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Athletes In Business

Sports’ Silicon Valley Insider

Rudy Cline-Thomas is one of the people helping professional athletes navigate the waters of investing both inside and outside of Silicon Valley. Know mostly for his work with Andre Iguodala, he takes us inside how athletes are approaching their investments.

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Athletes In Business

Detroit Lions Linebacker Devon Kennard Is Thinking Beyond His Playing Career

Devon Kennard knows football won’t last forever, so he’s thinking ahead, using his elevated platform for business and philanthropy.

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Devon Kennard knows football won’t last forever, so he’s thinking ahead.

As a fifth-year veteran in the NFL, Kennard’s philanthropic efforts go back to his college days at USC. Included in those endeavors as a student-athlete was a trip to Haiti following the earthquake, where he and several teammates built five homes.

“I’ve always had a passion for giving back and figuring out what things I need to give back,” Kennard said. “I recognize the platform and unique perspective I have being a professional athlete. I have a perspective kids need to hear because I recognize the importance of having an education and dreams outside of sports.”

Now in his first season with the Detroit Lions, the linebacker extends his work to the Motor City.

Kennard is heavily involved in the local nonprofit Midnight Golf Program. He’s a supporter of the program because he’s a fan of golf as a business tool, but also the program’s mentorship components.

“It’s teaching them how to choose not just where you want to go to college, but which one they can afford and understanding that stuff,” he said. “If I wouldn’t have been on a full scholarship, I really could have used all of this information and guidance.”

Recently, he also started the Reading With DK Challenge, a virtual book club. In the group, he asks his social media followers to read a specific book. Eventually, he’ll ask questions and engage in discussions.

“It’s really to encourage them to read,” he said. “We live in a society where people are stuck on social media, video games and TV. Getting back to books, which is a passion of mine, is something I’ve really tried to do.”

Likewise, during Thanksgiving, he matched with a family from the Midnight Golf Program and provided them a whole Thanksgiving meal and three months of meals into the New Year. They also received tickets to their first Lions game.

READ MORE: Former NFL Star’s Players Philanthropy Fund Is Bigger Than Sports

Kennard is just one example of the growing trend of players working off the field, beyond team-suggested involvement, said Maxx Lepselter, the president of Maxx Branding and Management and Kennard’s off-the-field management. Overall, he specializes in marketing, brand management and endorsements.

“A lot of guys would rather separate things and let agents do what they do best, maximize earnings on the field, then have someone like myself build a brand around each athlete while also diversifying their portfolio across a multitude of fronts,” Lepselter said. “Then there’s someone like myself; that’s where guys are able to elevate their brands.”

Kennard said he has to keep football the main focus during the season, which is when he values having a professional like Lepselter in his corner. Still, he knows the focus can’t solely be on football as there’s a long life after his career.

“You make time for things that matter, and off the field, giving back and making an impact is important to me,” he said. “I don’t take this platform for granted. But to take advantage of it, it takes discipline and time management. And the help around you is essential.”

Along with football and his philanthropic endeavors, Kennard also thinks about money beyond football. He already has a real estate company and invests in a portfolio of properties. Kennard wants to avoid a pitfall he believes many former players struggle with: a passion for anything beyond football — and, even worse, financial issues.

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

“I consider myself a businessman,” he said. “I have a strong interest in business, and after football, I’ll expand that and my philanthropic efforts. I encourage my peers to find other things they’re interested in. Even if they’re not actively involved, just to start to explore and network.

“People will be more willing to talk to an NFL player than an ex-NFL player. They need to think about the doors that might open.”

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Athletes In Business

BDA Sports Management Thrives with Unique Activations for Clients

With a major client roster, BDA Sports Management prides itself on providing holistic services to further players’ careers both on and off the court.

Bailey Knecht

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Photo by Spotify

There is more to modern-day sports figures than just their impressive athletic performances.

Athletes are dedicated to their personal brand more than ever before, and earning that off-the-court recognition has become just as essential as the on-court product.

That’s why sports agencies like BDA Sports Management have become indispensable for athletes.

“We focus on strategic partnerships that will amplify a client’s visibility while developing organic brand recognition,” said Shauna Smith, vice president and chief strategy officer at BDA. “With the steady influx and growth of personalities in our industry, staying relevant and interesting is imperative for lasting success in the marketplace.”

BDA is a full-service basketball agency with U.S. and international branches that represent clients in their on-court endeavors, as well as marketing, public relations, community relations, and brand development.

As a firm, BDA strives to know its clients inside and out — their interests, stories that make them unique, and the personal image they want to portray. With that knowledge, BDA works with various organizations to secure activations and partnerships for its clients.

READ MORE: Inside the Life of Allison Galer, One of the WNBA’s Most Prominent Agents 

Many ideas for those activations arise organically. For example, BDA client and Phoenix Sun Deandre Ayton loves music, especially Caribbean beats that remind him of his Bahamian roots, so the BDA team was inspired to pursue a partnership with Spotify. It recently secured an opportunity for Ayton to become the first individual athlete to curate his own #GameDay playlist on the music streaming service.

“Watching Deandre be so engaged and have so much fun selecting his songs made me so proud,” said Arielle Moyal, the BDA marketing and PR coordinator who spearheaded the project. “He loves music, all types, so being given an opportunity to create something that highlighted that passion and had a cultural spin was incredible. The playlist was received very well, so kudos to a company like Spotify for believing in the project and supporting the fun we wanted to have with it.”

Another recent BDA activation highlighted the Chicago Bulls’ Zach LaVine and his interest in American Sign Language and working with the deaf community.

“There are not a lot of pro athletes working with or representing the deaf community, so Zach has a lot of ownership in that space,” Moyal said. “He has a natural connection and passion for the community, and as a firm, we’ve worked really hard to have him recognized as the go-to guy in the NBA for raising awareness and support for their needs and initiatives.”

After learning that Starbucks would be opening a signing/ASL location in Washington D.C., BDA reached out to have LaVine partner with the brand in a social campaign, where he signed a special message in ASL.

The video was shared on his own social platforms, as well as the Starbucks channels. Moyal explained that the activation provided both personal fulfillment for LaVine, as well as publicity from a large brand, giving him exposure to an audience that he normally wouldn’t have.

Another part of BDA’s role means knowing how and when to push the athletes out of their comfort zone. Building trusting relationships with clients is key.

“You want the ability to present unique opportunities and know the client is willing to take that leap because we have their best interests at heart,” Moyal said.

BDA capitalized on that trust with its client Nikola Vucevic of the Orlando Magic, who considers himself an environmental enthusiast, but had a tendency to keep his off-court interests private. With a bit of reassurance, Vucevic made a guest appearance on the animated TV show “Planet Blue” through an activation secured by BDA.

READ MORE: How Teams Are Using Technology to Increase Ticket Sales

“We knew we needed to support him, and part of that meant encouraging him to use his platform to bring awareness to causes he felt were important,” Moyal said. “We told him, ‘This will get you out of your comfort zone, but you’ll be respected for it.’”

In addition to earning its clients’ confidence, the BDA staff must also be ready for opportunities to arise at any moment.

“You never know where inspiration is going to strike,” Moyal said. “You have to be prepared for all of that. We like to tell brands, ‘Give me your funky, weird, obscure ideas because I probably have a client for that.’”

BDA’s wide range of activations is proof that a diverse skill set is necessary to succeed in the sports agency field. Most important, though, is an emphasis on the client.

“You have to be on at all times,” Moyal said. “It’s a client-based business, so the first thing you recognize in our job is ‘client first’ — always.”

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Athletes In Business

How Kyle Busch Manages His Own Race Team: An Inside Look at Kyle Busch Motorsports

When Busch had the chance to spend time around two Hall of Fame owners, he realized ownership could become a reality for him.

Kraig Doremus

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In 2010, five years before becoming a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) champion, Kyle Busch founded Kyle Busch Motorsports. Since opening its doors, KBM has had monumental success in large part thanks to the backing of Toyota Racing Development.

KBM is fueled by Busch and holds several NASCAR Camping World Truck Series records, including most wins in a single season (14), six owner’s championships and two driver’s championships won by Erik Jones (2015), who is now Busch’s teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing in the MENCS, and Christopher Bell (2017).

“Toyota has been here since the start,” said Busch, driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the Cup Series. “They’re an integral part of the organization from a financial and technological standpoint.”

SEE MORE: Toyota’s NASCAR Involvement Drives Brand’s Market Growth

For Busch, starting a team was never a lifelong dream, but when he stepped into racing and had the chance to spend time around two Hall of Fame owners – 2017 inductee Rick Hendrick and nominee Joe Gibbs – Busch realized that ownership could easily become a reality. Eventually, the 33-year-old Las Vegas native opened the doors of his new race team.

“I would say that it wasn’t an aspiration to own a team early on in my career, but as I began racing for Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing, I spread my wealth to the ownership side and saw that it could be done,” said Busch. “Once I realized it was possible, I took it upon myself to start Kyle Busch Motorsports.”

The 2015 NASCAR Cup Series champion has to walk a fine line between devoting his time to KBM and also making sure he is giving his all to Joe Gibbs Racing and the No. 18 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team.

“Obviously, I have to balance KBM and my responsibilities to JGR, so I have some day-to-day responsibilities (with KBM), but it’s all about putting good people in place who understand our philosophy.”

WATCH: Inside Toyota’s Massive Daytona Activation

For Busch and the staff at KBM, one could say they take a page from businessman Marcus Lemonis and focus on the three Ps: People, Process and Product. The product – winning – obviously speaks for itself. Sixty-eight wins in less than 500 starts is an impressive feat. Of those starts by KBM drivers, 294 have resulted in a top-10 finish.

As for the people and the process, Busch puts quality people in place and uses the technology made available to them by Toyota.

“Delegation is huge; it’s impossible for one person to run a team, so you have to put people in place who you can trust to do a good job,” said Busch. “The folks at Toyota have been of the has really helped a lot with technology. Obviously, there are other teams that have access to same technology, but we all have a chance to choose to use it differently. For us it’s about the right people, whether its guys on the road or the engineers in the shop. We want to hire smart people who will help KBM win and get results on the track.”

SEE MORE: Mazda Uses Racing to Better Tell Brand Story

With nearly 100 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series wins, along with two driver’s championships, one might think that Kyle Busch Motorsports might make the move to the Xfinity Series or even the Cup Series. However, Busch knows that currently, KBM is rooted in the Camping World Truck Series, but keeps an open mind for down the road.

“For the foreseeable future, we’ll be staying in the truck series,” said Busch. “We tried the Xfinity Series for a year and were OK with it. Had we given it another year, we probably would have been great at it. We’ve given up on that dream for now, but the success in trucks has been great, so we’re 100 percent focused on that. Our sport changes, so we don’t know what’ll happen and whether KBM will be in the Xfinity or Cup Series 10 or even 15 years down the road.”

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