The Two Ingredients of an Epic Athlete Brand, According to This Sports Agent
Austin Weaver is the Vice President of Communications for Front Office Sports, as well as founder and CEO of the sports agency VRTX MGMT.
A former student-athlete, Austin focuses on helping athletes build their brands on and off the field. He has worked as a marketing and branding consultant, and appeared on panels discussing topics such as the business of sports and personal branding.
Austin, what are you most excited about today?
Athletes are starting to recognize that they're their own brand and take advantage of the opportunities they have, and never had before. That's why I started my own agency, to help athletes take control of their own brand, without having to go through some of the processes that bigger agencies take their clients through, while still maximizing the window of opportunity they have.
How does Austin define an epic athlete brand?
The most epic athlete brands are the ones that are most authentic and active. Athletes can do the whole sponsored tweet (#ad), and they can have a following based on their on-field success, but the ones that most connect with me are the ones who want to engage with fans in an authentic way and maintain their voice. They don't have to use the hashtag #ad because they're speaking to things that matter most to them.
What's your favorite athlete brand at the moment, and why?
The one that stands out to me is JuJu Smith-Schuster. Not only did he grow up in the age of digital media, but he's authentically who JuJu is. His on-field play was great this past year, but his approach to using Instagram and Twitter keeps him relatable to the other 21-year-olds out there. Being authentic, being active and being relatable.
Even the players that are four or five years into a league, they still haven't quite figured out the digital thing because they might not have grown up in this era. In the next couple of years, we're going to see more of these players use these platforms in order to really build their brand.
When you look across the athlete brand landscape, what's the one thing you think more athletes should be doing?
Getting ownership of all their digital assets. The one thing I don't see athletes doing is owning a website and a YouTube channel. In the way we've seen someone like Gary Vee showing their day-to-day, we haven't really seen athletes do it.
Also, ownership of trademark logos. Athletes don't necessarily need major deals with clothing companies to create their own apparel. For the most part, anyone has the ability to go out and create a product and sell it. A lot of this goes to athletes understanding the power and opportunity they have.
What’s your best advice for athletes who want to kickstart their personal brands?
Regardless of their current following, if they are honest and authentic and active, some of these athlete brands will start to build themselves. Be prepared to be active around current events (sports0related or not) and be willing to be open. There's always going to be fans seeking out what athletes are doing on and off the field. You have to be all-in on it.
What’s the number-one tool you’re using right now?
Slack. It offers flexibility with people all over the place. I'm back and forth between Florida and Iowa. Slack makes it really easy for me to be able to stay connected with people all over the U.S.
Based on your knowledge and expertise, what's the future of athlete branding and marketing?
Athletes are going to continue to get smarter and they're going to realize how valuable their brands truly are. We'll see more athletes taking control and ownership of their brand, and becoming more involved in the process of selecting sponsors and opportunities. Athletes will be more cautious as to who they are and position themselves in a way that changes the agency model, moving away from: "Let your agent manage things and you do as you're told."