representation, maintaining a selective client list is pivotal.

“Small, but powerful,” Mulugheta pointed out. “The important thing is that you work with quality players that share your values and inspire you. It makes taking those 2 am or 3 am calls a lot easier.”

To Mulugheta, his players are more than just clients, they are family. He treats them as younger brothers and believes that it’s his responsibility to ensure they reach their full potential, both on and off the football field. Not satisfied with only being the man who helped his clients get good contracts, Mulugheta strives for deeper, lifelong connections with them. He serves as a godfather to some of his clients’ children and acted as best man at a number of their weddings.

This approach has fostered a number of strong bonds, not only between Mulugheta and his clients but also among his clients themselves.

Mulugheta with Jalen Ramsey (left) and Derwin James (right) (Photo via David Mulugheta)

For instance, leading up to this April’s NFL Draft, Mulugheta’s newest client, Florida State safety Derwin James, has been training out west in Orange County, California.

Fellow Athletes First safeties Earl Thomas and Landon Collins both flew out to Southern California to work with James at Mulugheta’s request.

“We are a small family, and we look out for each other,” Mulugheta said.You have guys who are interested in mentoring others. That’s a big plus, to have guys who really want to be successful, and at the same time willing to help one another. Men who truly personify the proverb, iron sharpens iron.”

Mulugheta believes his family-oriented style has created an environment where players have high expectations for success and hold each other accountable, not wanting to let the other members of their family down.

A cursory look at Mulugheta’s Instagram feed (@davidmulugheta) shows you how much he values these relationships. You’ll see picture after picture of Mulugheta spending time with his clients on and off the field.

Mulugheta with Kenny Vaccaro (left) and Rafael Bush (right) (Photo via David Mulugheta)

Mulugheta remembered one unique example where Kenny Vaccaro advised him to pursue a college senior as a client, based on Vaccaro’s film study. Mulugheta noted, “My guys want me to succeed just as much as I want them to.”

Mulugheta’s colleagues at Athletes First have also witnessed Mulugheta’s interest in maintaining genuine relationships.

Brian Murphy, the [President] of Athletes First, described Mulugheta as, “the same person, no matter who he is around. His clients – and our A1 family – know exactly what who David is – a passionate advocate who makes all of our lives better professionally and personally and who does so with absolute conviction.”

In response to the compliment, Mulugheta noted, “All praise is short-lived. And although it is humbling when good work is noticed, next year someone else could take your spot. Like many of my clients, where I came from, you had to fight for success— it was never guaranteed.”

Mulugheta’s clientele and their performance speak the loudest in endorsing his work, but the difference he has made for them in their careers on and off the field goes beyond that.

Mulugheta with Earl Thomas at the 2018 Pro Bowl (Photo via David Mulugheta)

For Seahawk Earl Thomas (@earl) the Longhorn bond is strong as well as the bond he has with the entire family of fellow clients.

“The most important thing to me when I was deciding on agents was working with someone that I could put my total trust in. To be successful in the business of football, you have to put your all into the game, and I wanted to make sure whoever I chose as an agent was doing the same thing for me off the field. David has done that and more for me, and I couldn’t have made a better decision. You always hear the saying that someone is like family, well David is family.”

Mulugheta with Kevin Byard at the 2018 Pro Bowl (Photo via David Mulugheta)

Titans All-Pro safety Kevin Byard (@kb31_savage) entered the league with the Tennessee Titans in 2016 but only signed on with Mulugheta this past season.

He requested a meeting with Mulugheta, made the switch, and hasn’t looked back since. For him, the difference in representation made his life easier on the field by eliminating worries off the field. This past season, his career reached a peak after being named to his first Pro Bowl as well as being recognized as first-team All-Pro.

“I made the switch at first because I knew that David had some of the top DB’s in the league, and I wanted to be a part of that brotherhood. A year later, I continue to see that he fights for his guys to get everything they deserve and more. What’s more impressive, David really develops friendships with all his clients that will last a lot longer than our football careers will.”

However, Mulugheta’s successful track record has also been met with a fair share of obstacles.

Throughout the years, Mulugheta has had to overcome challenges on the recruiting trail based on his age and ethnicity. Like many industries, the sports agent business has been historically overrepresented by middle-aged white men. During recruiting meetings, Mulugheta has had to deal with parents looking to see if “the real agent” would be joining the meeting. Or while backstage at NFL drafts and other special events, Mulugheta has often been mistaken for a player’s family member. His youth, complexion, and background are a rarity in the industry, yet have also served as an asset, helping him connect with his clients.

Mulugheta understands the racial biases that come along with the job. An attorney by trade, he operates in statistically one of the least diverse fields in America. Mulugheta appreciates his responsibility in helping other young, black men to succeed, stating, “I refuse to change my behavior or hide my identity for anyone. I just hope that my path can inspire other young, black men to stay true to themselves, work hard and pursue their dreams, even if those dreams don’t occur on a field or court.”

In the relatively short time, Mulugheta has been a certified contract advisor, he has been a part of negotiating some of the NFL’s largest contracts. On three separate occasions, Mulugheta’s clients have become the highest paid player in the history of the NFL at their respective positions.

  • Earl Thomas signed a contract making him the highest paid safety in NFL history as a 4-year extension in 2014 with the Seahawks for $40 million with more than $25 million guaranteed.
  • Bobby Wagner inked a contract making him the highest paid middle linebacker in NFL history in 2015 as a free agent with the Seahawks for $43 million over four years.
  • Kelechi Osemele signed a contract making him the highest paid guard in NFL history, back in 2016. The 5-year deal with the Raiders is worth up to $60 million.

Results like those can grab attention and change stereotypes in a hurry.

Mulugheta with Bobby Wagner (Photo via David Mulugheta)

What’s Next

The 2018 season will mark Mulugheta’s final year on his contract at Athletes First. While the odds are he stays put at A1, he is sure to have a number of agencies trying to poach him, offering long-term deals akin to those received by his clients. This year, the recruiter becomes the recruited.

“A1 is a great company,” Mulugheta commented. “They have given me every tool to be successful. Ownership allowed me to flourish and didn’t keep their thumb on me.”

One principle Mulugheta will certainly continue to implement is his hands-on approach with his clients. From booking flights to organizing offseason camps to assisting with family vacations, and helping with special moments, Mulugheta will continue to remain a staple in the lives of his clients.

In an effort to give back to the community they call home, Mulugheta and his wife founded the Fair Catch Foundation.

The organization is planning its second annual bowling event this summer to help underserved populations in the greater Austin community. Last year, they partnered with a number of Mulugheta’s clients and former Longhorn players to host the inaugural event.

The goals for the foundation include creating “generational change” by investing in vulnerable families. Having come from the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, Mulugheta understands how helping an individual gain an education and employment can change the trajectory of that family and their community.

Mulugheta’s work stands out at every level, including through his authentic commitment to his clients.

His journey has been anything but traditional.

The unique aspects of his upbringing, his genuine nature and deep connection with his clients, and his interest in being more than just an agent have redefined his role and should serve as a model for the next generation of sports agents.

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How the Upcoming Midterm Elections Could Affect the Sports Industry

The sports industry may be affected by various candidates and ballot measures ahead of November’s midterm elections.

Blake Yagman

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In a democracy, few acts are as consequential and important than the act of voting.

While it may be easy to choose not to take 15-20 minutes to cast your ballot, the decision not to vote becomes more difficult when you reflect upon the last hundred years of voting rights in the United States. The right to vote and the accessibility of voting has improved substantially but not enough; from gerrymandering to voter ID laws, minorities and different protected classes of people still struggle against institutional methods of voter suppression borne out of the days of reconstruction and Jim Crow.

There has never been a more important time to exercise your right to vote; so, when you exercise your right to cast a ballot in November (after first checking to make sure that you are, in fact, registered to vote on Vote.Org), educate yourself and keep an eye out for the issues and candidates that are important to you.

SEE MORE: Former NFL Player’s New Political App Aims to Instill Change

Seeing that, by virtue of reading this article, you are a sports fan, it would be pertinent to know how the sports industry may be affected by various candidates and ballot measures ahead of November’s critical midterm election.

Alex Howard, who runs political campaigns across the country for people aspiring to serve, elaborated on why candidates with sports backgrounds and sports-related referenda are so popular ahead of this year’s midterm elections:

“Historically, sports have always played a role in the fabric of American culture; more so now with the dialogue about sports and social justice issues which even the President of the United States inserted himself into. Candidates with professional sports experience —like Colin Allred and J.D. Scholten — prove that there is so much more to an athlete than just the sport they play.”

SEE MORE: Cardinals Lead the Charge In the Future of NFL Coverage

“The American political system was designed to be run by normal citizens; and there is nothing more representative of the citizens of the United States than those who represent the sports industry: a key component of the American economy and a reservoir of inspiration for Americans seeking to overcome adversity.”

When it comes to sports at the ballot, Front Office Sports has you covered:

CANDIDATES

Colin Allred is an impressive candidate running for the United States House of Representatives in Texas’ 32nd Congressional District. Allred is a former Tennessee Titans linebacker who left his career in football to attend law school and become a Civil Rights attorney. In addition to his accomplishments as a football player and as an attorney, Allred worked in the White House under former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro.

J.D. Scholten is a former minor league baseball player running for the United States House of Representatives in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District. Scholten, who was endorsed by former Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ Political Action Committee Our Revolution, is a fifth-generation Iowan. The 6-foot-6 Scholten touts his desire to “stand tall” for the people of his district.

REFERENDA

MIAMI: The Miami Referendum regarding the approval of the MLS/Melreese-site stadium is a complex and controversial one. Read here for more information.

FLORIDA: In Florida, a Referendum regarding Dog Racing would allow voters to ban gambling on dog races in the state of Florida. This referendum is one that is long overdue as gambling on dog racing is banned in 44 states.

Dog racing is extremely deleterious to a dogs health and owners of racing dogs frequently force them to compete with injuries; according to the ASPCA, “Injuries common to [racing dogs] forced to race include severed toes, broken legs, spinal cord paralysis, broken necks and cardiac arrest.

Also, Florida’s ballot will feature an anti-casino gambling measure; it is an amendment that expressly bans casino gambling and would need to be undone by either a successful lawsuit/Constitutional challenge or through a subsequent ballot measure. “The “Voter Control of Gambling Amendment,” largely bankrolled by a Disney company and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, would require voter approval for any form of casino gambling, an issue now largely controlled by the state Legislature.

SAN DIEGO: The San Diego referendums regarding the approval of proposed stadiums is a complicated one; San Diego apparently has two competing ballot measures which both propose sports stadiums on the same exact plot of land.

San Diego’s city attorney filed emergency petitions to stop both from appearing on the ballot in August but ultimately failed. The panel of judges who ruled on the emergency petitions stated: “We decline to eliminate the right of the public to express its views on the competing initiatives.” For clarity on these measures, read here.

SPOKANE: In Washington state, the citizens of Spokane will get the opportunity to voice their support or opposition to a proposed high school stadium constructed on behalf of Spokane Public Schools.

This ballot measure, however, is not binding on the school district; it is merely advisory. The city council voted to oppose this measure before sending it to the ballot for the advice of its’ citizens.

MARYLAND: Citizens of the beautiful state of Maryland will get the chance to vote this November on whether their state should adopt sports gambling.

After the Supreme Court struck down PASPA for being violative of the 11th Amendment, states became free to choose how they would proceed with sports gambling within their borders. If Maryland chooses to legalize sports gambling, it will become the sixth state to implement full-scale legalized sports betting.

So, how will the sports business industry be affected by midterm elections? We’ll find out. Stay tuned as we’ll be updating this voting guide through the coming weeks.

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How Good Sports Is Working With Partners to Make Youth Sports More Accessible

Through partnerships with companies like Keurig Dr. Pepper and Empower Retirement, Good Sports is working to lower the cost barrier for youth sports.

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Good Sports-Youth Sports

As families around the country prepare to send their kids back to school, many start thinking ahead to the fall sports season. What used to involve signing kids up for after-school sports and gym class is no longer that simple, and many children are inhibited by from participating in athletics due to rising costs.

Earlier this year, Hope Solo raised concerns about the expenses involved in youth soccer, arguing that rising costs hindered the sport’s accessibility to every athlete. This problem is not limited to soccer, it extends across youth sports, transforming what was once a pivotal part of childhood development into something that is accessible only to the privileged.

When lifelong athlete Melissa Harper reflects back on her days playing youth sports, the only question was whether or not you wanted to participate; cost had nothing to do with it. Today, unfortunately, that is no longer the case.

This led her and Christy Keswick to found Good Sports, a nonprofit designed to connect Fortune 500 companies and the sports industry directly to underserved communities in an effort to save youth sports.

“[Youth sports] has become a pay-to-play industry,” explained Harper, now the CEO of the organization. “So there are very few programs at any level that you can sign the child up for without some sort of participation fee.”

On top of that, kids are often expected to show up with their own gear – another added cost for families. So while a participation fee may cover things like insurance and coaches and uniforms, it may not cover bats or gloves in baseball. Both the participation and equipment fees can add up, especially in some of the more expensive sports, barring entry for many youth athletes.

“Cost is a huge factor in whether or not kids can participate in sports and all of us who were involved in founding Good Sports have gained great things from sports and feel like that’s something that should be available to all children, not just those who have the benefit of being raised in a more athletic environment,” explained Harper.

Aside from physical benefits, youth sports have proven long-term emotional, physical and intellectual benefits as well that many kids are being robbed of due to inaccessibility.

To combat the issue, Good Sports established a number of partnerships with both sporting goods and corporate companies. Working with some of the leading sporting goods companies, Good Sports has created a way to deal with excess products that many of these organizations produce.

Working directly with 37 of the top sporting goods companies, Good Sports has found a way to facilitate the distribution of the excess product that they aren’t planning to sell.

“If there is excess apparel, footwear, access inflatables or hard goods in an equipment company’s warehouse, we can get that into the hands of kids who need it most,” explained Harper.

Companies like Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour rely on Good Sports to help manage the overflow of inventory. With so many organizations in need, ranging from public schools to parks and recreation programs, Good Sports can help prioritize the neediest organizations and manage the distribution in the most efficient and beneficial way possible.

Additionally, Good Sports supports many of these companies in their proactive philanthropic efforts, assisting in the execution of employee engagement programs and planned large-scale equipment donations.

“It’s both the proactive part of [the sporting goods companies’] community engagement programs as well as an operational solution for basic ebbs and flows of inventory.”

While distributing the excess of product helps many youth sports programs, it doesn’t meet every program’s need exactly. Given that Good Sports supports athletic programs from kids ranging from age three to 18, there is a large breadth of equipment needed to meet specific age group and sports’ need. With that, an excess in product doesn’t usually match perfectly with what a specific community needs. There may, for example, be an excess of soccer balls, but a community needs baseball gloves. When a gap like that occurs, corporate partners come into play.

Good Sports’ corporate partners include organizations like Keurig Dr. Pepper (Formerly Dr. Pepper Snapple Group), Empower Retirement, ESPN, and Target.

“We use their dollars to essentially fill the gaps and source equipment that will meet the needs that we don’t currently have an inventory for,” explained Harper.

While the portfolio of partners is diverse, all share a common value of encouraging active play for youth.

Keurig Dr. Pepper, for example, originally partnered with Good Sports through a pilot program started in 2009.

“We teamed up because we really have the same goal to give more kids across the country a chance to get out and play,” explained Shawna Jackson, a philanthropy analyst at Keurig Dr. Pepper. “We know kids want to get involved in organized sports, whether it be schools or their communities, but sometimes there’s an issue of lack of budget and it can be cost prohibitive.”

Later, in 2014, the company launched its Let’s Play initiative, with the goal of helping kids and families make active play a daily priority. It leveraged its partnership with Good Sports to execute the initiative, so far investing nearly $7 million into the non-profit as a part of Let’s Play.

Empower Retirement is another organization that values health and wellness and partners with Good Sports to see its corporate social responsibility plan through. Years ago, as the company built out its plan, it immediately identified youth as an area it wanted to serve due to a very active and passionate employee base. Originally working with the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs’ foundation to get involved in youth sports, Empower Retirement was introduced to Good Sports as it looked to deepen its commitment in the area.

Philanthropy is a core component of Empower Retirement’s culture. Each employee receives 16 hours of paid volunteer time per year and has the freedom to nominate organizations that are near to their hearts, like the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club, to receive the equipment that Good Sports allocates through the company’s funding.

The company’s partnerships with professional sports teams, in addition to Good Sports, help provide more ways for their employees to get involved in giving back. Tapping into the relationships with teams, Empower Retirement looked to make the employee volunteer experience even more hands-on and exciting, using stadiums and bringing in alumni players for equipment packing events.

“It has been such an incredible opportunity for our employees and these agencies and the teams too because we’re able to all bring them together in a really unique meaningful way,” explained Christina Frantz, the AVP, corporate social responsibility, talent acquisition, diversity and inclusion at Empower Retirement.

To date, the company has had about 110 employees participate in the volunteer program and sent more than 13,665 pieces of sporting equipment to more than 114,000 children.

For corporate partners, such as Keurig Dr. Pepper and Empower Retirement, whose core businesses objectives are often unrelated to sports, Good Sports helps ease the burden of their CSR teams in supporting philanthropic endeavors. Before the organizations, there was a financial and administrative hassle for many corporations, particularly smaller ones, to accomplish their philanthropic goals.

“[Good Sports] is a really strong community partner with a ton of relationships across the United States and they are efficient and effective,” explained Frantz.

“They also just do a really good job of maximizing our impact and both the financial and human capital that we invest in. We can really make an investment in them and then they can grow that investment in the community because of their relationships. For me to go out and find those partners would be less efficient than partnering with Good Sports. Then having them translate that relationship, that’s really a big win.”

Good Sports emphasizes the importance of mutually beneficial relationships when working with all of their partners, because, at the end of the day, all have the end goal of making improving access to youth sports.

“Our approach to partners, whether they’re equipment or financial partners is to basically take the core of what we do, which is giving kids in need equipment to have access to play and layer on what those partners are trying to accomplish,” said Harper.

The model Harper and Keswick have created has been successful and the work they are doing is making a difference.

Since 2003, Good Sports has donated over $26 million in new sports equipment, footwear, and apparel to nearly five million children in all 50 states. After donations, the organization consistently sees an average of 55-65 more minutes of play each week per kid.

Youth sports programs that have received support from Good Sports have proven the impact of the organization’s donations. Over the last five years, 89 percent noted an enhanced overall experience which helped retain youth in the program, 62 percent of donations enabled organizations to expand their existing programming and 60 percent reported they were able to decrease program costs for youth and their families. Almost half of the organizations that received a donation from Good Sports were able to add an additional team or age group, thus boosting the opportunity for more kids to play.

While the organization is working hard to change the real challenge that athletics brings to families nowadays, Harper believes the thinking around youth sports needs to change.

“It’s important for people to realize that this isn’t a nice to have. Moving every day is core to what children should have access to at all levels in all communities, not just for those who can afford it. Play should be a right, not a privilege,” she explained.

As a new school year approaches and youth sports become top of mind again, Harper and Good Sports will continue to tackle the barrier that keeps kids from getting in the game.

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