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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.”

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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.

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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

Gauntlet of Polo Aims to Add Relevance to Niche Sport

The U.S. Polo Association has consolidated three major tournaments and upped the prize pool in an effort to sustain and grow the sport.

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Gauntlet of Polo

Photo Credit: David Lominska

When was the last time you thought about polo?

For most Americans, the answer probably has something to do with the logo on a Ralph Lauren shirt. But while the U.S. Polo Association doesn’t shy away from the game’s classification as a niche sport, it’s also working to sustain and broaden polo’s reach via consolidating a trio of prestigious tournaments into one lucrative event.

The Gauntlet of Polo, held in West Palm Beach, Florida, concludes this weekend at the U.S. Open Polo Championship with a whopping $250,000 on the line. There’s also an additional $500,000 at stake for Team Pilot, who have won the first two events and can claim the half-million if they are able to earn a clean sweep. The horse-back sport is played by a small number of Americans, with 300 clubs across the country supporting 5,000 players, according to David Cummings, the chairman of USPA Global Licensing.

“The USPA is motivated to grow the sport, not only in the U.S. but internationally,” Cummings said. “Our goal is to educate and grow polo. And if you’ve ever met a polo player, there’s nothing more he likes to do than talk about polo. We want to increase the amount people who talk about it.”

READ MORE: International Swimming League Wants to Give Swimming a Permanent Audience

There is a major barrier of entry to attracting new players: money. The sport has been played since 200 B.C. in Persia and came to the U.S.  in 1876, where it has remained a sport of the nation’s wealthy. According to Cummings, it can cost up to $4.5 million to field a team for all three tournaments. Those costs include paying the players, paying their travel and lodging and the care for the horses. Each of the four players on a team brings up to 15 horses, riding an average of 10 per game.

The potential million-dollar purse doesn’t cover those costs, so Cummings said most teams underwrite with sponsors. Those are often of the big-name variety, too, like Coca Cola and Cessna, the airplane manufacturer.

But the financial reward is similarly lucrative. Elite players play globally and make in excess of $1 million annually, Cummings said. The Gauntlet of Polo is the highest potential purse for polo with the new bonus prize.

The $500,000 bonus, paid on top of a $250,000 prize for winning the Open and $125,000 for the other two tournaments, is part of a larger plan to attract younger players and fans. The plan also drops team handicaps for the Gauntlet of Polo from 26 goals to 22, the collective total by a team’s four players. A lower collective handicap theoretically would allow more novice players to help make up teams — the higher the individual handicap, the better the player. So far, the plan has worked. According to Cummings, 16 teams entered the competition this year, up from six last year.

The hope is the injection of cash prizes could help change the trajectory of polo in the U.S., said Mark Bellissimo, managing partner of the Wellington Equestrian Partners and owner of the International Polo Club, the tournaments’ host site.

“In order to expand interest in the sport, it is essential that emerging players, as well as new teams, have the opportunity to participate in elite tournaments,” Bellissimo said.

The International Polo club is the hub of the polo community in West Palm Beach, the sport’s U.S. epicenter. The region has more than 75 fields in a 50-mile radius, and the Palm Beach County Sports Commission estimates an annual economic impact of more than $23 million from the sport.

With a not-for-profit base at the U.S. Polo Association, Cummings said a small staff as well as a volunteer chairman and governors keep a youth movement at the core of their mission. The organization does hold interscholastic and intercollegiate tournaments for the 30 high schools and nearly 50 colleges that field teams, a number they also hope to grow.

“Their motivation is to teach and instruct people play and get new people into the game,” Cummings said.

READ MORE: Jaguars’ Unique Arrangement Builds U.K. Audience

Likewise, in an attempt to attract more fans, the sport’s organizing bodies will continue their transformation into the digital age over the next few years through streaming more broadcasts and incorporating modern touches like Jumbotron videos and replays.

Time will tell whether polo sees in uptick in interest in the U.S., but Wellington has high hopes for the Gauntlet of Polo. He expects 12,000 people at the polo grounds on Sunday. Along with a live broadcast on USPolo.org, the tournament will be broadcast on CBS Sports on Sunday and Eurosports on Monday, potentially reaching 250 million households.

No matter the number of spectators, a team will be playing for the largest purse in polo history. It’s a bottom line everyone can agree upon.

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Sponsorship

AT&T’s Logo Deal With WNBA Represents Deeper Strategy With NBA

AT&T’s investment in the NBA includes the WNBA, NBA 2K League, G-League and USA Basketball, representing a piece of its broader entertainment sponsorships.

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WNBA ATT Sponsorship

All 12 WNBA teams will have an extra logo on their jersey this season.

During the WNBA Draft on Wednesday, jerseys with AT&T logos were revealed at Nike’s NYHQ as part of a multiyear partnership. Along with the jersey placement, AT&T will also gain integration throughout WNBA.com, the league’s app and social channels, and broadcast partners. The telecommunications company also will be the title sponsor of the WNBA All-Star game, starting this year in Las Vegas.

It’s the latest expansion of a deepening sponsorship plan between AT&T and the NBA, as well as the telecommunication company’s overall sponsorship plan.

READ MORE: Thunder Announce Love’s As Jersey Patch Partner

“The WNBA is deeply committed to empowering and inspiring women,” said Kerry Tatlock, NBA senior vice president of marketing partnerships. “AT&T’s groundbreaking commitment to our game, which is anchored on our shared values of diversity and inclusion, make it the perfect partner for the WNBA at this exciting time.”

It will be the first non-apparel logo to be on jerseys of all 12 teams. Also announced was a “refresh” of the WNBA brand, complete with a new WNBA logo. An ESPN report noted the logo will transition onto uniforms, courts and basketballs in 2020.

The WNBA deal is part of an overall NBA partnership that includes sponsorship of the NBA, WNBA, NBA 2K League, G-League and USA Basketball, said Shiz Suzuki, AT&T assistant vice president of sponsorships & experiential marketing. The AT&T partnership with the NBA started at this year’s NBA All-Star game, as the presenting sponsor of the slam dunk contest, All-Star practice and media day.

Suzuki said the deal makes the AT&T brand across the WNBA physically and digitally, which will hopefully help engagement for both brands and create new customers and fans alike.

“The WNBA represents a brand, league, players and fan base we want to connect with and grow with as we work with them to find ways to bring fans closer to the sport, whether through an on-site activation at major events like WNBA All-Star, or to fans at home and on the go using our social media and digital platforms to deliver premium content, behind-the-scenes access and stories from across the WNBA,” Suzuki said. “By doing so, we can connect AT&T customers to the WNBA to grow fan engagement and our relationships with current and new customers.”

Within the partnership between the WNBA and AT&T, the two organizations will create programming to support women in sports. It’s a further extension of AT&T’s work to support women, support diversity and foster inclusion. The company removed gender bias from its advertising last year, two years ahead of a stated goal by the Association of National Advertisers.

READ MORE: WNBA Star Sue Bird Makes Leap to NBA Front Office With Denver Nuggets

“Together, we can create ways for basketball fans and for AT&T customers to engage in the causes and communities important to the WNBA and to AT&T,” AT&T Chief Brand Officer Fiona Carter said. “Whether it’s women in sports, supporting small businesses like those owned by WNBA players, being a leading voice in LGBTQ rights, or giving back to communities in which we operate, we have much in common and many opportunities to empower these incredible athletes and their fans.”

The WNBA announcement came during a big week of sports activations for AT&T, which included the NBA 2K League’s The Tip  Off, Augusta National’s Women’s Amateur, the NCAA Final Four and The Master’s. Suzuki said the brand’s investments put fans at the heart of sports, music and other entertainment options — hoping to hit the diversity of the company’s consumer base.

“Our sponsorships strategy is about enabling growth for AT&T, by building more meaningful connections with current and with new customers,” Suzuki said. “To do that, we look to deliver moments that drive people’s love for sports, entertainment and their communities. Whether at an event, at home, or on the go, we want to bring fans closer to the moments that matter to them.

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Feature

In Its Second Year, Major League Rugby Focused On The Long Haul

Major League Rugby Commissioner Dean Howes is optimistic and focused on a long and sustained growth for the second-year league.

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Major League Rugby

Photo credit: Griff Lacey

A long, sustained growth is in the cards for Major League Rugby.

The league is avoiding a big splash before disappearing by staying close to earth with expectations, commissioner Dean Howes said.

The league started last year with a truncated, 31-game season with seven teams and has nine teams for a 75-game 2019 season, but by 2022 there’s likely to be 16 teams, Howes said. Until then, when the league hits a wide enough market reach to have true success, Howes said the league will continue to build itself slowly across the nation.

READ MORE: The US Rugby Players Association and Its Goals for the Future of the Game

“It’s in your partners and your expectations,” said Howes, who has previous management experience with Real Salt Lake and the St. Louis Blues. “You have to know what can spend and can’t spend and have realistic expectations you can and can’t drive. No league has reached its full stride in a season, or five or 10.

“Major League Soccer is extremely successful, but it is still just hitting its full stride and is 20 years into it.”

With slow and deliberate growth, Howes believes Major League Rugby can grow into another major sports league in the United States. The league already has teams in Austin, Texas; Denver; Houston; New Orleans; New York City; San Diego; Seattle; Salt Lake City; and Toronto. Teams are lined up for the next two seasons in Boston, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Dallas, with potentially two or three to be added.

The league and teams are a single entity, like the MLS, not a franchise model. Operators of the teams are also owners within the league.

By the end of this year, Howes said each of the nation’s major media markets, save for maybe Chicago, will be filled with teams. Once all those teams are playing, he believes there will be enough market coverage for the league’s media packages to be relevant. Beyond media deals, the relevancy within markets is important in building fanbases. There is already a robust club level of rugby across the country, the middle ground soccer was missing. But unlike the base MLS had, youth rugby needs to be built up.

“You have to be balanced across the country,” he said. “We need to focus on being relevant not just in major markets, but within those markets. Ann evidence of success comes with how we penetrate those markets, how we help build the sport out that’s how it will grow.”

Currently, there are TV deals in place with ESPN, CBS Sports Network and AT&T Sports Networks. To secure those deals, Howes said he had to sell the overall vision of the league’s future.

“All of the TV partners want good content and I think this is great content,” he said. “They need inventory and we need exposure. As long as we can continue to grow with them and not overpromise and underdeliver we can stay within those partners.”

It has many of the factors Americans like in their sports, he said, like high-scoring affairs and easily countable states. And for Howes, a self-proclaimed sports fan who can find something about all sports to enjoy, rugby converts easily to TV, unlike some other sports. Unlike the necessary wide angles for some sports to track balls and pucks, rugby telecasts can get minor details.

“People will like it in stadium and on TV,” he said. “You see them with bumps and bruises and sweat.  It’s a physical game and you see all of that. If you can get people to watch and understand, like any sport,  you start converting them.”

As the TV partners seem to understand the vision, Howes said foundational partners are key to the growth of the league as well.

“In the world of sports, your first sponsors are those you’re doing business with, those people literally getting value from you and your business,” he said. “As you grow and become stronger, then you reach out into those partners who love you because of sheer brand strength.”

Rugby is an international sport with plenty of room for growth in North America, much like the MLS had with soccer. European rugby leagues are already looking at North American cities, according to a BBC article suggesting teams in New York and Toronto for England’s Rugby Football League.

“Obviously the other leagues want to keep an eye on us, what we’re doing and want to participate in the appropriate markets,” Howes said. “We have the most headroom for growth and we’re the largest economic country in the world.”

READ MORE:  Major League Rugby Partners with CBS Sports Network

Howes knows that growth will take time, even just to get a foundation set for future growth. He’s not planning to rush it.

“We have the passion to say this sport deserves to be amongst the other major leagues,”  he said. “We need to be able to say this is what it takes to sustain this thing for five years or 15 years.

“We’re in it for the long-haul and funded and structured for the long-haul.”

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