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Taylor Sharp: Africa and the Serendipitous Road to Storytelling

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A documentary filmmaker and storyteller, Sharp’s young career has been as serendipitous as it has successful.

This feature is presented to you by the University of Nebraska — Lincoln Master of Arts in Business with a Specialization in Intercollegiate Athletics Administration.

Taylor Sharp at the Clippers practice facility

Serendipitous.

The word ‘serendipitous’ describes Taylor Sharp and his path in the sports industry. A documentary filmmaker and storyteller, Sharp’s young career has been as serendipitous as it has successful. Though his career path has taken twists and turns, two things have remained constant: building relationships and capitalizing on opportunities.


A graduate of the University of North Carolina, Sharp has always found himself to be in the right place at the right time. That, coupled with a strong connection to an ever-evolving understanding of his passions, has led him to a slew of high-profile opportunities at an exceptionally young age.

With the release of his first documentary Hoops Africa: Ubuntu Matters, a documentary about basketball in Africa, quickly approaching, Sharp is in no way doing what he thought he would when he started his freshman year as a Morehead-Cain scholar at the University of North Carolina. Originally, he wasn’t sure where he wanted to end up, but as the freshman interdisciplinary studies major, with a focus on philosophy and business of sport and minor in entrepreneurship, searched for a summer enrichment opportunity, a requirement for his scholarship, things started to fall into place.

After conducting research, he came across an ESPN article about Hoops 4 Hope, a basketball non-profit in Zimbabwe that had a relationship with the Boston Celtics.

“I clicked on the link to the nonprofit that had been mentioned in the ESPN article, got in touch with the founder that day and said, ‘I have this unique opportunity to do service this summer, would you all be willing to host me?’ Within that phone call they said, ‘yeah, we’d love to have you in Zimbabwe.’”


He knew what he wanted, went for it and it worked out, bringing him to Africa for the first time. Years later, as a Project Employee for the NBA, he did the same thing. Upon learning about the NBA Africa Game, the first league game to take place on the continent in 2015, Sharp knew he had to be there. Still a college student, he pitched a documentary idea to higher ups in the league and was given filming access and the green light to go.

When asked about how he mustered up the courage to ask to accompany the NBA to Africa to create a film, he responded with a phrase that seems to be his mantra for life,“Turn the door handle on any door, you never know what will be unlocked.”

For him, few things haven’t been unlocked.


Networking and building relationships has been a key ingredient in helping propel Sharp to where he is today. Not only does he have the courage to advocate for himself and what he wants, but he also possesses the desire to build authentic relationships along the way. Asked about how he’s stayed in touch with previous coworkers, he said, “Take the internship or the future job out of it, they’re still relationships I’d like to upkeep.”

https://frntofficesport.com/mo-dakhil-water-boy-to-nba-video-coordinator-51000df6d607

Authenticity is important to him and finding true connections with coworkers or strangers. One of the most unique examples of this? Dan Hedges.

Sharp met Hedges on the plane home from his experience with Hoops 4 Hope in Zimbabwe in 2013. They were seated next to each other on the 17-hour flight from Africa back to the United States. Sharp was the only one on the plane whose TV screen didn’t work, he had no other electronics, and his book was packed away in his luggage.

For most people, this would be a nightmare, but for Sharp it was a blessing in disguise. It gave him the opportunity to talk to Hedges, the man next to him, a documentary filmmaker who was coming off of his own transformational experience in Africa.

They bonded over their experiences and pledged to return to the continent one day to help tell its story. The two stayed in touch in the following years and worked on various projects together.

In 2015, upon receiving approval from the NBA to film the Africa Game, Sharp called Hedges, the stranger he met on the plane with whom he was now a friend, and brought him on board to film Hoops Africa.

“That’s the joy in life for me,” Sharp commented on the experience, “allowing yourself, whether it be vulnerability or openness, to allow for life to work out that way because it so often does if you let it.”


Taylor’s ability to tune into and follow his passions has led him to a myriad of unique experiences at a young age

Currently, Sharp is putting the final touches on the Hoops Africa documentary, set to be released sometime this summer. He recently returned from an experience in Egypt, where he contracted with an Egyptian non-profit focused on Little League baseball.

When he’s stateside, he contracts with the NBA for various events, such as the All-Star Game. Most important to him, though, is his work with Casting for Hope, a nonprofit he founded in 2012 with his high school English teacher that supports women suffering from ovarian or other gynecological cancers and provides opportunities for retreats through fly fishing.

When asked about advice he would give to those looking to break into the sports industry, Sharp said:

“It seems to be all about finding that blueprint and trying to replicate someone else’s success and that’s good and all, but if you see an alteration in that path that will take you in a different route don’t be afraid to forge that. There’s really no one path that’s the correct path, it’s just a matter of navigating it somewhat serendipitously to match that with what you’re interested in and what value you can provide.”

Sharp has navigated his path without succumbing to norms or expectations.

“I realized after graduation that finishing [the Hoops Africa] documentary was more important to me than a full-time job,” he said. So he’s spent the last year wrapping that up while picking up other projects along the way.

Hoops Africa: Ubuntu Matters premieres this summer

“Listen to those inner urges,” he advises aspiring sports professionals, “and jump out and do something different because often times you’re getting those urges for a reason.”

Most importantly though, Sharp advises students and young professionals to allow life to work out, because you never know what will show up if you’re open to it, live with serendipity, and trust yourself.

https://frntofficesport.com/mo-dakhil-water-boy-to-nba-video-coordinator-51000df6d607

Stay up to date on the Hoops Africa: Ubuntu Matters premiere at the film’s website and on social media @HoopsAfrica. Follow Taylor Sharp on Twitter @TSharp94.


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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Lucy is a contributing writer for Front Office Sports. A storyteller and brand strategist, she has worked in the sports industry for organizations including the United States Olympic Committee, IMG/WME and the Miami Open, the University of Miami Athletic Department, Florida Panthers, and Minnesota Twins. She spent 2016 living in Colombia where she accomplished a life-long goal of becoming fluent in Spanish while working for the Ministerio de Educación Nacional. Lucy is a graduate of the University of Miami. She can be reached at lucy@frntofficesport.com.

Sports

Inside The Octagon: UFC’s Performance Institute

The 30,000 sq. foot high-performance training center was part of the ambition, not just to position UFC as the leader in combat sports performance, but in global sports performance.

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Photo by Zuffa, LLC.

‘Do you want to be a fighter?’ The notorious question by UFC President Dana White aired during the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter. It sparked a fire in reality television and introduced the sport of Mixed Martial Arts to the American masses.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship is the premier combat sports league worldwide. Beginning in 1993, the organization would be purchased in 2001 for $2 million by White and business partners, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta.

Fast-forward to 2017 where the trio sold a majority of its enterprise to WME-IMG, a talent agency in Los Angeles, for a staggering $4 billion. Currently, this is the richest sale in the history of professional sports.

With momentum on its side, the UFC (based in Las Vegas) decided to double-down on its roots and construct a new global headquarters in Sin City.

Opening its doors in May of 2017, the corporate campus houses 250+ employees on 15 acres of land, costing $14 million to build. It’s also home to the Performance Institute, the world’s first Mixed Martial Arts multi-disciplinary research, innovation, and training center.

Front Office Sports was invited to the ‘Fight Capital of the World’ and given an exclusive tour of the property. We first met with James Kimball, VP of Operations and learned about the company’s vision.

“The UFC Performance Institute was conceptualized in 2014. With over 500 athletes under contract, each is considered independent contractors. It’s also a global sport so many of the fighters live outside of the United States. Nearly half of the roster has come to visit the new facility and any given week around 20 athletes will be in Las Vegas training for an upcoming competition,” Kimball noted.

Back in 2014, the company did an internal audit of what was working (and what wasn’t) for its athletes.

“The culmination was this 30,000 sq. foot high-performance training center built for the UFC athlete,” said Kimball.

Photo by Zuffa, LLC.

“The whole project took 2 ½ years; we’ve been open now for 7 months and most importantly you can have the best facility in the world, but if you don’t have the right operators in place to manage it then you won’t be able to accomplish what you really set out to do,” Kimball explained.

Walking around the complex you get a sense of how big the sport has grown, not only in the United States, but around the world.

Photo by Zuffa, LLC.

“Our recruitment for staff was a year long, Duncan French was our first hire. He oversees our entire performance team. Our staff is pretty lean, around 10 people. As VP of Performance, Duncan is in charge of our strength & conditioning, nutrition, physical therapy and support staff,” Kimball informed.

Having a world-class doctor seems imperative for a sports organization, but how about former athletes? Enter UFC Hall of Famer, Forrest Griffin.

Winner of the first season on The Ultimate Fighter, Griffin is widely regarded as one of the men who elevated the platform for MMA’s current success and popularity. Griffin went on to have a successful UFC career, capturing the light heavyweight championship before retiring in 2012. He is now the VP of Athletic Development.

Photo by Zuffa, LLC.

Kimball and Griffin traveled to 50+ facilities around the globe, consulting with NBA, NFL, MLB and English Premier League clubs to identify what currently are the best practices in the market, and to find out what is important to MMA athlete training. They used this research before breaking ground on the new HQ.

The tour began where athletes go after long days and nights of training.

“The recovery and regeneration area gets used after workouts. Recovery is a very personal approach and strategy. Some people like getting into the water, others don’t,” French demonstrated. “We have a full body cryotherapy chamber that goes up to 170 degrees, all the way down to -320 degrees. On average you stand inside for three to six minutes. It rests the brain, the Nero stimulus of pain and muscle damage, and helps rejuvenate blood cells,” French continued.

There was also a tanning bed device that I had never seen before. “This full body laser light therapy pod uses infrared light to promote circulation and removes inflammation,” French said.

Photo by Zuffa, LLC.

Next were the wet areas, offering a hot spa, cold pool, steam room and sauna. There’s also an underwater treadmill with four cameras synced to capture progress.

“Working out in water reduces body weight and ensures no heavy impact when rehabbing an injury,” French pointed out.

As we moved along, you could tell no stone was left unturned.

“Body management, body composition, and nutrition are crucial aspects of our athlete population. We’ve got some pretty cool tech in this space such as the full body scanner, it’s a big x-ray machine,” French displayed.

There is also a nutrition consultation room as needed for this weight classification sport.

While passing through the gym a handful of athletes were seen working out. Longtime veteran featherweight Gray Maynard was lifting weights, and up-and-coming bantamweight, Gina Mazany, was doing cardio.

“Most of the roster, 90–95% of them do not have a dedicated support staff year round. They all have MMA coaches and are encouraged to bring them here, where we then plug in to where the needs are,” Kimball emphasized. “Even a guy like Conor McGregor year-round doesn’t have a full performance team. He has an MMA combat team, but this is a support staff that most athletes have never seen or been exposed to.”

What does it cost, one may ask, to access the complex and specialists in-house?

“The P.I. is available at no cost to the athletes, 24/7/365, and no two days are alike. Some may stop by for a couple days, others hold their entire fight camp on the property. Francis Ngannou, who is fought for the Heavyweight championship, relocated to Las Vegas to train here,” according to Kimball.

The first floor of the P.I. is all performance services and the second floor is sports specific. There’s an indoor turf track and outdoor sprint track on the property that gets plenty of usage.

“When it came to the design of the facility, it wasn’t just about the services under one roof but the efficiency in which they’re delivered,” Kimball elaborated.

One area, in particular, caught my eye, with treadmills and gas masks attached.

Photo by Zuffa, LLC.

“A very unique room is our altitude chamber. We can take the whole room up to 22,000 feet, which is the equivalent of Mt. Everest’s base camp, so we can train in hypoxia,” Duncan would clarify. “Conor McGregor used it extensively, changing his physiology while training for the Mayweather fight. It’s a great tool for us when there are bouts in Denver or Mexico City, simulating workouts in altitude is very useful. To have this here in proximity to our gym is truly unique.”

Down the hall is a fueling station and nutrition bar manned by a dietician and offers shakes, vitamins, and snacks. Whatever an athlete needs for pre and post workouts. Adjacent to that is the physical therapy clinic, which has two therapists on staff, both recruited from Team USA in Colorado.

“I blew my left knee out and I had 2.1 lbs more muscle in my right knee after the injury. From that [information] our physical trainers can create a program to get you back on track,” Griffin told me.

Walking up the second floor, the walls are dedicated to the UFC Hall of Fame and I noticed the stairs had aspirational branding.

“The idea is that as you ascend to the next floor, you’re also in your career trying to ascend and be at the pinnacle which these [Hall of Famers] made,” Kimball reiterated.

Photo by Zuffa, LLC.

The sports specific floor offers different types of bags for various striking skills and there are matted reinforced walls, so you can practice grappling in the first section.

The most prominent feature in the entire building has to be the octagon. The 30-foot wide cage is identical to what fighters compete in on television. It’s also rigged with lighting and cameras to replicate the feel of an arena.

Photo by Zuffa, LLC.

“Film study, every sport does it. Our guys are starting to record their sparring sessions,” Griffin exclaims.

Griffin, also a UFC Hall of Fame member, takes me to a massive LCD screen outside the octagon and begins breaking down film. He demonstrates how one fighter’s hands were in a good position and how the other’s footwork needed proper spacing.

“Fighters can record themselves and take footage home on a flash drive. They also can access UFC Fight Pass (digital streaming network) and watch any fight in the company’s history. The big thing is to identify the good and bad things, finding what to improve on with their coaches,” Griffin emphasizes.

There’s also a full-sized boxing ring in the gym. President Dana White had it installed, even before McGregor’s famous bout last summer.

Photo by Zuffa, LLC.

While the Performance Institute was built and created for fighters, non-MMA athletes have visited and trained here as well. The list includes NBA players during Summer League action, plus NFL and MLB players who live in Las Vegas.

“That was part of the ambition, not just to position ourselves as the leader in combat sports performance, but in global sports performance,” Kimball said.

Overlooking the courtyard is the relaxation lounge or player’s lounge. “A true destination for UFC athletes. After an early training or late night sparring, they can come here and relax.

These vibrating sleep pods provide massages, ambient lighting, and music. It’s timed to get louder and brighter at the 26-minute mark to wake up based on a NASA study for optimal power naps,” Kimball demonstrated.

Photo by Zuffa, LLC.

The grand finale was the multimedia purpose center with stadium seating for 60. It’s used for formal press events, corporate partners, athlete meetings and big reveals. A 15-foot LED board retracts from the roof and behind the curtains is a front row view of the octagon inside the gym.

“We also do athlete summits which involve media training and financial planning. Typically we host them quarterly, sometimes twice a year,” Kimball informed.

The UFC is also celebrating its 25-year anniversary in 2018 with a special logo and will feature unique events throughout the calendar year.

Photo by Zuffa, LLC.

For a sport so young, there are no traditional high school or college courses being offered for mixed martial arts. It’s still a relatively new practice across the map. Athlete summits are designed to educate new fighters joining the organization.

“It’s helpful for fighters transitioning into the sport. Now you’re a professional athlete. I’ve personally had a lot of guys call me and reach out. I try to help and guide, introduce them to people for when their careers come to an end as well,” Griffin added.

Asked if fighters have resisted or prefer training on their own, Griffin was candid.

“We want to give them one or two things, maybe it’s nutrition. Sure, we don’t want to overhaul an athlete’s training. No matter how resistant there’s something that they’re having trouble with, something we can help them with. There’s literally something here for everyone.”

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Decoding 2.0: Receptivity Theory and the Power of Niche Sponsorship Strategies

New study unveils unique findings when it comes to sponsorships.

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Earlier this year, global lifestyle marketing agency MKTG and sister agency, marketing analytics company, SRi, released The Receptivity Story, as part of Decoding 2.0.

Decoding 2.0 is a unique study, as it acts as one of the few sponsorship-specific studies in the industry. To date, it is also one of the most intensive ones as well.

There’s a ton of great stuff here, but I’ll focus on a couple of my favourite findings, and one thought:

  1. Receptivity Theory
  2. Niche Sports
  3. Firm-Level Differences

Receptivity Theory

Initially unearthed in the original Decoding study in 2012, Receptivity Theory is the idea that, more than the passion associated with a property, the receptivity of fans towards branding is more predictive of sponsorship success.

While this seems like an intuitive finding, the industry, without the necessary data, could only use passion or exposure as a proxy for predicted success.

Really — what we are doing here is shifting the inflection point. Rather than having brands place a premium on number of passionate fans, we can now shift to a brand-specific view, where meaningful attention to branding is being measured.

Niche Sports

Through this study, SRi discovered that there are three types of fans: Receptives, Selectives, and Non-Receptives. Niche sports, which suffer from a lower total number of fans, benefit from a greater percentage of Receptive fans.

From a sponsor’s perspective, the math here has always been simple: would you prefer to reach many, but impact a lower percentage? Or, alternatively, would you prefer to reach few, but impact a greater percentage?

What’s easy to determine is relative exposure at the extremes — i.e.: the NFL is clearly more popular than swimming. The middle is more difficult to measure, and even tougher, the relative willingness to pay of fans.

For instance, assume the following, for average brand X:

  • Sponsorship for Sport A will reach 1,000 fans per game, with fans, on average, valuing branded sponsorship at 1
  • Sponsorship for Sport B will reach 500 fans per game, with fans, on average, valuing branded sponsorship at 2

Under this scenario, if return is value, X would be indifferent between the two options at the same price.

Scenarios like these are where receptivity is powerful. It provides perhaps one of the best estimations of reach — just because your branding is at a baseball game, does not mean that everyone will see it!

In addition, it lays the groundwork for potentially being able to measure predicted value of sponsorship, or “willingness to pay” — which would vary, whether you are a Receptive or Non-Receptive fan.

Borrowed from economics, willingness to pay is the idea that each consumer has a maximum price that they are willing to pay for a good. For this application, I will treat attention as price — the scarce resource.

Thus, the equation becomes closer to this:

Where i would act as categorical variable for category of fan. n would represent number of fans falling within the given category. Return would represent willingness to pay.

Because fans are heterogeneous, the brand will experience a different return for each “unit view” — meaning that even if one person’s receptivity differs from another, there will be subgroups within categories of fans, separated by willingness to pay. While we can assume that the return from a Receptive fan will be greater, meaning that variable return exists, we would still be uncertain as to the degree that this exists.

Importantly — this study clearly shows a greater percentage of surfing fans falling under the “Receptive” category than the NBA, but does the willingness to pay for Receptives, Selectives, and Non-Receptives differ between the two sports? It’s still early, and there will be ongoing studies, but these are questions that immediately come to mind.

One interesting note: if receptivity proves as powerful as this study suggests, it may become an arbitrage opportunity for the first brands who successfully adopt it. And, while the long-run equilibrium should theoretically be one in which all brands adopt this strategy, it may take some more time for sponsorship to get there — meaning that the early adopters could reap massive gains.

In speaking with Julie Zdziarski, VP of SRi:

“Brands do recognize that the scope is much smaller. But the key piece here is that the smaller sports are more lifestyle focused… they’re a more intimate environment”

Firm-Level Differences

Plenty of this is dependent on the firm, as well. In my earlier example, I assumed that a fan’s assigned value for branding (or willingness to pay) being greater was always a good thing.

For some firms, this isn’t necessarily true — and in fact, many firms pursue strategies in which they are unconcerned about reaching high-value customers. This leads to an advantage in number of customers, rather than one in revenue per customer. Think Google, or the telcos.

For these firms, receptivity still matters. Even if you want to be everywhere, you want to be sure that people are noticing you. But what matters less is the degree to which fans are willing to pay, whether they are Receptive or not.

Good Data Is Always Good

In an industry that suffers from a dearth of public data and dispersed data sets, this study acts as one of the true landmark pieces of research.

But here’s the thing: marketing data is tough, and it will never be as easy as it is in industries like finance to find information. And that’s why stuff like this is important.

To be sure, firms like MKTG enable people like me, who study the industry, to make better and more informed analyses, but it also benefits companies and other stakeholders. And understanding the consumer does more than just help brands make money — it provides consumers with an opportunity to gain more as well: leading to (hopefully) an optimal outcome.

It’s still early days, but MKTG has promised to release more stories in the future. When it comes to research and available data, sponsorship looks more promising than ever.

 

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Sports

FOS Exclusive: Not a D@mn Intern Shirt

Tell those internet trolls who’s boss!

Front Office Sports

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Are you tired of being called an intern on social media? It’s time to tell the haters bye-bye with FOS’ first shirt. Our “Not a D@mn Intern” shirt will have you feeling like a million bucks, looking like a million bucks, and probably even Tweeting and posting like a million bucks too.

Get Yours Here: https://www.bonfire.com/not-a-dmn-intern/

We have heard your Tweets, seen your posts, and felt your pain. Now it’s time to fight back. It’s time for you to tell those trolls who’s boss. It’s time for you to put on your hater blockers and own your @.

If you or a loved one has been personally victimized by an internet troll over the fact that they believe you are an intern, tell them that it’s 2018 and you are not a d@mn intern.

Also, get your own shirt here https://www.bonfire.com/not-a-dmn-intern/. They even come in a variety of different colors!

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