Super Brand Spotlight: Levi’s

IMG_4608I’ll admit it. I’m obsessed with the entrepreneurial times we live in. In the last 10 years alone, countless new brands have changed the world and disrupted their industries, and become indispensable in our daily lives. Uber. Amazon. Netflix. Warby Parker. Shinola. Sonos. Instacart. Thrive Market. WeChat. The list goes on and on. All brands that I admit I’m kind of obsessed with. Welcome to the golden age of start-ups.

Which makes my recent trip to the amazing Levi’s Haus of Strauss in Los Angeles all the more remarkable. Being immersed in such a truly authentic brand was every bit as inspiring as spending time at the storied campuses of Facebook’ and Apple. And then it hit me. Levi’s is over 150 years old, founded in 1853. WHAT? Old brands are supposed to be dinosaurs looking for tar pits. And yet here I stood, in the incredibly cool Haus, where rock stars, All-Stars and uber-agents, all come to tour the Haus and get hooked up with a pair of 501’s. How in this start-up obsessed era is it possible for a brand to be so cool, relevant and original over 150 years after it launched? Turns out, it’s fairly simple. Levi’s has stuck with a few simple rules that should inspire any brand that wants to be more than a flash in the pan.

Trucker Jacket. Looked great on Marlon Brando. Will look great on you too.

ORIGINALITY. Like all Super Brands, Levi’s is a true original. Back in 1872, Levi Strauss was running a supplies store that catered to California gold rushers. He partnered with a taylor named Jacob Davis and created a pair of blue denim pants to cover the wool pants that miners wore to work. Their fine wool pants kept tearing in the mines, so Levi and Jacob came up with a solution. But these weren’t just any pair of blue denim pants. These had rivets! They could withstand the heavy workload of the California gold rush. Like the disruptors we are all so enamored with today, Levi Strauss disrupted the clothing industry and produced a product that was a true game changer.

Levi’s iconic 501 was born in 1890, and the red tab first appeared in 1936.  Back in the 80’s 501’s were IT. I remember my first pair of 501’s, which were #1 on my birthday list, like it was yesterday. I put them on and jumped straight into the swimming pool. Shrink to fit was a big deal back then. And the fit, style, strength and comfort of a pair of 501’s is every bit as top shelf today as it has been for over 125 years. True originality.


The history of Levi’s jeans on display at the Haus of Strauss

VALUES. Millennials famously demand that the brands that they buy from are good corporate citizens. Corporate values are critical for any Super Brand, but they are nothing new. When the 1906 earthquake absolutely leveled San Francisco (and the original Levi’s headquarters), Levi’s employees didn’t miss a single paycheck. In 1991, Levi’s enacted the very first global workplace standards, their “Terms of Engagement”, insuring that their workers worldwide would be treated fairly and with respect. Those terms also outlined Levi’s commitment to the environment, decades before global warming became a mainstream concern. Levi’s has made their core values clear from the beginning.


Incredible collateral comes with a pair of 501’s. I thought someone had left an old letter in the pocket of my new pair!

AUTHENTICITY. Think about this. Levi’s created the blue jean industry. Then icons like James Dean, Steve McQueen and Marlon Brando rocked them. Along came the 70’s and brands like Jordache and Vanderbilt were all the rage. Later, designer jeans at $200 a pop took over. Baggy jeans. Distressed jeans. Mom jeans. Brands like Lucky and True Religion dominated, and Levi’s temporarily seemed “dated”. But Levi’s never gave in to the temptation to follow along. They would add a few new designs, and tweak the classics a little bit, but they kept being Levi’s. They stayed true to their roots and never sold out and never bought into the designer jean craze. Instead, they stayed authentic and true to their roots. And now we’ve come full circle. Levi’s is by far the coolest brand in the jeans world, primarily because they’ve remained authentic, original and true to their values.

So there it is. Proof that in spite of our collective obsession with disruptor brands, the ultimate definition of cool is not what’s new. It is what’s true. So go grab a new pair of 501’s and jump in a swimming pool. You’ll feel like just James Dean.



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From the Age of Me to the Age of We?

Is it just me, or was there something fascinating about the fact that Kobe threw down 60 on his final night at the exact same time that the Warriors won #73 and set a new all-time NBA season wins record? It felt to me like more than coincidence. It felt like a turning of the tides.

For the record, I’ve never been a huge Kobe fan. Yes, I acknowledge that he’s one of the greatest individual players to ever play the game. But I’m old school LA. I grew up watching the Showtime Lakers. Back then,  it was team first. Everyone knew their role. Some of the guys (Worthy, Coop, AC, Byron..shall I continue?) could have been bigger stars elsewhere. But Pat Riley got them to buy into the team first mentality and they were DOMINANT. In my mind, basketball is a team sport. Chemistry, roles, one for all and all for one. And it wasn’t just the Lakers. How great were the Blazers, the Celtics, the Pistons of those eras? They were TEAMS.

Then along came the 90’s. Michael Jordan ushered in an era of superstars. The theory was that you could build around one superstar, so teams kept trying to draft or create “the next MJ”. If you were really smart, you’d put together a one-two punch. Jordan and Pippen dominated. Shaq and Kobe came next. The sheep followed, and for years we saw teams try to add 2 superstars together and then surround them with role players. Remember when KG and Starbury were supposed to dominate? Shaq and Penny? Vince and T-Mac? Those 1-2 punches didn’t win championships. But maybe it wasn’t just about the 1-2 punch philosophy. Maybe it was about the
me first” players themselves, and the era they grew up in.

MJ was (in some people’s minds) the GOAT. (I’d disagree and say Magic is the GOAT, but I’m LA-biased). The years that followed brought us a generation of “me first” guys. I’d argue that Kobe was king of that hill, and he won plenty, but more on him in a moment. Numerous other players often considered selfish followed. AI, KG, GP, Vince, LeBron, Melo, Dwight and others always seemed to put themselves ahead of their teams. These guys were Gen X’ers who were brought up believing they could achieve anything they dreamed, and no one should stand in their way. They tried to carry teams on their backs, but you always got the sense it was their way or the highway.

But some things never change. In spite of the post-MJ parade of stars, Basketball was still a team sport. The Spurs were winning championships, and they did it without a selfish superstar. I’d argue the Suns deserve honorable mention as they came very close as well, and for years the Valley of the Sun was the home of some of the best unselfish basketball anyone had ever seen. The Lakers won again too, but only once the Zen-master convinced Shaq and Kobe (and Fox and Horry and Fish), and later Kobe and Pau (and Fish and Lamar) that playing as a unit was the way to go. Phil knows better than anyone that basketball is a team sport. When the Lakers played unselfishly, as the Spurs always have, they won titles. In fact, from 1999-2010, 9 out of 12 championships were either won by the Lakers or the Spurs.

The age of “me” was followed by the age of “three”. The Boston Celtics brought together KG, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, three vets who were hungry for a championship. Suddenly everyone needed a “big 3”, and the hot trend was to pick any three disgruntled superstars and bring them together. Book your parade. Boston won a single title with their Big 3. Miami won 2. All of the other Big 3 teams have nothing to show for their efforts. So much for that.

Then came the Millennials. This is a generation of players that has grown up post-9/11, post recession, post global warming. Yes they are also arrogant and cocky at times, but they know that there is strength in numbers. They believe “we’re all in this together”. The Golden State Warriors embody this notion, led by Steph Curry, the most unselfish superstar the world has seen since Magic Johnson. Steph leads the league in scoring, shot more 3’s than anyone in history, is about to win a back-to-back MVP trophy, and quite possible a back-to-back championship, and he’s considered a total team-first guy. He makes everyone around him better. And he has fun while he’s at it. And you know who Steph and the Warriors remind me a lot of? Nash and the Suns.

It’s not just the Warriors. Check out the Blazers. Pundits said that Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum couldn’t co-exist in the same back court. But these dudes love each other. They inspire one another in a way that is eerily similar to the Splash Brothers just down the coast. They exceeded expectations this season, and are one of the most exciting young teams in the league. The young fellas in Boston are playing great team ball, as are the guys in Charlotte, and Detroit, and Toronto, and….

I could be wrong, but I hope I’m not. It seems the tide has turned from the age of “me” to the age of “we”.

Just my two cents worth. What do you think?

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Will LA Fans Welcome Back the NFL?

Last week’s announcement that Stan Kroenke has reached an agreement with the city of Inglewood on construction of a $2B stadium seems like LA’s 20 year NFL drought might finally be coming to an end. Of course, we all thought the same thing when Tim Leiweke announced plans for Farmer’s Field back in 2012. But this time feels different, especially with the simultaneous interest from the Chargers and Raiders, expressing interest in a shared stadium in Carson. No way LA goes from zero teams to three, so what’s likely to happen?

First off, don’t let anyone who tells you that LA has no appetite for an NFL team fool you. It’s total bunk. A team would need to sell 100,000 tickets 8 times a year, or 800,000 tickets total per season. The Dodgers regularly sell over 2.5 million tickets a season. The Lakers top 500k with less than 20,000 seats. And fans of all ages are NFL obsessed in this town. My 14-year old son, who I often call “a focus group of one” is an NFL fiend. And so are his friends. Fantasy Football has kept football alive and well in LA, and created a young generation of fans that are at least as interested in the NFL as they are the NBA, baseball or any other pro sport, regardless of the fact that LA has never had a team during their lifetimes. If the NFL comes, the fans will follow. (*In the short term. LA also loves winners. The town won’t tolerate poor performance for long).

I’ve spoken to several respected colleagues and mentors the past week or so to gauge their thoughts. Of course absolutely no consensus emerged, so it proves once again that “nobody knows nothing”. Here’s what I heard.

First of all, it’s happening. Above all else, stadiums (the “Place” of the 4 P’s of marketing) determine whether or not teams come or go. The biggest reason LA has not had a team for so long is the lack of a modern stadium. The Colliseum and Rose Bowl are old, dated venues that aren’t equipt to generate the suite, concessions, seating and signage revenue that 21st century NFL stadiums need to generate. LA, a collection of semi-independent municipalities, has never had the political backbone to build a publicly funded stadium in hopes of attracting a tenant. LA is a town with tons of existing tourist destinations, a strong economy and a disjointed city councel, and was never going to publicly subsidize a stadium. So without a decent stadium, the City of Angels has had little hope of getting a team.

Clearly, that’s all changing now. AEG teased us with a proposed stadium. Now Kroenke has approved plans to build one. And it’s easy to imagine private investors financing a stadium in Carson if they knew they could book 16 home games per year, with 2 tenants in the building. PSL’s alone, which fans can resell on the open market, could fund much of the likely $1.5-2B construction costs. A stadium will be build, and NFL will be back in LA within 3 years).

Of the two most senior people I spoke with, two totally opposite points of view emerged.

2. It will be the Rams.

Stan Kroenke is not bluffing. The Hollywood Park site is not only well situated, just off the 405 Freeway, and near several others, there’s plenty of room for tailgating and improvement of the surrounding neighborhood. He’s got approval of the city counsel. There’s history here (Pat Haden and Vince Ferragamo notwithstanding), an existing fan base, and a Facebook page with 48,000 followers that would welcome the Rams back to town. And immediately upon relocating from St. Louis to LA, the value of Kroenke’s franchise would skyrocket. If Steve Balmer paid $2B for the LA Clippers, what would the LA Rams be worth?

2. It will be the Raiders and Chargers.

If the NFL allows the Rams to come to LA, they are stuck with two franchises playing in decaying stadiums with no solution in site. Neither Oakland nor San Diego seems to have any hope of building new stadiums. LA is their only option, and if the Rams come here, the NFL is left with two terrible stadium situations. Have you been to a Raider game in Oakland lately? That stadium is one minor earthquake away from looking like like a gravel quarry. And given the success of the Giants/Jets stadium in New York, the NFL knows that system can work. From the league’s perspective, they’d rather see St. Louis use LA as leverage to get a new stadium built there, and Stan Kroenke can develop the Hollywood Park site however he likes. The Playa Vista project demonstrates a model that Kroenke might want to follow.

So who knows. My gut tells me Kroenke is not bluffing, and that the Rams francise would be a better fit for the market. Regardless of who comes, I firmly believe the market will support them. At least for a short while. Then they will have to win to capture fan loyalty here. Regardless of who it is, it’s prettty clear that the NFL will be back in LA in no time. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some football.



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Building Your MVP Brand


Was honored to be invited to speak at CreativWeek. I spoke about building personal brands. Here’s the link…



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(Originally printed at

As we all know, we are in a time of tremendous transition in the world of PR. Smart phones, social media and 24/7 news cycles have completely upended the PR world as we once knew it. So in an environment that I like to call “The Age of Transparency”, the role of the traditional publicist has evolved dramatically, and the importance of an authentic and strategic PR plan has never been greater.

When I first started in sports marketing, many athletes viewed PR as a necessary evil. Most didn’t have personal publicists, and most agencies didn’t provide them. PR was handled by the teams and leagues that athletes played for. The publicists worked for the team/league, and their primary purpose was to protect the interest of the people they worked for. Many publicists had very good intentions, but most athletes saw them as adversaries who worked for the boss. While some athletes understood that their public images mattered, many felt that their job was limited to on the field/court. Publicists were fighting a bit of an uphill battle to protect the team and present images of squeaky clean players who were amazing athletes on the court and exemplary citizens off the court.

Then came the fall of Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods. With stellar images and endless championships, Lance and Tiger sat atop the Mount Olympus of sports marketing. They were the golden boys of Madison Avenue, each banking seven (and eight) figure endorsement deals with blue chip brands. Each was a textbook of example of sports PR, presenting stories of heroes, philanthropists, family men and role models that kids aspired to emulate and brands begged to work with. Very effective PR helped tell the tale, and we all bought in.

When each fell from grace, so publicly, we witnessed a seminal moment in sports marketing history. In my view, together these events marked the moment when we officially entered The Age of Transparency. No longer would publicists be able to effectively weave public images that were inconsistent with the authentic people they were publicizing. The nexus of changes in media is remarkable: social media-which allows stories to spread virally and instantaneously, smart phones-which makes each of us a reporter on the scene and cable/internet news, which create an insatiable hunger for (often unsubstantiated) news flashes.

So what is a publicist to do? In this environment, publicists have no option but to tell authentic stories, to pitch genuine and transparent images that are not even slightly fabricated. If an athlete cares about their image, their marketability, they need to buy in fully to a commitment to authentic positioning that does not present an image that isn’t completely accurate. Yes, the public still wants heroes. Brands still embrace champions. But fans, and brands, also demand integrity. They demand authenticity. The publicist’s job is more difficult, and more critical, than ever. Before pitching stories, publicists must prepare their client through planning and training. And they must be on the same page with their clients. False positioning is too easily debunked, too fragile, too likely to be exposed.

And while authenticity and transparency now dictate the rules, and make fabricating false images a complete waste of time, they also present tremendous opportunity for athletes with talent, success, integrity and charisma. In the pre-digital world, publicists had to rely on a limited number of outlets to help reach the public. Now, publicists have countless network, cable and web outlets to pitch. And athletes who are committed to strategic and authentic connections with their fans through social media channels are building networks of their own. Brands not only look for athletes who fit their brands, they also look for access to sizable and engaged fan bases on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Publicists no longer have to hope that their pitches land. They can shape the conversation through athlete social media channels.

Perhaps the positive fallout of the Age of Transparency is that we now realize that fans don’t expect perfection in their favorite athletes. And Madison Avenue seems to be following suit. Michael Phelps still has endorsement deals. Snoop Dogg and Ray Lewis pitch brands. Instead of perfection, the public wants transparency and authenticity. Instead of perfection, publicists need to focus on positioning their clients as relatable, human and real. Lance Armstrong is very unlikely to ever recover from his fall from grace. But if Tiger starts winning, surely Madison Ave (and the public) will warm up to him again. Because now we know who he really is. And who doesn’t root for resurrection? Welcome to the Age of Transparency. Embrace it, because it isn’t going anywhere.


And while authenticity and transparency now dictate the rules, and make fabricating false images a complete waste of time, they also present tremendous opportunity for athletes with talent, success, integrity and charisma. In the pre-digital world, publicists had to rely on a limited number of outlets to help reach the public. Now, publicists have countless network, cable and web outlets to pitch. And athletes who are committed to strategic and authentic connections with their fans through social media channels are building networks of their own. Brands not only look for athletes who fit their brands, they also look for access to sizable and engaged fan bases on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Publicists no longer have to hope that their pitches land. They can shape the conversation through athlete social media channels.

Perhaps the positive fallout of the Age of Transparency is that we now realize that fans don’t expect perfection in their favorite athletes. And Madison Avenue seems to be following suit. Michael Phelps still has endorsement deals. Snoop Dogg and Ray Lewis pitch brands. Instead of perfection, the public wants transparency and authenticity. Instead of perfection, publicists need to focus on positioning their clients as relatable, human and real. Lance Armstrong is very unlikely to ever recover from his fall from grace. But if Tiger starts winning, surely Madison Ave (and the public) will warm up to him again. Because now we know who he really is. And who doesn’t root for resurrection? Welcome to the Age of Transparency. Embrace it, because it isn’t going anywhere.

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Donald Sterling and The Rest of Us

I can’t stop thinking about this Donald Sterling fiasco. I’m pretty confident that I’m not alone. As someone who is pretty critical of the media’s obsession with the story of the day (Malaysia Airlines, Chris Christie’s bridge scandal, Hillary Clinton’s brain damage), this one feels different to me. It is different.

Sports is always a great barometer of our culture, both good and bad. The Michael Sam story plays so much differently than it would have just a few years ago. It’s a reflection of our growing tolerance of the LGBT community in America. Lance Armstrong’s story exposed our willingness to look the other way in our search for heroes, and our intolerance for them once they fall from grace. Super Bowl ads for Cheerios (Interracial Family) and Coca-Cola (America The Beautiful) reflect the growing diversity of our country and our economy. So first and foremost, Sterling’s story is a reflection of how far we have come in our intolerance for bigotry.

My dad and I had Clippers seats for over 10 years. We went to the Sports Arena when it was emptier than a minor league baseball stadium. And my dad used to curse him from the other side of the court. “I hate that cheap SOB” he would say. I attended a few of the white parties, which were incredibly awkward and pretentious, and heard the awful stories about how Sterling hired his cocktail waitresses. Like many in this town and in this business, I’ve heard other stories. Lots of them. I imagine plenty will be coming out in the upcoming weeks and months. So to most of us in Clipperland, this is not a surprise at all.

But I also keep thinking about the irony of the lynch mob we’ve become. From one end of the bigotry spectrum to the other, the lynch mob is alive and well. I’m not saying Donald didn’t ask for this, or that he doesn’t deserve it. But I’m troubled by how quickly we all call for someone’s head, without at least some acknowledgement of the fact that some of our rage is self-serving. It feels good to label yourself an anti-racist. If “I’m no racist” T-shirts were in style, wouldn’t most of us be wearing them on casual Friday? I’m not judging here. And I’m not defending the Donald. Sterling seems to have all of this coming. And the league, which is by far the most progressive pro sports league in the US, ought to fight with every weapon in it’s arsenal to rid any owner that damages the league’s integrity in the eyes of fans and sponsors. But I find it really interesting that we’re practically celebrating all of this. And I think we’re doing it, at least in part, to make us feel good about ourselves.

Who knows what happens now. It’s clear that this won’t get resolved anytime soon. Doc Rivers will have to do some soul searching about going into next season with Sterling as owner. Apparently, California state law allows employees to nullify contracts when they are in a hostile work environment. So players will have decisions to make as well. Players who have made millions, and sense an opportunity to claim a role in the history books (think Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics), will probably give serious consideration to their options. Sponsors may not be willing to come back to the club while this is all pending. Season ticket holders have a voice too. 

The bottom line is that no one knows how it will play out. As one of the biggest sports stories since Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods went sideways, it’s a story that I’ll remain completely addicted to following. I hope for all of us, as it’s outcome will reflect much about our culture, that the good guys win in the end.


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From Athlete Marketing to Icon Marketing

No better time for major change than the start of the new year. So as of January 1, I’ll no longer be serving my longtime role as CMO at BDA Sports Management. After 15 years, it’s time to move on. And this site is now “Icon Marketing Guy”.

Why now? Why shake things up after so many years? Because as a marketer, I’m appropriately insecure and paranoid. I believe that any marketer who thinks that he or she is an “expert” is really a dinosaur looking for a tar pit. Marketing is constantly changing. And as the “expert marketer” gets older, the clients and their fans do not. So I feel that to stay relevant, and to remain ahead of the pack in the world of talent marketing, I need to continue to grow. I’ve been marketing NBA players for 15 years. It’s time for a new challenge. And the opportunity to learn from the amazing people at PMK-BNC was simply way too exciting for me to pass on.

But I’m also very aware of how the marketplace is changing. When I started, endorsement deals were primarily dominated by professional athletes. Aligning with consumer brands was frowned upon by traditional celebrities, and athletes had the lion’s share of the opportunities. Then came Kobe in Denver, Tiger in Florida, Lance in France (see how I rhymed that?) . Mount Olympus came crumbling down. Couple that with a major recession, and you have a sponsorship landscape full of brands cutting spending and afraid of athletes.

In the meantime, the game also changed in film, television and music. In film and scripted television, studios cut their “above the line” budgets by surrounding superstars with supporting casts of up and coming (and inexpensive) newcomers. Well known, but “b-level” actors began losing work. And turning to commercial work. In music, artists started connecting directly with their fans, and record company revenues plummeted as they didn’t foresee the importance of digital downloads. Artists no longer could rely on record deals to pay their bills. They started to focus even more on live performing. And on sponsors. Finally, reality television created a whole new class of celebrities who had absolutely no reluctance to pitch products.

So if you fast forward from my first day in the business until 2014, you have a completely changed landscape. Brands are more reluctant to hire athletes. And they have a plethora of alternatives. Brand work now goes to actors, musicians, comedians, reality stars and also to a select group of charismatic, trustworthy athletes. The cream of the crop in each of these verticals gets all of the work. No longer do athletes dominate the sponsorship world. Need proof? Jennifer Aniston works with Aveeno and Vitamin Water. Nuff said.

Another very exciting trend has also emerged. Equity deals. This is very big picture thinking that requires a tolerance for (calculated) risk. At BDA, we helped launched a very successful wine company for Yao Ming, and a chain of health clubs for Steve Nash. I believe there are unlimited brands looking for a boost from credible celebrities. These relationships are much more profound (and evergreen) than traditional endorsement deals. When they work, they can be very rewarding. This is very enjoyable work, and I wanted to be in a place with a roster deep enough to allow me to participate in more licensing and new venture work.

So it is out with the old and in with the new. I leave BDA feeling blessed to have so many wonderful years there, and to leave with lifelong friendships that I know will continue. When I’m asked by college students for career advice, I always suggest they work at places where they respect the people. And I head to PMK BNC knowing I’ll be surrounded by a group that is known for their work ethic and their character. I know they will teach me a ton, that I’ll give it my very best, and that I’ll be positioned to learn, grow and contribute. Can’t ask for more than that.

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Yale University Blames Peyton Manning for Obesity in America

Yale University caused quite a stir in the athlete marketing world last week when they published a study on the impact on youth of athlete endorsements of food and beverage brands. ( The study, conducted by Yale doctoral candidate Marie Bragg at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, analyzed 100 professional athletes and the brands they endorse. The results showed that sporting goods is the primary product category endorsed by professional athletes, followed by food and beverages. LeBron James, Serena Williams and Peyton Manning were cited as the athletes with the “most” food and beverage endorsements, while NBA athletes overall represented more food and beverage companies than other sports. The study concluded that the majority of these endorsement deals were for unhealthy food and beverage products.

 The author then asserts that athletes are partly responsible for, or at least contributing to, childhood obesity in America, and goes on to conclude that these athletes should “use their status and celebrity to promote healthy messages to youth”. That’s right folks, it’s Peyton Manning’s fault that our kids are fat. It’s not lack of exercise, or poorly balanced diets, or too much screen time. It’s Peyton Manning.

In my completely biased, athlete marketer’s point of view, this report jumps to very dramatic conclusions, and unfairly paints a completely one-sided pictures of athlete spokespeople. For the record, I’ve always sided on the “athletes are role models” side of the debate. Whether we like it or not, our kids look up to superstar athletes as heroes. They want to jump, run, hit, dunk, swim and throw like their favorite stars. And of course kids are influenced by the brands athletes endorse. Otherwise brands wouldn’t pay them, and I wouldn’t have a job. So I do believe that athletes have influence on our kids. So of course if LeBron James endorses Coke, more kids will drink it. Does that mean we should conclude, as the Yale study does, that athlete spokespeople are responsible for childhood obesity in America? Absolutely not.  This study is a myopic, biased and incomplete look at athlete endorsements. A few key questions to add some depth to the conversation:

Does LeBron actually sell cheeseburgers?

Brands hire athletes not simply to drive sales. They hire athletes to “personify” their brands, via association with personalities that are charming, healthy, active, successful and vibrant. McDonald’s doesn’t ask LeBron James to hawk Big Macs. They ask him to help promote an enjoyable, active, balanced lifestyle. And typically, brands like McDonalds and Coca-Cola partner with superstar athletes as part of larger strategic initiatives such as league/team sponsorships, national programs (3 on 3) and or Olympic activations. So the immediate goal of these partnerships is typically not to drive sales. Brands hire athletes to convey corporate branding messages, especially messages about balanced and healthy lifestyle choices.

If athletes encourage food choices, what else do they influence?

To play devil’s advocate, perhaps star athletes do deserve some blame for the obesity epidemic. If that’s the case, then don’t they also deserve credit for the POSITIVE influence they have on our youth? How many millions of kids are inspired to play sports by their heroes? If you believe that LeBron and company deserve blame for obesity, then surely you also agree they deserve credit for the millions of kids that get out and play organized sports everyday.

In today’s post-Tiger endorsement world, integrity is more important than ever. The athletes that get the lion’s share of endorsement opportunities also do a ton of great community work. At the very least, if athletes are to blame for consumption of fast foods and sugary drinks, then they also deserve credit for their tremendous contributions to their communities, and for encouraging kids to participate in sports.

Finally, this study is a great example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The study looks at which categories athletes typically endorse. Of course sporting goods, fast foods and beverages are the top categories. These are also some of the top sports advertisers, so naturally their ads feature athletes. (The study failed to mention how few athletes choose to endorse alcohol brands). It isn’t fair to fault Peyton Manning for pitching Papa John’s Pizza instead of Granny Smith Apples. When was the last time you saw a Super Bowl ad for apples? Obesity isn’t Peyton’s fault. And Yale should know better. 

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Cheers Guinness!

ImageThis week, Steve Nash fulfilled one of his dreams. He tried out for one of the best soccer clubs in the world. And news travelled fast. (see below)

No, Steve isn’t hanging up his Laker uni anytime soon. As people quickly figured out, this was a promotional effort to help Guinness promote their International Champions Cup. And a brilliant promotion it was.

Far too often, brands hire a spokesperson and hope for the best. Assuming that signing an athlete will on its own move the needle is a waste of money. In the case of Guinness, they had the three essential ingredients to make an athlete engagement successful:

1. The athlete loves the brand. Steve Nash is a rabid fan of Guinness. He was thrilled at the possibility of working with his favorite libation.

2. The athlete loves the activation. Steve is a well known soccer freak. He loves the sport (if you get him talking about Tottenham, you better have the afternoon open). And he is a legitimate soccer talent. Guinness didn’t ask a soccer novice to participate. That would have come off like a stunt. They hired a legitimate and respected soccer guy.

3. The activation makes sense. Guinness needed to generate some buzz for their soccer tournament. Soccer in the US has its die hard fans, but it isn’t a mainstream sport yet. By tying a star from a mainstream sport (basketball) to a sport he loves (soccer), Guinness generated buzz in mainstream media. The activation made sense, and came off as credible.

The day was long, as Steve had to endure a full 8 hours of interviews. And as expected, plenty of questions came about Dwight Howard and the Lakers. But Steve was also given ample time to talk about the activation. And it didn’t come across as “pitchy”, because it wasn’t. He was legitimately excited about the experience, and proud to be associated with the brand. And that came across in his interviews.

Sometimes a partnership isn’t about TV ads, or product pitching. Sometimes it’s about a great idea, the right partners and a creative activation. Everybody wins. Cheers to Guinness. And to StarPower and Taylor Strategy, the agencies who put it all together. This one was a lot of fun, and a great success.


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Hope Springs Eternal: 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers

DOdgers opening day

My career focuses on the NBA. My sports passion is the NFL. But nothing gets me fired up more than opening day at Dodger Stadium.

It’s been a long time since the Dodgers were really good, since they were as good as us lifelong Angelenos expect them to be. 25 years to be exact. Having grown up in the days of Garvey, Lopes, Russell, Cey, Yeager, Smith and Baker, I’m just programmed to expect the Dodgers to face the Yankees in the World Series each fall. Like Charlie Brown and the football, every opening day feels like THIS will be the year it will all click again. THIS will be the roster that comes together as a mighty unit. THIS will be the Dodgers year.

So I say this with a word of caution: I fully recognize that I’m a sucker for opening day.

That said, yesterday somehow did feel different. Stadium is polished up. Roster is stacked with guys who seem legit. Stability in the manager’s spot and in the front office. More importantly, the Dodgers are finally fully embracing their heritage. I thought it was great when Magic was about to throw the first pitch, but when Mattingly waived him off to bring in Sandy Koufax (with Vinny making the call), I almost lost it. It felt like years of wishing the Dodgers got back to their old ways were finally over. A bow to the past, and a bright future ahead.

(Good thing opening day wasn’t a day earlier. Sunday was Passover, and we know Sandy would have politely declined.)

And what a sight it was to see Sandy, Orel and Clayton all standing together! Koufax and Hershiser passed the baton right in front of us all, as if to say “alright kid, you are next in line. You better be ready.”  Kershaw responded with a home run and a complete game shut out. The kid is ready.

The kid in me is ready too. Nothing ignites the kid in me like opening day. Memories of my childhood, going to games with my dad, my step-dad, my friends all come rushing back. The beauty of the mountains in the outfield, the crispness of the grass on the field, the taste of a Dodger dog. The hope that this is gonna be THEIR YEAR. I’m a kid again.

Who knows how it will all come together. One thing’s for sure. Today, the Dodgers are undefeated and in first place. The team looks very solid. The owners seem committed to winning. Vinny is in the booth. And the stadium is beautiful. It’s time for Dodger baseball.

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