Episode 228 Snippets: How Athletes Transition to a Life and Career after Sports

On episode 228 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Caleb Mezzy, Assistant Professor for Sport Management and Business at Neumann University, founder of Grit and Glue, and co-host of the Beyond Baseball podcast.

What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe to the podcast via Apple or listen on Spotify or Stitcher.

How NIL Has Transformed College Athletes into Businesses and Brand Builders — and How Schools Can and Should Help Them

    Brands used to have all the power. This was true in just about every industry. That’s not to say individuals didn’t matter — there were celebrity spokespeople and other ‘stars’ that received acclaim, often in third-party media. But that all began to change, gradually, as the creator economy arose and social media was more about individuals than brands.

    And even in college athletics, where we’re not all that far removed from team-wide social media “bans,” the convergence of the power of the individual was always an inevitability.

    And, just like that, decades-old paradigms in college athletics were transformed — student-athletes on social media wasn’t a distraction or a risk, but the next big thing in the arms race we call recruiting.

    “Texas (Longhorns Athletics) really got behind the opportunity for athletes to make the most of their time there and be representatives of the university,” said Marc Jordan, who worked in social media at the University of Texas Athletics before joining NIL platform INFLCR. “I think as soon as the recruiting part of it caught up where they recognized that recruits were following their athletes and that the more active and the more available and the more that their athletes were on social, the better it was for recruiting.”

    There was a positive correlation between athletes posting on social media and schools getting exposure for their programs to the audience that matters most to coaches — recruits. Even while athletes were barred from monetizing their burgeoning social media brands, there was still value in growing their followers and accounts for a potential future payoff. The mutual benefits meant future recruits could be enticed by seeing not just cool content on athletes’ Stories, but also by the prospect of getting access to such cool content themselves when they played there. Water slides and barber shops only go so far for a generation that virtually worships top social media creators.

    Then NIL monetization came and the floodgates appeared ready to open. For Jordan and his Texas colleagues at the time, they knew many student-athletes would be ready to dive in. But these were just kids; 18-21 year-olds that had spent their lives mastering their sport and their bodies, but with little to no experience managing a potentially professional social media presence.

    “We would work with different teams and we would work with different departments to prepare their athletes, get them onto a better posting cadence, have them understand what’s good and what’s bad, the difference between editorial and commercial content, and reasons why you focus more on that editorial,” said Jordan, who now works with schools across the country that utilize the INFLCR platform. “[We were] making sure that they didn’t just become the NASCAR of Instagram where there are just logos everywhere and there’s no value behind it.”

    It’s all easier said than done. There may be colleges with decades or centuries of experience teaching kids traditional academics and decades of time in teaching student-athletes about sports performance — but they never had to worry much about teaching a diverse set of hundreds of athletes of different backgrounds and experience what it meant to build, monetize, and manage their name, image, and likeness. That’s why many have turned to a number of technology and services platforms that have rapidly arisen to serve this need, most notably INFLCR and Opendorse, which together work with hundreds of colleges across the US to help athletes monetize and build their NILs. For Jordan at INFLCR, he’s found an important part of helping athletes is to create a learning system that will actually work for them.

    “I think in the past I’ve been naive to think that we could give athletes, you know, here are 20 steps to NIL success. No one’s gonna go through 20 steps. No athlete is going to go through and do that,” said Jordan. “We’ve offered some online courses that are quick, that have allowed athletes to learn very quickly — but breaking it down to here are four steps that you can do, here are the things that you could do in the next five minutes that will help you down the road, and then letting them learn as they go; adding more as they do the initial steps, but not trying to overload them too quickly, because there’s one thing these athletes don’t have [is] time.”

    Athletes (and, well, students in general) may not get too excited about their chemistry or English lit class (some do!), but when you start to talk about making money from their NIL, ears perk up. This is when the fun starts, when athletes go from potential pitchmen for their sports programs to start-up businesses in their own right — the business of being them. Just like they work with a team dietitian to break down their nutrition, a strength coach for muscle, and a position coach for their sport — it only makes sense for athletes to get down to the food-log and film-study level of developing a strategy to make their NIL the best it can be. This is the kind of analytical work athletes can get behind, because success can be life-changing. But it’s not easy. Jordan starts at the foundation, discussing who the athlete’s social media audience is and how that changes the day they commit to the school and step on campus.

    “We talk to [the athletes] about [brand] and we also break down kind of their audience because we [approach it] for what [their audience] is that day,” Jordan explained. “So let’s say they want to build their brand in a certain area, we talk to them a little bit about, ‘Okay, well, think about your social media now.”

    Jordan went on to explain the different segments that often comprise an athlete’s audience, from their childhood communities to fans of their high school team, fans of their college team, and everyone in between and beyond. But as athletes get more intentional about their soon-to-be professional brands and who they want to be, it can be a challenging balance to serve the various buckets of their social media audience while also evolving themselves as a person and a brand.

    “As you are figuring out content and as you’re figuring out brand building, [you need to understand] that when you post things and when you want to get interaction, you have to at least satisfy one of those buckets or groups,” said Jordan. “But the more of them that you can get interested in that type of content, the better and higher engagement it’s gonna have.

    “So as you’re adding in different things — like, if you’re interested in music in fashion — understand that those are gonna be harder things to build early on because you’re adding a new type of audience into your current following…We want to make sure that they are setting up their audience to care about them for when they aren’t competing anymore, and for when they do go in [and] enter the workforce or they retire and sail off into the sunset — we just wanna make sure that that audience sticks with them.”

    As these NIL initiatives evolve — and boy are they evolving quickly — they will gain more tentacles. A water slide or a lazy lagoon or other quirky amenities constructed to woo recruits requires little upkeep, let alone department-wide integration, compared to NIL programs. There are parts of college football programs, for example, that exist in a virtual silo, almost completely removed from the rest of athletics. But NIL practices — they work best when everybody is on board, focusing on making the flowery promises of their press releases come to fruition.

    “The only way for these programs and these things to work is for them to have substance,” said Jordan. “The recruit will be able to see right through any cute announcement or any branded program if there isn’t any substance behind it…

    “We need this symbiosis between [INFLCR] and the athletics department.”

    College athletics programs are no longer just fostering student-athletes. There’s an influencer-like, brand-building, NIL developing practice that’s part of the program, as well. And it’s only getting bigger. The recruiting pitch will be less about the novel amenities the program has and more about case studies on how they’ve helped student-athletes make money and build a valuable brand. For many student-athletes, their four years of college sports could be among the most lucrative of their lives, monetarily and otherwise. That time presents an opportunity — it’s the responsibility of their institutions to ensure they’re able to make the most of it.

    LISTEN TO MY FULL CONVERSATION WITH MARC JORDAN

    Episode 228: Caleb Mezzy on Athletes Preparing for Life After Sports, Social Media Strategy, and Teaching the Next Generation of Sports Biz

    Listen to episode 228 of the Digital and Social Media Sports podcast, in which Neil chatted with Caleb Mezzy, Assistant Professor for Sport Management and Business at Neumann University, Founder of Grit and Glue athlete consultancy, and co-host of the Beyond Baseball podcast.

    Listen below or on AppleSpotify and Stitcher.

    80 minute duration. Listen on AppleSpotify and Stitcher.

    Posted by Neil Horowitz Follow me on Twitter @njh287   Connect on LinkedIn

    Episode 227 Snippets: How College Athletes are Building and Monetizing their NIL and Brands

    On episode 227 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Marc Jordan, Manager of Product Success and NIL Services for INFLCR (part of Teamworks).

    What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe to the podcast via Apple or listen on Spotify or Stitcher.

    Episode 227: Marc Jordan on Lessons from the Longhorns and Helping a Generation of College Athletes Maximize NIL with INFLCR

    Listen to episode 227 of the Digital and Social Media Sports podcast, in which Neil chatted with Marc Jordan, Manager of Product Success for Teamworks | INFLCR.

    Listen below or on AppleSpotify and Stitcher.

    65 minute duration. Listen on AppleSpotify and Stitcher.

    Posted by Neil Horowitz Follow me on Twitter @njh287   Connect on LinkedIn

    How an NHL Team Built and Executed its Brand: ‘You need to have a vision and a north star’​

    I remember my first social media job in major pro sports. I was an entry-level, one-man content band for social, among other platforms. And nobody told me what content to create.

    Early on that often meant piggybacking off the beat writer stories until I got more comfortable talking to players and coaches. And, looking back, I had some strategy in my head — stories to tell, events to amplify, and my interpretation of the ‘brand’ of the team on the marketing side and how that should manifest on social media.

    Social media has grown up since then. One-man bands in major professional sports are no more; social channels are powerful and they command more resources and efforts now. Strategy is now table stakes. The best teams have social media leaders collaborating with the rest of the organization, carrying out a thoughtful, cohesive brand through content and social media activity.

    The content and social strategy starts with the brand, not the other way around. That’s an important distinction that can be the difference between engagement and connection, short-term results that can set up long-term wins. A strategy built out from a strong brand foundation stands the test of time. I recently spoke to the New Jersey Devils’s Senior Manager of Content Strategy Chris Wescott about the team’s success in building a distinct, relatable, objectively successful cross-platform content practice that effectively activates the team’s brand.

    “You need to have a vision and a north star for your brand,” said Wescott, who has been with the Devils since 2019, the third National Hockey League (NHL) team with which he’s worked. “And then you kind of build your content plan around that, build your marketing around that, and you kind of build your voice around that.”

    One reason that’s so key for social media, too, Wescott explained, is because the voice should not be the voice of the person on the keys. It’s the voice of the team and it should remain so even as key pushers change.

    “The whole point of having a brand identity and voice is so that you can survive turnover at the creative level, too…,” he said. “You have to invest in [social and creative] positions. So that’s where you’re going to get a little helter-skelter in terms of brand voice and then you’re gonna see things that don’t necessarily make sense coming from that team.”

    It’s just as integral to realize that a brand is more than the copy and memes on the team’s social media channels. It represents and manifests from the organization as a whole. And because brand is always the first brick laid, upon which the strategies and tactics are built, it’s vital that everybody works together and works out from the same foundation. That everyone has the same north star. Wescott talked about how this process played out for the Devils as they sought to reinvigorate and define the team’s brand in recent years.

    “Our social media team does not operate in a bubble; we operate alongside marketing brand strategy…,” said Wescott, who previously worked with the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers before joining the Devils. “We all kind of sat in a room and started [asking] what are the Devils? Who are the Devils? Who are we gonna be five years from now? Who are we gonna be 10 years from now?

    “There were a lot of meetings and discussions that went on with this evolution of our brand and how the voice should not only complement who the brand is, but really work in tandem with it to grow brand affinity.”

    Think about one of your own favorite teams or athletes. How would you define their brand? Then consider how the content they post, what they talk about, how they talk about it, how they interact, and whether it all lines up with this overarching ‘brand.’ The word brand gets a lot of play nowadays (I hope you’re not playing a drinking game for use of the word ‘brand’ in this article), but less discussed is how you go from the strategy to tactics, how you put into practice what is put down on paper. As Wescott and his colleagues defined the brand of the New Jersey Devils, it was up to him and his team to activate the brand through their social media.

    “We are Jersey’s team and there’s a certain pride and toughness that comes with New Jersey…,” said Wescott, describing a bit of the team’s brand. “We wanted to reflect that pride, that toughness, that roll off your shoulders kind of mentality in our voice. There’s kind of an attitude and a bit of a swagger with it…if you come at us, we’ll swing back. We’re not gonna take it from anybody, we’re gonna dish it back.

    “And I think that plus a little bit of irreverent humor really kind of blends together with that attitude and toughness to create who the Devils are on social media.”

    One of the best parts about social media, too, is that it offers both quantitative and qualitative feedback on whether the brand, strategy, and tactics are working. Wescott noted that the team has seen largely positive results since they adopted the more ‘Jersey’ brand. And what’s cool is that it’s not just social media. That brand north star really permeates throughout the rest of the organization in a lot of ways.

    “There are certain times where you kind of hold off on integrating it,” Wescott cautioned but also noted, “But I think for the most part, like game presentation (for example) — everything should have that tone to it because you’re the Devils and everything that you do should have that tone to it.”

    Tone, voice, and personality are important parts of a brand. But they’re not the only parts. Particularly in recent years, what a brand values — and how they actively demonstrate they hold those values — is of utmost importance. Remember, the Devils are ‘Jersey’ and that means not just representing the personality and tone of New Jersey, but showing that they really do love and support the Garden State. Wescott discussed how that well-rounded brand plays out through the team’s content — the team and the brand are more than their tone and voice.

    “I think that there are some people [that] just think ‘Oh, the Devils are rude or they’re always roasting [people]’ or something like that,” he said. “But if you see what we do in the community and the amount of social justice initiatives, the amount of helping different underserved parts of our community and what we do for [the] ‘Hockey is for Everyone’ [program] and all those initiatives; it’s also welcoming people into our family, and once you’re in our family, you’re family…”

    A significant part of forming an emotional connection is getting to know someone. It’s hard to form a relationship with someone inconsistent, to understand a disparate collection of interactions. The same challenge persists when sports teams don’t know who they are and who they want to be — if they don’t know, their fans certainly don’t know. The end result is often weaker connections, perpetually chasing short-term engagement day-to-day. A brand north star changes that. It creates a gravitational pull around which everything else orbits. Things just make sense and fans can get to know you, to appreciate you, and to fall in love with you. That’s how relationships form that will stand the test of time.

    LISTEN TO MY FULL CONVERSATION WITH CHRIS WESCOTT

    Episode 226 Snippets: How a Brand North Star Guides the New Jersey Devils’s Content Strategy

    On episode 226 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Chris Wescott, Senior Manager of Content Strategy for the New Jersey Devils.

    What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe to the podcast via Apple or listen on Spotify or Stitcher.

    Episode 226: Chris Wescott on Activating the New Jersey Devils’s Brand Through Content

    Listen to episode 226 of the Digital and Social Media Sports podcast, in which Neil chatted with Chris Wescott, Senior Manager of Content Strategy for the New Jersey Devils NHL team.

    Listen below or on AppleSpotify and Stitcher.

    74 minute duration. Listen on AppleSpotify and Stitcher.

    Posted by Neil Horowitz Follow me on Twitter @njh287   Connect on LinkedIn

    Measure Everything. But Also Don’t Measure Everything

    We’ve gotten really good at measuring things in sports business. But some of the most powerful elements that comprise sports fandom simply cannot be measured. And that’s okay.

    We’re in the age of digital and social media, backed by data-driven strategy and analysis — and yet there is, and always will be, so much fan engagement to which we’re blind. And that’s the engagement that creates super fans, fangelists, and individuals who have their heart invested even more than their wallet.

    Just because we’re relatively blind doesn’t mean we’re powerless to drive that fervent fandom that gets expressed in more subtle or off-platform ways. There are so many opportunities to capture fans at a deeper level; it’s time to start thinking about visceral fan engagement…

    % Identity

    You meet somebody new or maybe come across an acquaintance’s Instagram profile or you meet up with coworkers outside of work or, heck, just randomly chill and people-watch at a Starbucks — how much are you, or the people you encounter, identifiable as a fan of the team? 

    So much of people’s time, thoughts, and effort go into creating and expressing an identity. Run through just a few ways and it quickly becomes clear how powerful these little pieces of a fan’s identity can be: what’s in their social media bio, how they or their friends describe them, the clothes they wear, their social media avatars, stickers on a laptop, dog collars on their pups, popsockets on their phone, a welcome mat at their door [everybody’s got a door!], a poster on their wall at home, a magnet on their refrigerator, a license plate frame, the towel they take to the beach or pool, the keychain their house and car keys are on — this long list can keep going! Fans pay for this stuff, but maybe we should be paying them.

    If the team can inhabit just a few of these aspects for fans, that’s a good indication their fandom is part of their identity. And such visual display not only serves as a message to others about their fandom, but also serves as a constant reminder about the team, every time they grab their keys or look at their fridge or see their Insta avatar.

    % Heart

    We all know some fans (perhaps even ourselves) whose mood is affected by their team’s performance. They exude joy when the team wins and sulk in gloom after a loss. (Of course, others mostly boil with anger, as well) While there’s something to be said for letting one’s team affect their mood and days excessively, this is the type of emotional investment that remains immeasurable but clearly identifies an avid fan.

    So how can teams build such a depth of connection with fans? It starts with exhibiting that emotional investment on the team’s platforms. Amplify the feelings of the fans and the team, convey joy or frustration, excitement and nervousness — and don’t detract from it with stale language or silence. 

    And help fans connect emotionally with the players. Let them see the players dance in exultation, but also grimace and groan when times aren’t as great. When fans know the players feel it, too, that not only validates but strengthens their own feelings of unconditional emotional investment — love.

    Finally, help fans connect more intimately with each other. Foster that sense of community, commiseration, and celebration. When fans are engaging with each other when the team’s not “around,” that’s a sign of an engaged fanbase, amplifying their connection to the team through each other.

    % Communication

    Communication is universal. We all communicate in some form or another just about every day and, for most, we communicate a ton every day. Think about how much communication has transformed in the past decade — an emoji can say a thousand words, a GIF can often capture a sentiment more than anything one can type, and many people often just speak in memes.

    Help your fans by helping them communicate. Empower them with the communication they need for any occasion. That could be GIFs for every common ‘feeling’ in the book, memes that carry a message, and e-cards or videos for every holiday and special occasion fans may have. Or help them make their own by providing the raw templates for memes or content that allow them to unleash their creativity or customize it for their needs.

    Your fans want to find creative and original ways to communicate, whether publicly or on dark social channels and beyond. It’s a significant thing when fans want to, and are able to, weave their fandom into their communication. Help and encourage them to do so.

    % Conversation

    One of our most basic needs as social animals is something to talk about. Something to talk about gives you a reason to text your friends or something to break the silence at the dinner table. Don’t underestimate the value of conversations — sure, in keeping the team top of mind, but, more importantly, for the ability of conversations about the team to form the backbone of genuine relationships.

    There are friendships for which chatting about the team and the league serves as the glue of their connection, the kindling that helps friendships flourish. Your team can help enable those relationships and foster conversation and community. Give them something to talk about and a forum on which to do it. Build smaller, more intimate communities of fans, maybe on Discord. Connect some pen pals across the globe united by their fandom, have fans register to be placed in small WhatsApp groups to talk to during a big game — the team can get them talking and friendships can often form from there.

    This happens without the effort of the team, and without the team’s knowledge about how many relationships and chit-chats are full of talk about the team. But we know it does happen. Amplify the examples that do come out and remind fans that they can text the college friends group chat for the first time in months after the team clinches a playoff berth; or they should replace small talk about the weather with small talk about the team. Think about what it means the next time a big piece of sports news drops and you feel excited to message a buddy or two about it.

    % Headspace

    It’s pretty crazy how otherwise ordinary things become meaningful when you’re an avid sports fan. A number’s not just a number when just seeing it conjures thoughts of the player whose jersey bears that number. When there’s a song that gets played after every goal or win, or the star ballplayer has memorable walk-up music for their at-bat, all of a sudden a song makes fans think of the team, whenever and wherever they hear it played.

    The team can inhabit permanent real estate in fans’ heads, unable to avoid being reminded of their favorite athlete or team when exposed to the right cue. Consider the corners of fans’ days and minds that the team can have permanent residence. Post a highlight of a star player, past or present, that wore #24 on the 24th day of every month, post a happy highlight or image at the same time every day no matter what and own that part of the clock, amplify the rituals that your fans have — build in little reminders, signals, or prompts that gives fans just that momentary thought of the team, a fleeting dopamine hit from their fandom.

    We spend all day with ourselves, countless thoughts and memories passing through our heads. Your favorite team comprises some % of those thoughts if you’re an avid sports fan. We can’t measure it, but there is perhaps no symptom of fandom more significant.

    ***************

    We’re armed with more data than ever about fans. But don’t get so buried in the measurables that you overlook the immeasurables. Because fandom has an intangible essence. It’s a feeling burning deep within, an indelible part of one’s heart, mind, and soul.

    Episode 225: Best Of The Podcast — Wimbledon, Newsletters, Peyton and the Pope, and More

    Listen to episode 225 of the Digital and Social Media Sports podcast, a best of, featuring parts of conversations with:

    Listen below or on Apple, Spotify and Stitcher.

    115 minute duration. Listen on Apple, Spotify or Stitcher.

    Posted by Neil Horowitz Follow me on Twitter @njh287   Connect on LinkedIn