Jan
09

Op-Ed: Sports Agents Should Grow Their Reputation Through Branding

The following guest post is by Travis Bell, an NBPA and CFLPA certified Contract Advisor and owner of The Seven Bridges Group based in Newport Beach, CA.

San Francisco 49ers running back LaMichael James (23) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Travis Bell suggests that San Francisco 49ers running back LaMichael James is a good example of a player who can benefit from good branding. Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As you know, breaking into this business is hard; with the regulations in each state, the steep certification requirements in the NFL and NBA not to mention MLB, CFL and FIBA and the other sports as well.

The certifications themselves are not a magic wand. Just because you get your name on a piece of paper doesn’t mean clients will come beating down your door and it certainly does not mean you will land the next big star or even someone good enough to play in pros.

If you’ve been in this business for a while you know the above to be true. But I want to talk to you about another avenue to grow your reputation as an agent and that is Branding.

People are not only interested in what athletes are doing on the field but are also wanting to know what they do off the field. Fans want to connect with their favorite athletes and know more about their lives on a day-to-day basis. Rather than only seeing an NFL player perform every Sunday, fans want to know the deeper narrative of the middle linebacker who not only crushes receivers on crossing routes but also does charity work in the community after rising above his poor background.

That’s where your efforts in branding that athlete come into play. Every positive thing that player does, from charity work, interviews, etc. is a gold mine of opportunity to increase his brand awareness and expand it into endorsements, film and television roles as wells as commercials and even politics.

Former Tennessee Volunteer and NFL quarterback Heath Shuler had a career that was less than anticipated out of college. Nevertheless, he was able to leverage popularity in the region in which he played. Shuler became very successful, after his playing career ended, in the real estate business. Shuler handled real estate in Tennessee where he went to school at the University of Tennessee. He was able to parlay his previous connections within that state to become a real estate maven. Now he’s a representative for the great state of North Carolina. Many athletes are not as successful after their playing days are over as Heath Shuler is, but a branded athlete has a significant advantage over non-branded athlete

Being branded isn’t reserved for top athletes either. Many athletes would benefit financially and in terms of popularity by developing a brand. Narratives are a huge help to less than elite athletes in their careers. Athletes can brand themselves within regions. LaMichael James is one of the most popular Oregon Ducks ever, and with no NFL team in Oregon, you can be sure that Duck fans are going to be supporting James every step on his journey from preparing for the Combine through the day he retires. The Pacific Northwest is going to be LaMichael James’ biggest financial supporter throughout his career by buying his jersey and products he endorses. So a brand that aligns LaMichael James with his core fan base is going to be optimal for success for the days after his playing career ends.

So take the time to discover the opportunities off the field for your clients. Also check out the NFLPA website. A lot of athletes split their Contract Advisors and Branding/Marketing advisors into two separate entities. Look around, and inquire.

Ask that player you see on TV every week about his path for his brand. The worst thing that can happen is an athlete will tell you no.

  • James

    Great guest post. I agree w/ all that you said. Newer or smaller agents are forced to be more savvy in order to develop and grow their client’s brand. One thing I do is I seek out a lot of start ups in the sports realm that don’t have a major face attached. When you’re representing a fringe player, it becomes a mutually beneficial relationship. In those cases, there’s the unique opportunity to essentially grow 2 brands and cross-promote between your client and a new startup.

    1 thing I’d add is sports agents should put thought into the philanthropic efforts of their clients. While it’s perfectly fine to support successful organizations like March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, NBA Cares/NFL’s Play 360, agents should encourage their clients to create or discover charities that are in alignment w/ causes that are directly important to THEM. You can’t lose w/ charity engagement as a part of brand building.