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Athletes In Business

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

Though she is still suiting up for the Seattle Storm, Sue Bird is using this opportunity with the Denver Nuggets to set up her post-playing career.

Bailey Knecht

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Photo credit: Seattle Storm

In September, Sue Bird was celebrating her third championship after a sweep of the Washington Mystics in the WNBA Finals. Now, she is traveling to arenas around the country as the Denver Nuggets’ newest basketball operations associate.

In her role with the Nuggets, the Seattle legend will work in the front office with a focus on player scouting, all while balancing her playing career with the Storm.

“It’s been good,” Bird said of the apprenticeship thus far. “I kind of knew coming in, like any new job or position, there’s a lot of learning to be had. The first couple of assignments have been learning jobs and meeting people, which is fun.”

“There’s this happy balance of learning what I can and, at the end of the day, giving my opinion on players and the game of basketball in general,” she added. “Luckily, I’m already accustomed to that part.”

Although her main responsibilities will concentrate on scouting, Bird sees the position as a chance to learn as much as possible about the industry.

READ MORE: How the Seattle Storm Social Team Pulled at Community Heartstrings

“That’s what’s so great about this opportunity,” she said. “I’ve said it so many times, but I’m so thankful to the Nuggets, to [Nuggets’ President of Basketball Operations] Tim Connelly, for giving me this chance to get an understanding of what it means to be a part of an NBA front office and coaching staff, and what it takes. It’s great to see what it’s like firsthand.”

In her 17 years in the WNBA, Bird has earned three championships, 11 All-Star nods and five All-WNBA First Team selections — something she plans to use to her advantage with the Nuggets.

“I do think — because I’m a player, I’ve won before, I’ve played for many years — I have a lot of experience,” she said. “I’ve been on championship teams, teams that had championship potential, less talented teams that have overachieved, and talented teams that have underachieved. I’ve won, and I know what it takes to do that, and I’ve experienced the whole gamut in terms of teams. All of that lends to my outlook, so I’ll do my best to share that.”

“We’re thrilled that Sue has the opportunity to work with such a high-caliber NBA franchise,” added Seattle Storm GM and President Alisha Valavanis. “The Denver Nuggets have added a championship point guard and one of the best basketball minds to their staff. Sue is certain to add a unique value to their franchise.”

Bird isn’t the only WNBA player making moves in the NBA realm. The Mystics’ Kristi Toliver was named assistant coach for player development for the Washington Wizards this season. Former player Becky Hammon is in her fifth year on the San Antonio Spurs’ coaching staff, while another WNBA alumna, Allison Feaster, was recently promoted to lead the G League’s professional path initiative.

“We have a wealth of knowledge, and we’ve played for a long time,” Bird said of the women working in the NBA. “People think that just because we’re women it means we don’t know as much, but that’s not true at all. Experience is key to everything, and it helps you in every aspect of life.”

Even though the style of play in the WNBA may vary from the NBA, Bird is confident in her basketball expertise.

“Is the women’s game different?” she asked. “Yeah, of course, but with that being said, strategy and different qualities of players and teams is the same across the board, regardless of whether you’re male or female.”

READ MORE: WNBA Teams Find Success Through Creative Partnerships 

Armed with that basketball savviness, Bird joins the Nuggets at an exciting time — the team has one of the best records in the NBA and, according to Bird, exemplifies similar qualities to her own team.

It’s fun,” she said. “I’m still playing with the Storm, so a lot of my outlook has to do with my experiences there, and it feels similar. The team has been put together with really good draft picks, good free agent pickups, and it’s starting to become — instead of just a youthful, talented team — a legit contender. It’s fun to see them get to the other side and develop that winning culture, because that’s what we went through in Seattle.”

Though she is still in the midst of her career with the Storm, Bird looks forward to using this opportunity with the Nuggets as a way to get her foot in the door and gradually transition into her post-playing career.

“I mean, it’s legit the best-case scenario,” she said. “I couldn’t have written it any better.”

Bailey Knecht is a Northeastern University graduate and has worked for New Balance, the Boston Bruins and the Northeastern and UMass Lowell athletic departments. She covers media and marketing for Front Office Sports, with an emphasis on women's sports and basketball. She can be contacted at bailey@frntofficesport.com.

Athletes In Business

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

Player business opportunities were the heart of a discussion between two former NFL players Dhani Jones and Isaiah Kacyvenski at CES.

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Photo via Dhani Jones

The time of athletes being “dumb money” in business is over, and player business opportunities were at the heart of a discussion between two former NFL players at CES: Dhani Jones and Isaiah Kacyvenski.

An 11-year NFL veteran, Jones has since led an accomplished TV career and invested in 35 companies, many in the FinTech industry. He said the amount of people who want to engage with athletes is incredible and provides more opportunity than ever for athletes to have a place at the table. He also said it’s important for businesses to understand athletes have a lot to offer.

“A lot more athletes are pushing the envelope and embedded in the process, wanting to learn and use the platform,” Jones said.

Jones said his life has been defined by a combination of curiosity and discipline imprinted on him from having two military parents. The curiosity helped him define who he was off the field and what he’s done since stepping off it for the last time.

Now, it’s easier for athletes to find a spot for themselves, beyond the one percent of athletes with major marketing deals.

READ MORE: Competitive Pressure Forcing Industry to Adopt New Technology

“The democratization of tech is affording the opportunity for athletes to get involved,” Jones said. “Football and sports used to be a uniform; now it’s full frontal and people see everything that an athlete is, no longer as just a test subject. We’re now the experts consulted to make a better case for what you want to accomplish. The doors are knocked down.”

Athletes have a finite amount of time playing the game and therefore a finite earning opportunity in their athletic lives. Kacyvenski brought up a statistic that nearly 80 percent of athletes end up bankrupt. Jones said part of an athlete’s business success is about changing their mentality and realizing their voice has value.

The transition to business also isn’t too difficult, he said, as all athletes treat their bodies as though they’re entrepreneurs. A harder jump is into investment, but he made an easy analogy to help that transition.

He equated a sports career to youth being seed investments, with parents buying equipment and early training. College is Series A with the scholarship. Meanwhile, professional sports is further Series investments, and the longer they play, the more they can invest in themselves and learn the ins and outs of investment.

“A lot of guys are starting to invest now and starting to be looked up to, like, Chris Bosh and Andre Iguodala,” Jones said. “Guys that are investing now have reached that level of investor and now we can achieve by learning from those that have done it.”

A lot of athletes have the passion, ability, and desire to make it in the business world, and often all it takes is an extra step of mentorship from a business person, Jones said. He has benefited greatly from a relationship with Dan Gilbert.

“Most players need that final inch, a final lesson as well as a nudge,” he said. “Those same skills to get to an elite level are just an unbelievable value as you step away from the game.”

Finding the right opportunities are all about listening to the surroundings, he said, explaining one of his two rules: the breeze of opportunity can come from anywhere. The second is, it’s not about you, it’s something greater than yourself.

READ MORE: A Pivot Back to Video Seems Unlikely for Sports Media in 2019

“It’s a 2019 cliché, but do whatever it is you’re passionate about,” Jones said. “But also, the breeze of opportunity can come from anywhere. Do what you really love to do, but also listen to the surroundings and have some level of sensitivity to what people are saying to you. If people keep talking to you about clothes and clothes and clothes — well, you know what? You might want to go into clothes.”

Those hoping to work with athletes also don’t need to go for name recognition, Jones said. Establishing a relationship with an athlete also isn’t hard; it only takes finding common ground.

“Make sure they’re authentic to what they do,” he said. “If they are, it won’t be like work. It’s a partnership in the same way you formulate the people you’re working with. Build a community filled with the best ambassadors for your business.”

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Athletes In Business

Reigning BMX Gold Medalist Finds Balance Between Managing Sponsorships and Training

2016 BMX Gold Medalist Connor Fields is focused on the 2020 Tokyo Games — all while handling the business challenges of his career.

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Photo credit: Connor Fields

The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games are still more than a year away, but many athletes are already well into their preparation.

The hard work doesn’t start and stop with the physical training, but also the logistics and financial aspects of being an Olympic athlete. A majority of athletes’ annual salaries aren’t in the millions, so to provide their freedom to be elite athletes, they have to take on extra responsibilities.

Reigning BMX Gold Medalist Connor Fields is preparing for what would be his third Olympic Games, which includes a fine balancing act between training responsibilities and sponsorship responsibilities.

“The older you get, the more natural it becomes,” Fields said about the business side of his nine-year BMX career. “When I first started, I was 18 and living at home with no bills. Everything was for the love of the sport. Now, life is expensive. I have to make decisions based on what helps me financially and career-wise.”

READ MORE: Inside Sports Tech Tokyo’s Aspirations to Be Gateway to Asia for Sports Tech Businesses

“It’s a delicate balance because you don’t want to lose the passion,” he added. “But at the end of the day, I have a mortgage due every month.”

For a solo athlete like Fields, financials can be tricky. In some sports, like men’s basketball, year-round earning for Olympians is a given. Some other sports, like skiing, can offer athletes handsome earnings year-round even in non-Olympic years. Sports like BMX can support elite participants, but not much beyond those few. Still, some sports offer almost zero earning potential beyond the Olympic cycles.

“For some sports, the Olympics really is the holy grail,” Fields said. “There is an opportunity in BMX, but it’s very feast or famine.”

Fields has two full-time sponsorships: Chase BMX and Monster Energy.

More sponsors will come as the Olympics draw nearer, especially those who sponsor the general USA Olympic team. Over the last cycle, Fields was sponsored by Polo Ralph Lauren, one of the team’s major sponsors. Other major sponsors, like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, come in and can sponsor individual athletes too.

“The marquee athletes get first bite at the apple,” he said.

His first Olympics in 2012 didn’t bring any sponsorship interest. Unless an athlete is already world-class heading into their first Olympics, sponsorships are virtually non-existent, he said. Prior to 2016, he saw more as he finished seventh in London.

Now, as a gold medalist, he should see a significant surge.

“Coming into this next one, I’m an Olympic champion,” Fields said. “A sponsor can say they’re attached to an Olympic champion.”

Now with his main BMX sponsors and eventually with the Olympic cycle sponsors, Fields has to balance time commitments. Training five or six days a week for his races is mixed in with photo shoots and corporate meet-and-greets. It’s all about working with the sponsors to ensure it doesn’t take too much time away from the training. An athlete also has to be careful to not take on too many sponsors to ensure all parties are happy.

They want you because you’re successful, and if you do too much, it backfires,” Fields said.

READ MORE: Toyota Grows Olympic Involvement With Six New Partnerships

The Olympic media cycle will begin later this year, in terms of sponsorship media commitments for the Olympics, Fields said. Athletes expected to make the Olympics can sign sponsorships with clauses that pay a portion up front and then tender the rest of the money if they make the team — since some aren’t decided until even a month prior to the games.

“It’s tough for sponsors, because they have to look at past Olympic results, but also current efforts,” Fields said. “They’re investing in an athlete and creating a story around them.”

Along with performance, Fields said sponsors are more interested in athletes with a story hook.

Fields hasn’t made Team USA yet, but in his third cycle, he’s not too nervous about the process.

“I’ve done it twice before and I know exactly what to expect so it seems easier and I’m less nervous,” Fields said. “It’s more like a job now after nine years.”

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Athletes In Business

Everlast Worldwide Invests in the Future of Boxing With New Event

The company has teamed up with entrepreneur Adrian Clark to bring a unique, new opportunity to boxers.

Adam White

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Image via Everlast Worldwide

Boxing is unique when it comes to the world of sports.

Whereas other sports have players associations or unions, boxing is one of the few sports without such infrastructures.

While Everlast is not actually taking the steps to put together a formal union, it is trying to help fill the void left without one by teaming up with Adrian Clark and Protect Yourself at All Times.

Having worked with Clark and the organization since 2016, the latest evolution of the partnership includes a symposium that will focus on education and how to help boxers navigate the increasingly complex business world of boxing.

Clark himself knows a thing or two about boxing, having fought as an amateur boxer and working with the likes of Errol Spence Jr. Jarell ‘Big Baby’ Miller, Frank Galarza, and a host of others.

What started as a video blog series and a book put together by Clark will now be a full-fledged event with a setup that will mirror how a typical boxing match would normally play out.

“This isn’t going to be your typical symposium where I’m going to stand up and (only) talk. I am going for a more theatrical approach. I want the fighters and the general public to feel like they are attending a boxing match. The theatrics in this symposium include satire, comic relief, hard truths and a wealth of knowledge. The overall goal is for people to be educated, informed and entertained.”

READ MORE: Traditional Professional Athletes Could Soon See More Opportunities With Gaming Companies

Everlast and Clark are even going to take it beyond that by creating a monthly newsletter that they hope will become a utility for boxers, providing actionable advice that they can use to better understand the business side of the sport.

The symposium will even be included in Everlast’s ‘Be First’ global ad campaign, a move that the company feels fits the narrative of what they are trying to portray.

“Everlast’s ‘Be First’ global ad campaign is committed to showcasing and supporting individuals that break ground and find unique ways to reach their goals,” said Chris Zoller, vice president of marketing and product development for Everlast. “Not only is Adrian blazing a new path for himself but for boxers everywhere. We are 100 percent behind him and what PYaAT (Protect Yourself at All Times) does for the sport of boxing.”

Since formal announcement of the symposium earlier this fall, hundreds of boxers from around the globe have reached out to Clark to issue their congratulations and inquire when the symposium will be.

With most fighters retiring from the sport either in financial ruin and/or tax trouble, Clark wants to do more than just educate; he wants to help boxers find success for themselves and their families after their fighting days are over.

“Boxing should be viewed as a business to the athletes, not just a sport. Fighters have to remember, boxing is not an associated sport; not to mention there’s not a union to serve as the voice for them. I have to step up and be the voice to educate the fighters and their families.”

READ MORE: Jordan Burroughs’ Playbook to Social Media Success for Athletes

Traditionally at a disadvantage when it comes to education, boxers don’t have the luxury that other sports have when it comes to either gaining a scholarship or being able to go back to school to finish a degree like a football player might.

Clark is on a mission to change that.

“I fought as an amateur boxer while earning my undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. I mentored young fighters at the Neighborhood Center Boxing Club. I once took a few of the fighters to campus and showed them what college was like. I wanted them to see that college was possible while they fought for their dreams.”

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