Jeff Weiner – ESBL
Jeff Weiner interview (March 22, 2011):
Can you tell us first what constitutes “sports management” as it pertains to NFL players - what services do you provide?
Sports Management has a very broad definition, since it can pertain to so many different aspects of sport.
To my company, ESBL Sports Management, it means providing the highest quality of services to my clients (including LaMarr Woodley and Steve Smith) as it relates to building their brand via Marketing, Public Relations, and Social Media. In this day and age, I strongly believe that Social Media is the most powerful and essential aspect in order to maximize the other two (Marketing and Public Relations).
How did you get involved in sports management?
Do you want the long version or the short version? In short, I attended the University of Maryland in hopes of becoming a Super Bowl winning head coach one day. I worked on the football team as a student volunteer and developed some great friendships with several coaches and players.
About a month before I was slated to graduate, I found out that I didn’t (even get an interview for) the Graduate Assistant coaching job I was hoping to get, and I was dejected. The coach who I was closest with consoled me and told me the old cliche that everything happens for a reason. I liked him too much and was too upset to tell him how corny that was, and soon after, I of course realized that he was 100%
Just the next day, he showed me an article on ESPN.com about an agent and the relationship he had with his client, and he said it reminded him of me and that I should look into becoming an agent. I blew it off and said “No, I want to be a coach. Plus, I didn’t even know what that is other than from watching the movie Jerry MaGuire.
My good friend on the team, kicker Nick Novak, had just finished his career at Maryland and had hired an agent. Coincidentally, he approached me just a few days later and said “Hey Jeff, have you ever thought about becoming an agent? I just hired one and your personalities are very similar. I bet you would be good.” I decided to do some research on what being an agent entailed, and about a month or so later I landed my first job working for an agent. I experienced some ups and downs in my first few years in the business, having worked for two different companies who both taught me a ton.
At the end of the day, I decided that I did not want to be one of a thousand agents, but rather I wanted to carve a niche in the industry that I felt did not exist. That’s when I started my company, ESBL Sports Management, where I focus my energy on the aspects of an NFL player’s career other than their NFL contract. Yes, that was the short version.
What does sports marketing entail, exactly? Can you explain to readers what it is that you do to market and brand a player?
Sports marketing in its purest form is when athletes are paid to endorse a company. Before marketing a player, I first need to get to know the player and understand who he was in the past, who he is in the present, and
who he projects to be in the future.
Once that is accomplished, I target companies locally, regionally, and nationally that I believe would benefit from having my client endorse them. In deciding what companies to target, I take a meticulous and strategic approach, and make sure that both my client and I believe that a partnership with that particular company would be something they would be proud to endorse.
How do you prepare rookies for the NFL game and for life outside of college?
Well, I don’t have to do too much to prepare them quite frankly, because the guys I work with are very intelligent guys who already understand how blessed they are to be in the position they are in.
One of the things I work hardest on teaching them is how careful they need to be with Social Media in this day and age, since one poor choice of words on a post can negatively affect their reputation. I do my best to coach them up, so to speak, on the importance of time management and being professional with media and marketing opportunities, as well as showing them how to best communicate with their fans via Social Media.
Of course, there is much more to it than that, but that’s the basic premise.
In working with athletes and their brand, what are the biggest concerns athletes usually have when you take them on? Is it all about money for most or are there other issues that you find them caring about more?
What most people don’t understand is that it’s impossible to answer this question because every single client of mine, and every single athlete in general, is a different person with a different outlook on things.
Sure, my clients want me to make them money because they realize it’s a short window for them and that they bring value to the table for companies. I think the most common thing that my clients all want is to be presented with opportunities that can not only provide them with a couple of bucks, but that also have value for the overall development of their brand.
How do you determine how you brand players - what factors go into an individual strategy?
As I eluded to before, this is an impossible question to answer because every player is so different in so many ways. It really depends on if the player is an introvert or an extrovert, if he is willing to be active in Social Media, among other factors.
So much of a player’s personal life has become public now. How do you educate players to avoid circumstances that can get them into PR, if not legal trouble?
All of my clients are good guys who, knock on wood, have never been in any trouble with the law. I really don’t have to educate them much, but there are always situations that arise, such as an athlete getting arrested for a DUI, where I make a point to remind them how something like this can not only ruin a career, but also a life.
How do you handle players who don’t take advice or seem to have little concern for their public image?
With only 24 hours in a day, I don’t have a single minute to spend working for players who have that mindset. In order to perform my job efficiently, I need to work with players who want my advice in regards to my areas of expertise and who are willing to take these aspects of their career seriously.
How do you find players to represent and do you reject players? If so, why?
I am very strategic in my approach to finding new clients. I know it sounds cliche, but I only want high character individuals, who also are business savvy. Agents want high character guys, but they still can earn a living from negotiating a player’s contract even if he is not an upstanding citizen.
Since I’m not an agent, the thing about my aspect of the business is that if I have a client who gets in trouble with the law or represents himself poorly in the media, I am very limited in what I can do for them.
How do you prepare players for retirement and how hard is it to work with players who are making that transition from star/starter to winding down their career?
I focus on preparing my clients for retirement the day I begin working with them by asking them what their long term goals are after football. No matter what they say, I believe that the ability to build a database of fans and supporters via Social Media while an athlete is in his prime playing days will only help that athlete when he is ready to move on to the next phase in his life.
Most NFL players aren’t making the millions that you see star players making. How do you handle those players differently and is there often resentment on their part/lack of acceptance of their “place” in the NFL?
I don’t think there is resentment at all from these players. I believe that most players are realistic and understand that Peyton Manning’s are few and far between.
I think guys just want to be compensated fairly for their production and they want to make as much money as possible, as quickly as possible, because they know that the window is small.
What are your biggest concerns - and hopes - with any new CBA?
I don’t lose any sleep worrying about that which I cannot control. I believe this thing will get worked out in the very near future and right now everything you hear in the media is all just part of negotiations.
The NFL is the best league in all of professional sports and it’s not by accident. Not only is it a great game with great fans, but it has smart businessmen on both the NFL side and the NFLPA side who have worked very hard over the years to get it to the level of success that it has reached.
I have the utmost confidence they will not mess that up and that everything will be resolved before too long.
Any last thoughts for readers?
Thanks for reaching out to me Ron. I hope my answers were interesting and insightful to your readers.