From boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard to soccer star Cobi Jones, and from Lakers icon Derek Fisher to boxer-turned-grillmaster George Foreman, along with a baseball player, swimmer, skier, and a gymnast or two, I’ve pretty much covered the sports bases when it comes to handling athletes during meet-and-greets over the years. I’ve always found it to be a winning experience, because athletes bring a special motivating energy to every event. Maybe it’s a result of being driven to excel in all aspects of their lives, but they always seem to deliver a home-run performance during appearances on behalf of a product or service.
Given this successful track record, I would highly recommend recruiting a star athlete for the right PR or marketing campaign. To learn more about the strategy behind player appearances, I spoke with Micah Levy, director of sales and marketing for Bleacher Creatures, an innovative manufacturer of plush figures of star athletes and entertainers. Prior to his time with Bleacher Creatures, Micah spent two and a half years managing pro athletes and since Bleacher Creatures often contracts with pro athletes to host meet-and-greets with their “Mini-Me’s,” Micah is able to share his experience on both ends of the pro athlete management spectrum.
Q: What’s involved with being a sports manager?
A: I represented athletes off the field, building their brand through player appearances, product endorsements and the like.
Q: What were some of the challenges?
A: The biggest challenge is that it’s a very fickle business. On any given Monday, a player’s popularity—ergo, his fee—may rise or fall depending on how he played the Sunday before. In fact, I’ve known player’s fees to change dramatically week by week and month by month depending on his or her performance.
Q: And how do you work with players in your current job?
A: Bleacher Creatures has a license with just about every major professional US league around, including the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and MLS. We partner with these leagues on our products as well as on our marketing, PR and promotions and we greatly value these relationships.
For example, we recently asked the NBA to collaborate with us on a player appearance in our hometown of Philadelphia where we’ve just debuted a new kiosk at the King of Prussia Mall. After some brainstorming between us, we came up with the perfect fit: Michael Carter-Williams, Point Guard for the 76ers and the 2013 Rookie of Year!
Q: What makes him such a good fit?
A: Our plush of him is brand-new for the NBA season and when you look at it, you can’t help but want to smile. In addition, Philly fans form a deep connection with their teams and their players and we know they will come out in a big way to support a local favorite like Michael.
Q: From a marketer’s perspective, what are the benefits to working with a player?
A: Every brand has their goals, but there are lots of reasons to hire a player for an appearance. For example, they can help drive sales at a company store, build brand awareness for a specific promotion, or motivate employees at an internal corporate function.
Q: So, if a marketer wanted to hire an athlete, how would they go about finding his rep? I mean, there’s no “IMDB” for athletes, unfortunately.
A: There are two ways. Many athletes have their own websites, so they will have their reps listed on their sites. Or, you can contact the league and their certified reps will be listed with the league.
Q: What tips can you give marketers on working with a player?
A: Keep in mind that he or she is a normal person like you and me. Players sometimes feel uncomfortable at appearances because the brand reps or the fans get nervous around them and treat them like superstars. If you simply treat the athletes as peers, everybody will have a great time and the appearance will overall be a win-win for all parties.