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Success in Sports: Mentors and Meaningful Relationships

Front Office Sports

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By: Justin Mears, @jmears26

Ryan Totka, President and Founder of AthletePromotions

Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Ryan Totka, an industry leading entrepreneur who has learned how to combine his passions of sport, business, and the internet to launch several successful companies and establish a productive career across all three sectors. His story is one of taking risk, offering to help others, backing this up with action, and continuing to grow and develop by finding the right mentors.

Ryan is the co-founder of several companies including RedCarpetMonday® and EliteJets as well as the President and Founder of athletepromotions.com and TornadoPromotions.com. He graduated from the University of Central Florida in 1999 with a degree in Business Administration and a minor in Marketing.

Ryan has started four successful internet companies including Totka.com Website Services, a website development company and TornadoPromotions.com, Inc., an internet marketing consulting firm based out of Orlando, Florida.

His company has helped hundreds of corporations with search engine optimization, website development, domain name registration, website hosting, and achieving maximum success on the web.

Other web ventures of his include TornadoEntertainment.com, a site promoting top athletes such as Lebron James, Torry Holt, Daunte Culpepper, Carmelo Anthony and many others.

Ultimately, he found that his true passion was combining sport, business and the internet. He founded AthletePromotions, one of the top athlete booking/sports marketing agencies in the country, specializing in booking sports celebrities for corporate appearances, speaking engagements, endorsements and more.

Ryan has teamed up with world class sports celebrities such as Mark Cuban, Magic Johnson, Terrell Owens, Wayne Gretzky, Tim Tebow, Mike Ditka, Mike Tyson, and many more.

It is clear that Ryan has been a part of an extremely diverse group of companies, yet in the end, he has continued to find his way back to sports. When asked what continued to lead him to the sports industry, Ryan said, “My ultimate passion was sports since I was a kid. I played sports all my life and after college, if you’re not going to go pro, you try to find a way to get involved in the industry.”

“I was drawn to it as the internet was getting big, I was in the business, and sports were my passion, so I brought all three together. I started by doing athletes’ websites for MLB players like Rickie Weeks and Zack Greinke. When Lebron James was a senior in high school, I contacted the company that did LebronJames.com and told them I’m doing some athlete websites and I’d like to help you out with search engine marketing.”

Ryan was able to expand his reach across the industry because he was willing to put himself out there and show some of the best athletes in the world that he could provide a service for them that would continue to grow their brand. Recently, he has been a part of several new enterprises including helping launch ThrowUpTheX, the official brand of Dez Bryant, as well as becoming a partner in LUMATIV, an innovative, wearable technology company specializing in designing and producing illuminated apparel.

Through it all, he has continuously come back to the importance of networking and building strong, mutually beneficial relationships.

Ryan said, “Networking is the biggest thing in this industry. You have to network. Sitting at home waiting for things to happen isn’t going to work. I go to a lot of Super Bowl events, All-Star games, trade shows, pretty much anything involving sports. I go to a game anytime I’m in a city. Being around the industry, you never know who you are going to meet.”

He continued to state, “It’s one of those things that once you establish the credibility, it’s a lot easier to go up to a player and say ‘Hey I work with this guy, I work with this team, rather than just saying I’m trying to break into the industry.’” You have to start somewhere, but eventually you have to establish the respect and credibility that comes with the quality of relationships you have developed in the industry.

Another important factor in Ryan’s success has been the ability to find the right mentor. It’s not just about finding anyone, but making sure that you find a mentor who can help you get to where you want to be.

“You find a mentor, whether it’s an owner, agent, someone that’s in the industry that is where you want to be. It’s kind of like the vision board effect. You put down everything you want in the future and life and it’s the same thing in sports. Some people may aspire to be a GM or owner or trainer or agent. The important thing is finding someone that motivates you. You have to find mentors.”

For Ryan, he found a mentor in Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Ryan was introduced to Mark after an Orlando Magic game several years ago, but it was his willingness to continue to reach out to Mark that allowed a relationship to develop the first time Ryan visited Dallas. What could have been a one-time meeting turned into a mentor relationship with someone he respected and aspired to within the sports and entertainment industry.

Ryan describes Mark as “a t-shirt and jeans kind of guy who goes out and has a fun time with no entourage. He would do anything for somebody he doesn’t even know. He is a billionaire guy that was willing to help someone new like me in the industry.”

Ultimately, Ryan believes that it is someone’s willingness to help others that leads to success in the industry.

“I’m always the type that likes to do things for people, so it has always been my thought process to show them what you can do before you ask. That’s what I do. I offer, hey let me build you a website that will generate more opportunities for you. Everyone these days has their hand out. But if you do enough good things for people, it ultimately comes back. That’s the key. You want to show people what you can do and go out of your way, even if it costs a little time and money to do something, it definitely goes a long way.”

When asked what advice he would give young sports industry professionals looking to make a difference, he said “I wouldn’t worry about the money first. Everybody likes the celebrity in sports. You want to get your foot in the door any way you can. Whether that’s interning, doing a site for free, doing social media for free. You have all these people trying to get an internship and you only have a few available. You have to be different and offer something different than what other people can offer and not necessarily worry about the money at first, simply because of the amount of people wanting to get in the industry.”

Asked what his favorite part about working in the sports industry was, Ryan concluded that he enjoyed the ability to work and hang out with some of the guys he grew up watching and being inspired by. For Ryan, finding the right mentor, working to build meaningful relationships and being willing to help enough people has provided him these opportunities, and we thank him for taking the time to share his insights with everyone at Front Office Sports.

Ryan can be reached on LinkedIn here or on Twitter @RyanTotka

Meet Celebrity Agent & Athlete Marketing Expert, Ryan Totka

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Business

Paul Pierce’s Retirement Game Is Second Priciest This Decade, After Kobe’s

The current prices make it the second-most expensive ticket around the NBA this season and the most expensive game at TD Garden since the 2010 NBA finals.

TicketiQ Insights

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The Celtics are set to retire Paul Pierce’s jersey. (Photo via the SportsQuotient)

*This post is part of the brand new FOS Insights program. TicketIQ is a proud launch partner of the program. 

When you think back on the Boston Celtics of the first decade of the 2000s, there is no way to separate the team from Paul Pierce, who spent 15 years with the team. As the tenth overall pick in the 1998 draft, Pierce was an immediate starter and laid the foundation for the Celtics’ 2008 championship – the first one the franchise had won in more than 20 years.

There’s plenty of interest in attending Pierce’s jersey retirement ceremony, which will take place after today’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at TD Garden. According to TicketIQ.com, the current average asking price on the secondary market is $1,092, making it the second-most expensive ticket around the NBA this season and the most expensive game at TD Garden since the 2010 NBA finals.

At an $1,477 average price, Kobe Bryant’s double jersey retirement game at Staples Center on December 18th is the only game higher than Sunday’s this season. Apart from these two retirement games, the highest-priced ticket for the season was for the Golden State Warriors-Cavaliers game on Christmas Day, which cost an average of $818.

Paul Pierce Retirement TicketsFor Celtics fans trying to put it into context, it’s a 609% premium compared to the East-leading Celtics season average secondary price of $154. It’s also over 300% higher than the last Cavaliers visit to TD Garden in January.

While these prices are astronomical, they could return if the Celtics continue their dominance and make it back to the NBA finals for the first time since Paul Pierce retired. As the Celtics franchise leader in 3-point field goals, steals, and free throws, Pierce left some very big shoes to fill. At 39-16, the 2018 version of the team seems very comfortable amidst championship expectations, and if the Celtics can continue their dominance run in the east, ticket prices for the NBA finals could be amongst the highest in recent years.

Some more stats and backstory surrounding the game are available on The TicketIQ blog.

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Baseball

It’s All Fun and Games (‘Till Somebody Brings Up the Money)

John Collins

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Baseball: The Healthiest Dead Guy I Know

Most of my favorite weekly columns have some recurring names or theme…Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback; Matthew Berry’s Love/Hate; Rick Reilly’s “Life of Reilly,” back in the day…The title I kept toying with for my space here was “Diamond Notes.” Perfect fit! Clever, descriptive, references the two major topics covered (baseball and Benjamin’s…) and then I realized why it kept rattling around in my head.

Peter Gammons (and just about every fifth baseball blogger) already have that trope taken. Alas, swing and a miss! So for now…

It’s All Fun and Games

(‘Till Somebody Brings Up the Money)

 

Now, on to the writing…

In what seems like an annual routine this time of year, reports forecasting baseball’s demise are dominating the sport’s coverage in January. Earlier this month, Yahoo Finance cited a Gallup Poll indicating MLB’s declining popularity during their look at where the sports industry is headed in 2018. As Ben Rohrbach notes, for the first time in over a decade, the poll measuring fans’ favorite sport to watch showed basketball overtaking baseball as America’s second-favorite sport, with soccer not too far behind.

Credit: Yahoo Finance

At a mere 9 percent, baseball received its lowest level of support in the poll’s entire history, all of which was taken as an indication that the “Great American Past-Time” is well past it’s prime.

My, how quickly we forget the enthusiasm and excitement surrounding the MLB Playoffs the last two years. Fans flocked to the sport in October 2017, with the Astros-Dodgers World Series generating some of its highest ratings in years. Go back to just 2016, and you have the Cubs World Series victory celebration generating the 7th largest crowd in human history! With a turnout like that and it’s ability to generate over $9 billion in revenue in 2016, baseball is clearly still thriving- both as a sport and a business in the entertainment industry.

That being said, there have been a few interesting trends to emerge during the MLB Offseason this year. Moves made by the Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, and Pittsburgh Pirates trading away star players and faces of the franchise for budgetary reasons have raised almost philosophical questions for baseball fans today:

Is the MLB a sport or a business? What’s the responsibility of a team and it’s owner? Turning a profit? Providing entertainment? Putting a competitive team on the field…?

Both! All of the above! Which is what makes owning and operating a pro sports team such a nuanced activity. Baseball is a business. Franchises are run to turn a profit. They turn that profit by providing their core product: a good, productive, entertaining team for fans to cheer. Yet sometimes those objectives aren’t congruent.

There are fewer owners like George Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees and Mike Illitch of the Tigers emptying the war chest every year with the sole motive of winning, pushing teams to take a more deliberate, responsible approach to strategic roster building. Franchises are no longer mere vanity projects or hobbies with unlimited funding. They are designed to be thriving businesses built on fan passion.

With that shift, the MLB Hot Stove has become so cold this year it makes an E-Z Bake Oven seem industrial grade. Teams are acting more deliberately, player valuations are changing, and both sides are left feeling out the new landscape. As Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and namely Tyler Kepner have noted, “with analytics now entrenched in front offices…there is an increasingly long list of once-valued statistics and perceived skills that front offices don’t pay for anymore.”

Front offices have moved on, targeting new measures generated by Statcast underlying the game. Spin-rate, launch angle, hard-hit percentage…that’s what teams are using to evaluate today’s free agent; not the traditional RBIs, homers, and other intangibles they used to chase after. Things like leadership and experience that are unquantifiable have been replaced by concrete metrics and more analytical measures. (Interestingly, that seems to pertain to front office assessments of managers as well, with five rookie hires made that lack the experience that used to be a prerequisite for eligibility).

These moves are not based on collusion, nor are they callous franchise tear-downs a la the Cleveland Indians in the movie “Major League.” The developments are an offshoot of teams’ well-intentioned, concerted efforts to rebuild. It is ownership focusing on the moves necessary to sustain a thriving franchise. Fans should be pleased.

Yes, it may be frustrating- and in some cases heartbreaking- to watch an inferior lineup take the field as a face of the franchise leaves, but remember: the goal is not to lose simply because it costs less money; its team execs effectively managing their competing objectives. Front offices are acting deliberately to optimize winning with franchise longevity; building for long-term success in the future with moves that may generate unfortunate losing in the moment.

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Corporate

NFL to Give Players $90 Million

The NFL is committing $90 million over the next seven years to social justice causes in a three-segment plan that involves league players.

Front Office Sports

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