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Professional Development

The Art of Branding: Pearson Cunningham, Centerfold Agency

Cunningham uses years of experience to put forth the best ideas for his clients.

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(Photo via Pearson Cunningham)

Over the years, branding and sports marketing have changed drastically. One brand agency, Centerfold, of Charlotte, North Carolina, is continuing to rewrite the script on what it means to familiarize and identify with a brand.

For company Principal and branding expert, Pearson Cunningham, remaining genuine to their brand and image is paramount to establishing fan connection and positivity.

At its core, a brand is others’ perception of an entity; something that has the power to sway business or hurt a company. Centerfold acts on that by looking into the heart of what they believe in.

“We keep brand at the core of every decision we make,” said Cunningham. “Whether it’s stadium concessions or a player’s skills camp, we always strive for brand consistency in even the smallest details across all channels.”

Cunningham, a professional of seven years and former design co-founder of Cosmic; an e-commerce startup connecting retailers and publishers, knows the drive a brand needs to succeed.

Through personal experience and nature of the industry, Cunningham, over the years, has learned relevance and vision tandem best for positive results.

“[You should] always be cognizant of the space your brand will occupy,” said Cunningham. “Ensure its verbal and visual identity resonate with your targeted audience in that space.”

One of the newly revolutionized ways to cultivate a brand is through social media. Whether a professional sports team or a snacking company, social media gives the brand a friendly face, often resulting in conversation.

He notes that the best social media accounts often engage with their followers and fans in unique ways — extending to their everyday lives.

“I always enjoy reading Twitter conversations between professional sports teams,” said Cunningham. “The personification of organizations and interaction they have with each other is a great example of how to deepen ties to your fanbase.”

None rings truer than in 2016, when several NFL teams of the cat family interacted on Twitter and produced thousands of engagements, and connected with fans alike.

The Panthers, Jaguars, Lions, and Bengals all collaborated in unique conversation provoking mass fan involvement and furthered their own brands.

The tweet thread represents the personification of professional social media accounts tying into the everyday likeness of fans and followers. Although simple and witty, it has the ability to drive conversation.

As an expert in branding and marketing campaigns alike, Cunningham knows the two should work together to further one another. Once the brand is established, it enables the direction in which the marketing campaign tells its story.

“When creating a campaign, an agency must keep in mind where a brand has been, and where it’s heading,” said Cunningham.

Marketing has the power to extend the audience, create conversation through advertising and influence possible consumers. Without the initial image of the brand, Cunningham knows the latter is not possible.

“A successful marketing campaign builds brand equity by furthering the story of that brand in a direction that is meaningful to its followers.”

In sports, physical representation of the brand still trumps digital marketing efforts via tangible connection. Cunningham knows the digital sphere of the marketing and branding efforts look through the window of the real world.

“Your digital brand supports your physical brand by bringing you closer to the physical product when it’s not top of mind,” said Cunningham. “But nothing in the digital space comes close to being at an event as a fan, and interacting with that brand in a raucous environment with 80,000 of your closest friends.”

Through collaborations with universities and sports teams, Cunningham and the rest of his Centerfold team continue to further the conversations and help establish a wide variety of personable brands.

Each campaign and success can be traced back to one thing: relationships.

“I think our comfort level of working together shines through in our work and relationships we build with our clients,” said Cunningham. “We [co-workers] have been friends for a long time, and that chemistry is extremely hard to fabricate.”

*Centerfold Agency is a Proud Partner of Front Office Sports

This piece has been presented to you by SMU’s Master of Science in Sport Management.

Aaron is a Front Office Sports Account Manager for Centerfold Agency. He attends UNC Charlotte, loves spending time in the Appalachian mountains, and has interned with IMG-Learfield and ESPN 730. He can be reached at aaron@frntofficesport.com

Business

Dontrelle’s Diary: Life of an NFLPA Extern — Day 4

My final day at the NFLPA was filled with conversations and even a random drug test from the league.

Dontrelle Inman

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Rolling squad deep at the NFLPA. (Photo via me)

It might be the offseason and I might be externing at my “second job,” so to speak, but yesterday felt a lot like I was in the middle of the NFL season. Here’s why.

I started off the day with a morning workout, which is always good and necessary to staying ready for the season ahead. I also got a call from someone at the NFL. It’s a call that all players get at some point during the year; you just don’t know when it’s coming. Yesterday, I had to take a drug test.

For those not familiar with how these things work, let me explain. No, I’m not some drug offender or in a rehab program! As part of the CBA and to keep things clean across the sport, all players have to take random drug tests. Mine just happened to come yesterday.

The way it works is that they call or text you to let you know that you will undergo a drug test today and to confirm your location. Most of the time, they have your address on file, but in the cases where you’re going to be somewhere else for the day — like my case being here for the externship — you have to give them the address and they’ll tell you when they’ll be there to meet you.

So during my lunch break, I went back and filled the cup with you know what for them to test. The first few times I did it, it was kind of weird because the person has to be in the same room with you to make sure there’s no funny business or that you try to tamper with the test. But being in the league for as long as I have, you get used to it. Plus, I don’t have anything to worry about since I’m certainly not taking any drugs.

The only drug tests that I’m not a fan of are the ones that they make you take right after a game. You might remember Josh Norman from the Washington Redskins being mad during a postgame interview because they made him take a drug test following a game they won. Again, I’ve got nothing to hide, but it just kind of throws you for a loop after a game. And then if it takes a while or if you can’t “go” at the moment, you might hold up the team bus or plane. But it is what it is.

Anyway, the rest of my day was meeting with more good people as I continue learning the ins and outs of the NFLPA. I met with the events to talk about their goals in putting on stuff for the players and I tried to offer some perspective based on what I saw during my time at NBA All-Star Weekend.

I met with the legal department to talk about the CBA, contracts, agents and other topics like that. I got my first copy of the CBA and wow, is it a lot of reading! Salute to the legal team for knowing all they do about the CBA to help protect our player rights. We also talked some about the drug policy, go figure.

Then I met with the player managers to discuss what they do for the players and ways to improve on our communication. There’s a common perception in the public that the NFL and NFLPA are one in the same when that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

But there are similarities and programs that overlap, so at the same time, sometimes it can be confusing for players because the NFLPA has the player managers who work with rookies and second- and third-year players, while the NFL has advisors and directors of player engagement to work with veterans and they’re around players more on a day-to-day basis since they are employed by the teams. Still, it’s great that we have so many people looking out for us.

Today marks my first day with NBC Sports Washington and ESPN980, which I’m really excited for. I’ll be back next week with one more blog to wrap up my externship experience, so stay tuned!

This piece is part of a collaboration between the NFLPA and Front Office Sports in order to give players the opportunity to showcase what they are doing in the business world. If you’d like to learn more, send an email to austin@frntofficesport.com.

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Professional Development

Manhattan Sports Business Academy Continues To Help Ambitious College Students Break Through

Their flagship program pairs a summer internship with unique professional development curriculum.

Adam White

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NFL execs address MSBA participants during a presentation in the league’s New York City headquarters (Photo via MSBA)

For the past six years, Manhattan Sports Business Academy (MSBA) has hosted one of the nation’s premier sports business immersion programs in the heart of New York City.

MSBA provides aspiring young professionals an unparalleled opportunity to live, learn, work and play in the epicenter of global sports business. From career workshops led by industry thought leaders to internship placements at leagues such as the National Football League (NFL) and agencies like Roc Nation, their flagship summer academy runs eight weeks and is designed for intense professional and personal growth.

“Each summer we aim to deliver the most practical development vehicle for those aspiring young professionals who are most serious about pursuing a career in sports. Hands-on learning, better vision through broad exposure, and genuine relationship cultivation are the key ingredients,” explains David Oestreicher, MSBA’s Managing Director.

This year, the program runs from June 10th to August 4th and will once again tap into a deep roster of key contributors spanning every industry sector. MSBA collaborates with these leading organizations to offer a turnkey experience that includes tailored internship placements, membership to a carefully curated network, private teachings from today’s influencers, interactive workshops, exclusive office visits, lifelong mentorship pairings and much more.

MSBA participants visit NBC Sports in Connecticut for a private studio tour ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympics (Photo via MSBA)

According to Program Director Lorne Segall, attracting and cultivating diversity across incoming talent and industry partners respectively is what makes the academy so special.

“We teach business at the core and businesses need diversity in thought, skills and perspective to succeed. Developing only aspiring GMs or player agents contradicts our mission to provide the most holistic view, training and impact necessary to drive our industry forward. Instead, we focus on how it all comes together and recruit for strong intangibles in those who express a desire to build transferable skills, rewarding them with staying power as top candidates for a multitude of roles in an ever-evolving landscape.”

As for candidates, the MSBA Office of Admissions seeks applicants with strong performance in the classroom, extracurricular campus leadership efforts, relevant work experience, professional online presence, diverse industry knowledge and a passion for learning. The application for Summer 2018 closes February 28 so serious prospects should visit the company’s website to apply now.

MSBA’s promise also extends beyond the summer months.

“As a former participant and now Dean of Students for MSBA, I’m leveraging my own first-hand experience to ensure we support our members during the program and well after graduation as they navigate their careers for many years to come,” shares Bailey Weigel.

Since launching six years ago, MSBA has helped countless students grow inside and out of the sports business industry with their alumni landing notable full-time positions at companies like CAA, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Nike.

“MSBA is a chance to establish a professional foundation that will ultimately ensure long, successful careers in our field; it’s not just an eight-week crash course, but rather a career springboard into an incredibly exciting and competitive industry,” shares Ryan Nowack, Manager of Team Partnership Sales at Madison Square Garden (MSBA Class of 2014).

As it goes inside the industry, all it takes is the opportunity to get your foot in the door, and with MSBA you’re not only getting your foot in the door, you are firmly entrenching it inside the room.

The application process for MSBA 2018 is currently open now through February 28th. Interested candidates should visit the company’s website to apply or learn more.

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Leadership

How David Miller Landed At SAP

Miller credits his time on playing on an athletic team to his success in the sports industry.

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David Miller enjoys working in sports for the same reasons many of us do. (FOS Graphic)

Career Beginnings

David Miller‘s professional story starts in a way not dissimilar to many others’ in the sports industry.

Growing up as an athlete, Miller’s dream was to become a professional athlete or work in the industry of sports. When becoming a professional athlete became unrealistic, Miller decided to put his business degree to use and enter the world of sports business. In his junior year at the University of Maryland, Miller quickly pounced on an opportunity to intern at Under Armour. But this wasn’t yet the turning point – that would come upon completion of his degree when he decided to return for one year of school at the University of Notre Dame:

“When I graduated from the University of Maryland, I was deciding between accepting a position with an NFL franchise or playing out an additional year of lacrosse eligibility. Ultimately, I decided to spend my next year at the University of Notre Dame attending graduate level classes and participating on the Men’s Lacrosse team with my brother.” – David Miller

As an un-classified graduate student at Notre Dame, Miller had the opportunity to expand his career options by interning with the Sponsorships Department as a Corporate Partnerships intern. At the time, and fortunately for Miller, Notre Dame was one of the few major schools to manage their sponsorships in-house. Preferring the increased autonomy (Notre Dame, who notably provides less in-arena opportunities for corporate sponsorships, and has its own television deal with NBC) over the benefits of scale efficiencies that an agency partner would provide (which I covered here). This provided an invaluable learning experience for Miller, whose responsibilities ranged from working on renewal decks and analyzing contracts.

Though Miller would never become a hot prospect as a professional athlete, he would become one in sponsorship. With offers from sponsorship agencies, as well as a non-sports related marketing role with a top tech firm, Miller was quickly left with a difficult decision: pursue a passion by following a path in sports, or choose a different job that would aid in becoming financially independent. Pressure from different ends led him to choose the latter, but only six months later, Miller felt the itch to return to the industry that he had grown to love.

“While I appreciated the professional experience my first role offered, I was unhappy knowing that was I was doing didn’t align with my personal career aspirations. So I went back to the agencies I had built a rapport with during the interview process and essentially said: ‘Listen, I made the wrong decision… I should have followed my passion.’”


Return to Sponsorship

Miller would eventually land at GMR Marketing – a global sponsorship and experiential agency. During his time at GMR, Miller’s client was SAP – for whom GMR planned and executed marketing activations. A common thread I hear from people with agency is experience is exactly what Miller experienced: rapid growth in knowledge of both sides of the sponsorship industry (property and brand), and in practical ability. Where industry experience would give you a deep knowledge in one topic, agency experience would provide you a sampling of many topics.

Close to two years after he joined GMR, Miller wanted to broaden his skill set and gain experience in sales. He left GMR to take on a sales role at KORE Software, who develops CRM and data warehouse software for sports teams to manage their sponsorship and ticketing sales. Although experiencing success in his sales role, Miller knew he eventually wanted to return to the sponsorship world.  In true fashion of how the small world of sponsorships is, he found his way back to SAP – his former client at GMR.

“While transferring to a new agency, SAP decided that one of the positions that had been rooted at the agency would move in-house. I jumped at the opportunity to re-join many colleagues at SAP that I grew close with.”

And since then, Miller has been SAP’s Activation Manager for North and Latin America and oversees SAP’s partnerships with the New York Giants, New York Jets, MetLife Stadium, NYCFC, and the Madison Square Garden Group.


 SAP’s Sponsorship Strategy

SAP has sponsorship assets across the sports industry. (Photo via David Miller)

Roughly 10 years ago when SAP started heavily investing in sponsorships, the strategy was rooted in building widespread brand awareness and customer hospitality. In other words, SAP’s strategy was largely typical for brands at the time.

Recently, this strategy has shifted:

“SAP still finds true value in brand awareness/engagement and customer hospitality experiences, but we also see sponsorship as a way to partner with properties to showcase how our teams are using SAP technology in new and innovative ways. We see this model as a win-win: Properties are able to run their business operations more efficiently using SAP software from the back office down to the playing field/ice. Then, through our sponsorship agreements, SAP is able to share how some of the biggest sports and entertainment properties in the world find value in SAP solutions. Our sponsorships are tremendously valuable for SAP from a brand-building perspective to drive SAP’s overarching message to the masses.”

Miller emphasized how important their agency, Momentum Worldwide, is to accomplishing their sponsorship strategy.  By providing industry expertise, forward-thinking brand activations, top-notch execution, and extensive consulting services, Momentum is a true extension of the SAP sponsorship family.


Sponsorship can be a fascinating field, and for Miller, the opportunity to make a career in the industry has been one like none other. From his beginnings at Maryland to working in the sponsorships division of a global software brand, Miller has been able to follow his passion with success:

“What drove me towards this industry was the notion of teamwork to accomplish mutual goals. Going to work every day feels like I’m back on an athletic team – seeing three separate entities; property, agency, and brand – or in sports; offense, defense, and special teams, all working together to achieve great things is awesome to be a part of.”

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