I met today with a client who is the head of sponsorship for a large race car team and we were discussing the business of sponsorship and what an interesting way it is to make a living. I started wondering how I found myself doing what I do. So for the three and a half readers per month who see this I thought I'd let you in on how I went through a career rebirth and transitioned from coaching swimming, cycling and running to working in the world of global sports sponsorship and media rights. It's a pretty cool story, I must say.
I had started my endurance sports coaching company in 1998 and was fortunate enough to had built it into an industry leader in under five years pioneering many methods which are still used today. Because of the numbers of athletes we coached, media features, and my work as a TV commentator for a popular triathlon series, I had started securing corporate sponsors for the company, www.bodyzen.com. The brands loved the coaches because we had direct purchasing influence on the athletes plus I gave the brands exposure on the TV show which aired in millions of homes. The brands became larger and the deals more complex with many layers of deliverables.
I remember this next moment well and it was in 2005 while I was coaching a group of triathletes from NYC in my hometown of Miami. We were on a bike ride and my phone rang. It was my very good friend Andrew Johns (AJ). He was calling me from Australia so I figured it must be important. I took the call while riding (albeit very carefully). At the time AJ was a two time Olympian in triathlon and former world ranked number one but to me he was just a good buddy. His call was to ask me to represent his girlfriend at the time who was an Ironman and World Champion triathlete herself. He had a contract with an agent in the UK so I couldn't help him out but that was fine with me and I was just grateful he thought of me. He said that since I had been successful securing partners for BodyZen why couldn't I do the same thing for an athlete. His girlfriend was having a hard time getting sponsors so he thought I could help and asked me to manage her. I said yes of course and this is the only time I have ever worked without a contract. That's how much trust was there. This was my first foray into professional athlete management.
Over the next couple of years I secured her many endemic/non endemic partners and since it's a small sport word began to spread. I now had a stable of six international Professional athletes whom I represented. I soon realized that events like marathons and triathlons could also use outside sales agents so I worked with some contacts I knew and began bringing on board some small brands to local races. This seemed like a great way to make some real money.
A year or so later I had a good contact at Pepsi and pitched them a few large Ironman branded races which I secured the rights to sell as an outside agent. The negotiations were utterly endless and took months. I was in Kona for Ironman with some of the Pro athletes I worked with and Pepsi scheduled a call which was 6am Kona time. It was the millionth call with them and I just wanted to close the deal already. Little did I know that large ships turn slowly and well, Pepsi is a very large ship. I was standing on the outside lanai of the hotel with the sun rising over the Pacific ocean and we were discussing the pricing, again! We then got to the final pricing part of the discussion which I'll never forget. They finally said, "Great, let's do it." Deal done. It was an immense feeling that I just closed a multi year deal with one of the largest companies in the world for some real money. What's incredible about this negotiation is that I had no formal negotiation training, didn't know about solution selling, overcoming objectives and was going off of sheer instinct. I stood there looking at the waves crashing against the hotel sea wall and I was ecstatic. This was a rebirth. A new chapter in my professional career had begun! What was best about the deal was that everyone won. The brand gets a great property, the owners of the races were set for years with a big sponsor and I had really nice commissions each year. Soon after this deal was done I also negotiated a large multi year deal with Samsung for other races which I had an agreement with. The story on how that occurred I'll save for another post but I was now fielding calls from numerous events and athletes to represent them. Soon I was splitting my time between running a coaching company and finding new sponsors for my clients. There are many chapters to my career which have been written since then but what's most interesting is that I wasn't purposely looking for a career rebirth. But once it was born I nurtured and grew it as best as I could since I loved the deal making and the rewarding feeling when the deals were closed. I was also very fortunate to have some wonderful mentors in the business whom I'm very thankful for. I was very happy doing what I love, coaching. So much so that I still coach a select few athletes. The world works in mysterious ways and sometimes your future finds you. Thanks for reading.