The Agent’s Role in Brand Management and Business Services: Part 1

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I began writing this back in early September, but as my semester picked up, I couldn’t get my mind focused on editing the first article I wrote. Now I’ve restarted, shaping out my thoughts on the business services and brand management that a sports management firm must provide for their clients.

The first part that I’m releasing today focuses more on brand management; the next one will focus on business services. While I think these overlap, I want to split it up for the sake of keeping this shorter.

Thankfully, I’m done with my MBA at Rutgers and will begin my career working with Athlete Advocates as well as DeFranco’s Gym. I’m excited to have more time to write here as we get into the offseason, which is in-season for us at Over The Cap. I’ll also be preparing for the NFLPA certification exam that takes place on the weekend of July 23rd and 24th in Washington D.C. For any potential agents out there, you can file to take the test between January 5th and February 5th and all the details are here.

With Joe DeFranco of DeFranco’s Gym, he’ll be starting his podcast in the next few weeks and I couldn’t be more excited to work on this venture. This podcast will be a great learning experience as he brings another aspect of content creation into the fold. He’s done an absolutely incredible job in brand management during his 11 years owning DeFranco’s Gym and he knows more about the topic I’m discussing here than anyone.

It should be exciting to meet and learn something from all the unique people who he will have on. I’m going to be starting my own podcast as well that will focus on the kind of things we discuss here and I really look forward to having guests like Jason Fitzgerald and other great football minds.

A lot of what I know about the sports agent industry and entrepreneurship comes from what I learned at DeFranco’s Gym. From the brand management and business services perspective of what we need to provide our athletes with, the foundation of what I’ve learned on this comes from watching Joe DeFranco expand his business and work with people and companies that aligned with his goals. He’s done such a good job with brand and business building that he just opened a gym in Austin, Texas with the great people at Onnit, a company that we had both respected from afar since 2011 when we discovered them. For me, it’s a dream come true to see them work together because I know how much they can accomplish together– and Joe D. deserves it more than anyone. What he’s accomplished with a small crew of guys will be amplified by the HUGE staff at Onnit.

From the beginning of his career, DeFranco understood that the internet was a great tool to market yourself and develop a relationship with your prospective customers. As things get more personalized and we become more connected, much of the future of business is in branding. What’s your story? What do people feel when they think about your brand? What does your company, your brand, mean to your customers?

At the basis of the business services an NFL agent must provide his client is brand management because your brand is everything, your brand is your reputation- it’s why people love and/or hate you. Your goal can be to build an all-encompassing brand that appeals to everyone, but you’ll still have people that don’t like you, and that’s okay. Each player has something special about them and a story that makes them unique. It’s up to his agent to help him capitalize on these qualities.

As NFLPI vice president of licensing and business development, Steven Scebelo, says when discussing NFL Players Inc.’s partnership with opendorse on their Activate platform, “each player has had to work hard and overcome significant obstacles to make it to the NFL. We want to celebrate the success for all of those players. They all have a following, from their hometown to their collegiate and NFL cities. So the more we can tap into that entire fan base, the better connection there is to fans and individuals.”

When we think about ourselves, we all have positive and negative events that have impacted our lives drastically, along with unique characteristics that make us who we are. As an agent gets to understand what his player is all about, he can build a unique brand for him. Brand building is not an overnight process, there’s a foundation that you’ll build off of, but you’ll perfect the brand over time.

The consumer of today and the future wants to know who he/she is doing business with. It’s what made me such a huge fan of Onnit three years before DeFranco started working with them. They used part-owner Joe Rogan as a huge brand ambassador through his podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience. He and CEO, Aubrey Marcus, exemplified what the company stood for in their slogan, “Total Human Optimization.” Not only did they have a catchy slogan, but they lived it.

“Total Human Optimization” also allows them to become much more than the supplement company that they originally started out as. They now sell exercise equipment, create content, own the Onnit Academy with DeFranco, and so much more. Having a strong slogan that encompasses everything you hope to be to people can have a lasting impact far into your future and be a guiding light for everyone in your organization. I’m sure that the people who work at Onnit all understand that if it doesn’t have to do with “Total Human Optimization,” then it shouldn’t have anything to do with Onnit.

Other than being arguably the best player in the NFL, this is part of what makes JJ Watt such a powerful brand: his slogan is, “Dream Big, Work Hard,” and no one exemplifies that slogan more than him.

A fun fact I learned during one of my summer classes, was that when John F. Kennedy was running for President, the average American’s attention span was 45 seconds, by the 2008 election it was 5 seconds or less. Whether you agree or disagree with Barack Obama, he built such a powerful brand in 2008 playing off of that quick “Hope and Change” slogan that was perfect for the time. The country was in a bad place economically and politically and his brand took advantage of that in three powerful words. From a branding standpoint, you should have a goal of doing what Onnit, JJ Watt and Obama did and summarize the brand you’re selling in few words, so people can quickly grasp who you are. You must hold yourself up to the standards of the brand and message you’re projecting because no one likes a hypocrite and trust is hard to earn back after you lost it.

It’s easier than ever to get these brand messages out with platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, along with podcasts, blogs, and other media opportunities. With the internet, you can create as much content as you want rather than wait for an opportunity at an interview with some television network or radio station. Rather than waiting for an opportunity to come to you, like players had to do in the old paradigm, players can create their own opportunities.

In 2014, every company is a media company, so an agency should provide these media outlets for their clients; they should also help them manage their brand through all of the social media platforms. Derek Jeter had a fantastic idea with The Player’s Tribune because getting closer to the source is a big trend in media: fans are very interested in what their favorite players have to say.

At our agency, we’ll ensure that players will get their story out through controlled channels. One example of this is podcasting. It becomes the athlete’s platform for reaching—maybe—millions to see what he wants to say, not what fits in a small time slot on ESPN or some other outlet. Now, we’re able to hear them speak for an hour or more in a podcast you can download and listen to whenever you want or can listen to it..

The point is that an experienced brand manager and marketer can use these channels to build a brand for their agency and their athletes. As an agent, for instance, it is a benefit to be writing for the most respected NFL salary cap website on the internet; it helps me build a brand myself. Everything that a person or company puts out there publicly goes into the perception consumers have of them and their brand.

We’re in a new paradigm where fans expect to know the players they cheer for on their hometown teams and fantasy teams. It’s especially true with younger players. Guys like JJ Watt do a great job of communicating who they are through their social media sites.

A last slice of branding with NFL players involved charity work. Through charities an athlete lets people know what they stand for and what matters to them. Many times their support for a charity shows who they are as a person, what shaped them, what obstacles they overcame. This is something that’s very important to branding as it shows fans you’re giving back to people in need, which endears you to fans. They like knowing that the rich and famous have been through tough times and that they give back to people that have been in the same situations as them.

Vincent Jackson does a great job branding himself with his military background and the charities he works with; JJ Watt gives back to young kids so they can get involved in sports and learn the same lessons he did. Retired NFL running back Warrick Dunn has given homes to almost 150 single-mothers since 1997. Dunn was raised by a single-mother and was orphaned two days after his 19th birthday, as she was ambushed and killed by armed robbers, while she was working as an off-duty police officer escorting a businesswoman to a bank to make a night deposit. So helping single-mothers is a cause very near and dear to his heart, which only makes his message more impactful and gives his fans an insight into the kind of man he is. Doing good makes these men feel good, and it helps fans get a sense of the inner person as well.

To recap, some of the basic pillars of brand managing for NFL players are marketing, owning media channels and content creation, along with charity work.

In our next piece, I’m going to expand on some more of the business services that an agent should provide his client.

Twitter/Instagram: @ZackMooreNFL

The DeFranco’s Gym Combine Training Program: https://www.onnit.com/academy/facilities/defranco/

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  • McGeorge

    Zack, with the rise in popularity of Fantasy football, do players have a wider ranging fan base, rather than a localized fan base? How can a player capitalize on that? There may be less local interest, but more national interest. (with the exception of a super bowl winner like Russel Wilson, who has a local fan base). Lets say the Giants stink for the next few years, but Odell Beckham keeps playing like he does.
    How would you as his agent market him to gain outside endorsements?
    Compared to a good player on a small market team, say Jordy nelson on GB. He might not have much national appeal (I assume).