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Athletes In Business

Could We See a ‘Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’ League?

If “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” made a comeback, the legendary skateboarder would welcome the chance to start a league around it.

Adam White

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Photo via Laureus

Video games changed Tony Hawk’s life. He’ll be the first to admit it.

The numbers prove it too.

From 1999-2015, “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” saw 19 different versions created, bringing in an estimated $1.4 billion in sales, making it one of the most successful video-game brands in history.

During that time, Hawk was able to transition from being a competitive skater to focusing on things outside of the sport that he wanted to accomplish.

“Video games changed my life,” said Hawk at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco. “They gave me the resources and the name recognition to be able to go do those things I wanted to do.”

Not only did the success of Pro Skater help propel his career forward, it also helped move the industry forward.

READ MORE: Former NFL Player Andrew Hawkins Is Building a New Career Playbook

Hawk credits the success of the video game to growing awareness around the sport as well as getting more people interested in it.

Although video games have played an important role in taking Hawk from skater to icon, he believes that if the game was just taking off today, it would do even better.

“If we would have first come out on consoles within the last five years or so, the online element would be much, much bigger and would have probably given it more longevity.”

Seeing what has happened in the world of esports in the last few years, Hawk even believes that there would be room for a Pro Skater League, similar to the leagues of other titles like “Overwatch” or even “Madden.” If the game was to ever make a comeback, he would embrace the opportunity to potentially create something that brought people together over the love of the game.

“It would be great. It would be a blast. There’s still hope.”

For now, though, Hawk is focused on “Tony Hawk’s Skate Jam,” his new mobile game he launched just under three months ago.

With an online competition coming in the next update for the app-based game, Hawk is excited about having a more robust online opportunity for the game’s users.

READ MORE: Former NFL Lineman Hopes to Change the Way We Share Music

“It would have been different on the console side. We could have been pushing updates,” he said, talking about the opportunity “Pro Skater” could have had if it was still being produced to this day. “With the app, even though it’s on your phone, we will have the competition mode, which gives it that online element. That’s pretty exciting to me.”

Now 50, Hawk has seen the peaks and valleys of skateboarding, experiencing them all through his own opportunities or his business dealings.

Regardless, he sees a sport that is in a good place thanks to it being established as a hobby, lifestyle, and a pastime.

“It’s in a good place in terms of it being more of a recreational hobby as well as the lifestyle. In the past, the only people that liked skateboarding were the ones who were into it deeply. Now, it’s something that people do just as easily as they play team sports.”

While there might not be a lot of hard evidence to prove it, one can imagine Hawk’s video-game franchise played some sort of role in that evolution. 

Adam is the Founder and CEO of Front Office Sports. A University of Miami Alum, Adam has worked for opendorse, the Fiesta Bowl, and the University of Miami Athletic Department. He can be reached at adam@frntofficesport.com.

Athletes In Business

McGregor Keeps Branching Out With Proper No. Twelve

Conor McGregor’s latest foray outside the octagon is his most ambitious — and perhaps authentic — idea yet: Irish whiskey.

Max Simpson

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Photo Credit: Proper No. Twelve

Conor McGregor has been a professional sports icon for years thanks to his work in a UFC octagon. But his outside ventures have played a major role in elevating him to a global star. In 2017, it was his cross-sport boxing match with Floyd Mayweather. In 2018, it was a clothing line with David August that includes hand-tailored suiting and luxury menswear. And, in 2019, it might be the most on-brand product of all for a proud Irishman — whiskey.

Proper No. Twelve, a distilled Irish whiskey brand, launched in September 17, 2018. The idea, however, was in place for years.

“Since his rise to stardom in MMA and beyond, Conor’s been approached by countless Irish whiskey brands asking him to endorse their product,” said Brian Axelrod, US Director at Proper No. Twelve and Eire Born Spirits. “Conor has nothing against endorsement deals, he participates in a few for brands he truly believes in and supports. But something about endorsing an Irish whiskey didn’t feel right to him. Conor wanted to make his own Irish whiskey.”

READ MORE: How Two Top Brands Market Products Via Partnership With NASCAR

McGregor and the Proper No. Twelve team decided to start wide, canvassing top distilleries across Ireland. They ultimately settled on one of the oldest, Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland’s County Antrim,
which had a reputation for fresh water quality, a long record of top-notch product and a master distiller who previously worked for Guinness.

With McGregor’s vision and the distiller’s expertise, the two congregated with the rest of McGregor’s team to fine-tune the custom blend. McGregor and his team selected whiskey from hundreds of barrels, a months-long process. The end result was worth it: A complex flavor profile that but one that retained a smooth and approachable taste.

But McGregor funneled that same energy into promotion.  Shortly after launch, he also embarked on a cross-country trip of the United States, stopping in multiple cities each day to personally market the brand and product to fans. McGregor went everywhere from Conan to AT&T Stadium in Dallas for a Cowboys game.

Yet one of the less buzz-worthy meetings resonated most. During one of the final stops of the trip, McGregor and the Proper No. Twelve team visited the Boston Fire Department. McGregor shook each department member’s hand and later surprised them with World Series tickets to see their hometown team in action. According to Axelrod, the day owes itself to one person in particular.

“Visiting the Boston Fire Department was all Conor,” he said. “Everything we did was completely organic or by invite. Conor’s enthusiasm is contagious. People just want to be around him.”

READ MORE: How Professional Bull Riders Successfully Introduces Its Culture to New Audiences

While the tour may have ended, the brand’s growth is only beginning. McGregor frequently posts about the whiskey on his personal Twitter and Instagram to his near-38 million followers across both platforms. Axelrod, meanwhile, says the brand is targeting much bigger distribution and visibility. And, of course, what better time to start than this weekend?

“As for St. Paddy’s Day, you better start preparing now,” Axelrod said.

The party is just getting started if McGregor has his way.

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Athletes In Business

Former Pro Baseball Player Shows Value of Athletes In Data Tech World

Following seven years in baseball, Josh Wilkie transitioned to the tech world and now helps athletes understand data from products to prevent injuries.

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Photo credit: Athos

With ever-increasing amounts of analytics and data, it helps technology companies to have a former athlete on staff — just like Athos’ Josh Wilkie.

Wilkie, a former professional baseball player, joined the startup in June 2018 and has provided an inside look at how the company’s products integrate with an athlete. As regional director of team partnerships for Athos, Wilkie helps teams understand the benefits of the product: Compression shorts with embedded sensors.

“My mission with this company is getting players and elite athletes into these shorts and understand what movements they are doing that can put them at risk for injury and what they can do to prevent it,” said Wilkie, who spent seven seasons in the Washington Nationals’ organization from 2006 to 2013.

“This is a layer of muscular data that is different than what’s out there. When I was playing, there was zero technology and monitoring. It was just this workout and why, but there wasn’t a lot of why behind what we were doing.”

Wilkie ultimately ended his playing career because of a shoulder injury, which caused him to begin his search for another path. Always an early adopter of technology — he studied electronic music at George Washington University — from his earliest memories of Microsoft Encarta to tinkering with primitive Mp3 players, new technology was always interesting to him.

READ MORE: Former Athletes and Business: ‘The Breeze of Opportunity Is Always Blowing’

As he wrapped up his career, a friend living in San Francisco was an obvious move to get off the East Coast and into the tech mecca of the world.

He found his first technology job through Craigslist, before finding himself in an early stage startup. Eventually, he made the jump to Athos, a sports-based technology company Wilkie said couldn’t be a more perfect fit.

Wilkie has had several surgeries as a result of his baseball career and by using the product he now sells, he can get an idea of where his potential future issues are. He said a few months ago his knee was aching, so he looked at data, which said his left hamstring was taking on 70 percent of the load.

“Those are the things you can intervene on,” he said. “You alleviate it before it’s a real issue and nip an injury in the bud; align the tires.”

He plays an important role in a startup in helping clients understand how the technology works. A lot of the tech measuring data being put on the market really doesn’t help athletes much.

“It’s been eye-opening to see what’s possible and how much bull is out there,” he said. “It’s cool there’s all these numbers, but a lot of them are arbitrary and don’t mean much of anything. They just are spit at you.”

The former relief pitcher added, “Like your pitch rotation is XYZ, what do you actually do with that?”

Athos CEO Don Faul said there are certain backgrounds he likes employees to have to keep up with demands of a growing tech business, and an athlete fits the bill.

READ MORE: USOC Continues Turn to Tech to Increase Medal Counts in Tokyo

“With an accomplished athlete background I know that means a strong work ethic, grit, smarts, a sense of teamwork, and equal parts confidence and humility,” Faul said. “Josh brings all of that and experience in another tech company. That’s a powerful combination that has made him an outstanding addition to Athos. 

“Josh was able to [have an impact] very quickly as his background prepared him so well for this opportunity, and that alignment will enable him to continue to grow his impact at Athos.” 

Wilkie said he feels his presence is valued, as the company’s team of 45 full-time employees are constantly iterating and seeking the feedback of players and coaches. For him, he likes the aspect of providing useful data that could help a future player avoid a career-ending injury and keeping teams at full-strength.

“We’re building a platform for injury prevention. That’s where we started and now building at a scale for player availability,” Wilkie said. “From a fundamental level, if teams have more players available, they’ll win more games.”

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Athletes In Business

Missy Franklin Opens Up About Retirement and Life After Swimming

With more time on her hands upon retirement, the 23-year-old Franklin looks to spend it on philanthropic work and public speaking.

Adam White

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Photo via Laureus

At 23, most people are just entering the beginning years of their career. For Missy Franklin, it was supposed to be the beginning of hers too.

The five-time Olympic gold medalist was set to be the heir-apparent to Michael Phelps after she dominated the 2012 London Games, becoming the first woman to win four golds in a single Olympics in any sport.

It wasn’t meant to be.

In 2015, Franklin began to suffer from intense shoulder pain. Diagnosed with severe chronic tendinitis of the rotator cuff and biceps, Franklin underwent surgery on both of her shoulders in January and February 2017.

The road to recovery didn’t go as planned and Franklin was left with two options: Get another surgery and try to rehab again, or stop swimming altogether. She decided on the latter and retired from swimming in December of last year.

READ MORE: Inside Julianne Viani’s Whirlwind of a Broadcasting Career 

While Franklin was disappointed with the outcome, she knew that it was time for her to take on the next challenges in life, something that she is excited about.

“Philanthropy is going to be a huge branch for me,” said Franklin at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco. “I want to do more field work for Laureus; I want to see what different kinds of opportunities pop up.”

One of the opportunities she’s most excited about is being able to do more public speaking. Having been able to speak at a few places while she was swimming, Franklin is planning to take advantage of a schedule that won’t see her in the pool in the middle of January.

“We were in Estonia a couple of weeks ago and I was talking to the Eastern European Coca-Cola team, which I would’ve never been able to do that in the middle of January.”

Unlike other Olympians, Franklin waited to go pro, instead opting to head to the University of California Berkeley in 2013 to swim collegiately. While many observers saw a move that resulted in Franklin missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars, Franklin wasn’t as concerned.

“I’m sure I missed out on more money, but that was never my intention; that’s never why I was swimming. I was so proud to be with the sponsors that I was with. Looking back on my career, I couldn’t have imagined being partnered with better people and better companies. So even though there’s still this idea that if you don’t go pro early, you’re going to be missing out. I feel like I had the best possible experience, even with waiting.”

It was that waiting, along with the help from her agent Mark Urban, that made sure Franklin wasn’t just in a partnership for an Olympic cycle — she was in it for life.

“I always strived to have authentic partnerships and for us, the goal was to find companies who were looking for the same thing. Mark did a great job of helping them realize like this is going to be a lifelong relationship and not just an Olympic year and then. We wanted partners who wanted to work with us because they loved me and what I stood for and hopefully, we felt the same way.”

READ MORE: Immersive Media’s Infancy Creates Industry Opportunities

In hindsight, she points to the fact that she was thrust into the spotlight at an early age as one of the reasons why she was able to navigate the next six years of her life with patience that paid off in these kinds of deals.

“It was really just the basic day-to-day life changes that were so rattling. Just going to the grocery store and being stopped on every aisle to take pictures. It was a lifestyle change. At 17, and going into my senior year of high school, that was just something that was a big adjustment, but one that taught me a lot of responsibility and I’m really grateful for it.”

As to whether she will go back to swimming anytime soon, she seems pretty content on staying out of the pool for a little bit, but that doesn’t mean it will be forever.

“Ask me again in five or 10 years, but right now I I just want to use my time and energy in other areas.”

For now, it’s time to finish school (she’s set to graduate this fall), get married, and find the next thing on her to-do list.

Knowing Franklin, it will probably be something to do with trying to make the world a better place, one smile at a time.

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