Interview With The Agent: Amen Teter
Amen Teter is currently Octagon’s Director of Action Sports. He manages the careers of Olympic gold medalist snowboarders Jamie Anderson and Hannah Teter, pro skateboarder Mitchie Brusco and one of the most influential athletes in action sports, pro surfer Alana Blanchard, among others. Teter is a graduate of the University of Vermont where he served as the manager to his younger brother and pro snowboarder, Abe. He has since developed into one of the leading agents in the action sport business. Follow Amen on Twitter here.
When did you decide you wanted to work in action sports? What motivated that decision?
Action sports has been a way of life for me and my family since I was young. Raised in rural Vermont by my parents, I am the oldest of five children. My brother Abe (second oldest) was the one who really got the family hooked on snowboarding, beginning in our backyard and then on our local ski hill when we were kids. We loved it.
Years later, I was in college at the University of Vermont when Abe really began to excel and emerged as one of the top pro snowboarders at the time, so I started to help him manage his business. In between classes and my course work, I was talking with the snowboarding brands and negotiating deals for Abe (i.e. board, goggles, boots etc.). We even explored non-endemic brands for him and managed to land a few out-of-industry deals. Here I was pursuing a degree in Psychology with a minor in Business Administration and at the same time managing my brother’s snowboarding career; like most other college students, I was also trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I graduated and realized that it was all right in front of me. I didn’t have it all figured out, but I knew that I wanted to work on the business side of snowboarding. After I graduated from UVM, I continued to manage my brother’s career while at the time, I started working for some of the snowboard brands to help make ends meet. I would help them manage and market their athlete teams, which gave me a lot of insight into their side of the business. All the while, my brother Elijah and sister, Hannah, started to establish themselves as potential pro riders, so I began managing their careers as well. At that point, I decided to start my own agency repping pro snowboarders, Source Management. I learned a lot, some of it the hard way, in managing my brothers Abe and Elijah, all of which served me when it came time to work with Hannah.
I look back at it now and am amazed at how it all came together for me….it all started with my family. And I’m proud to say even today, my family remains a big influence in my life and my career, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
What does an average work week look like for you regarding travel, projects you’re working on, people you’re meeting with, etc?
I’ve been on the road quite a bit this year. Since the Sochi Olympics in February, I’ve been traveling about two weeks out of every month – attending appearances, production days and meetings with clients. When I’m not on the road, I’m working out of my office in Portland, Oregon, catching up on all of the tasks and projects that have managed to pile up while on the road. Whether I’m on the road or in the office, I am in regular contact with various brands about details of client agreements, activation plans and upcoming product launches.
In the action sports business, our clients make their living through endorsement deals. There is no team or league that pays them a big contract as there is in team sports; our clients rely solely on sponsorships, so a lot of our time and energy is focused on the marketing of the athletes, building programs and platforms for our clients that can be commercialized through sponsors and media. I oversee the action sports side of our division at Octagon, so I have a broad range of clients under my responsibilities that ranges from snow to surf with skateboarding mixed in. The reality is there is no off-season for me or our division because the business cycle runs through the whole year. Right now, I’m working on launch and activation plans for our snowboarding clients to kick-off the winter season and at the same time, I’m exploring new opportunities and renewing partnerships for our surf clients whose calendar season is coming to an end.
In addition to the normal workload, I’ve been working with my brothers again on a project that we believe could give snowboarding a big boost and help the sport progress internationally. Abe and Elijah have long since retired from professional snowboarding, but they have successfully transitioned to the coaching side of the sport and are now among the highest-regarded coaches in the world. It’s fun to be able to do some business with my brothers again, back to where it all started, and I’m excited for what the future holds for all of us.
What is the most rewarding part about representing action sport athletes?
Working with these young athletes and helping them pursue their career and navigate this business is very rewarding. For me, watching them live out their dream and accomplish their goals is what it’s all about. I’m really lucky because I also love to surf and snowboard myself, so to be around people who share the same love for these sports as I do… it’s the ultimate dream job.
Action sports are defined by the lifestyle led by the people who participate in them. The industry is full of creative, fun and driven people from around the world who are passionate about these sports. Since my early 20’s living in Burlington, Vermont, a breeding ground for action sports enthusiasts, I have developed knowledge and relationships that not only benefit my clients, but also myself as I will carry these relationships with me the rest of my career and life. I believe that it is the lifestyle of action sports that separate the industry from traditional sports.
How has the sports agency industry evolved since you started working in it over 12 years ago?
The agency side of action sports has evolved with the progression of the sports, both on the endemic and non-endemic side. You have to keep in mind that it wasn’t that long ago that Corporate America wouldn’t invest in action sports, so all of us on the agency side were not only selling the benefits of action sports, but we also had to educate them on the lifestyle of action sports as well as the best way to reach the young demographic that they were eager to reach through action sports.
A key moment in snowboarding was the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City when 16-year-old Kelly Clark won America’s first Olympic gold in snowboarding that was followed by the men’s sweep (Ross Powers, Danny Kass, JJ Thomas) of halfpipe the following day, which was the first time the U.S. team had swept the medal podium in the Winter Games since 1956. It was a huge moment for snowboarding and action sports given the international platform and exposure generated by the Games. There was not a lot of interest in snowboarding going into the Games, but that moment helped changed the landscape moving forward. It wasn’t long after that Nestea (owned by Coke) launched a national ad campaign with Ross, Danny and JJ, which was big because it was one of the first times that a major brand was investing in our space. Yet, many within the action sports industry didn’t embrace it, and the athletes were considered “sell-outs.” Fast forward to today and you walk in to Target and there is a whole section dedicated to Shaun White. As an industry, we have made a lot of progress and the brands have too.
We have seen an increase in the number of athletes featured in brand campaigns, many of the solo agent shops have been acquired by the larger sports and entertainment agencies (like myself joining Octagon several years ago) and the brands themselves are much more sophisticated in their approach to integrate action sports into their larger marketing initiatives.
If there’s one part of the sports agency business you could change, what would that be and why?
I think the sports agency business gets a bad rap in general because of the nature of our work helping athletes maximize their earning potential. We are the business side to sports and fans don’t want to hear about athletes and money, their interests are in the competition (as they should). I can’t speak for others, but I believe doing business with integrity is in everybody’s best interests. Naturally, that does not always happen, but that is not going to dissuade me from how I approach the business. I believe that long-term success is dependent on long-term partnerships and the trust that relationships and partnerships are built on. Short-term gains garnered from underhanded practices are as the term implies, short lived and erode any potential for long-term success. I trust the more we as agents work collectively with a forward-thinking approach, we’ll have a greater impact for our respective clients, brands and ultimately, the overall health of the industry.
What role have mentors played throughout your career? Anyone that stands out in particular? What type of advice/lessons did they teach you?
Mentors have played a significant role in my career, and I am so grateful to have had many during my career. Two in particular are Peter Carlisle, Managing Director of Olympics & Actions Sports at Octagon, and Issa Sawabini, Partner at Fuse.
I first crossed paths with Peter while I was in college and managing my brother Abe that developed into a long-term partnership over the years, and ultimately, led to him acquiring my business at Octagon. Simply said, Peter is one of the greatest strategists in the business who is always thinking about the long-term. He has taught me so much about the industry but two of the most basic, yet challenging skills, is the ability to structure a business that can withstand market fluctuations and is also firmly based in servicing our athletes at the highest levels on a global scale.
I also met Issa very early in my career and have been fortunate to grow up in this industry with the most influential marketer in action sports. Issa taught me a lot about bridging the gap between corporate brands and the action sports market. Some of the first non-endemic deals I did in the industry were with him during his days as a young and talented account manager at Fuse, which he now owns. We have been through a lot together and I’ve learned a tremendous amount through him.
How do you balance your time between the different clients you have, their schedules and their needs?
I work with a variety of clients in a handful of different sports, but I am mainly focused in snowboarding, surfing and skate. As I mentioned earlier, the business cycle is non-stop but given their respective seasons it allows me to adjust my schedule with our clients’ needs accordingly. Time-management is always a challenge but I don’t think that it’s specific to these sports alone and we are all faced with the same challenges. I am fortunate to be a part of Octagon, who has a full division dedicated to our Olympics & Action Sports clients. While I am on the front-line with our clients the most, we have the most experienced team of people with different areas of expertise to help support all of our clients.
In 100 words or less, what type of advice would you give aspiring sports business professionals who want to work in the agency business?
The sports agency business is about relationships; relationships with clients, sponsors, agencies and media. Understand what particular area of the business you want to pursue (agent, manager, marketing, sales, PR etc.) and work as hard you can to develop all the necessary skills that will help you provide solutions for clients and the agency.