How To Become A Complete Player with Josh Hoffman


Josh Hoffman is the CoFounder of The Institute for Athlete Branding and Marketing, a leading company helping athletes become #thecompleteplayer. Hoffman is known for his work as a digital and personal branding strategist as well as consultant for all things in the sports business sector. 

Q: Can you talk about your journey into athlete and brand marketing?

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A: Looking back, it really started when I read Kobe Bryant's biography as a 9-year-old. After graduating with a journalism degree from San Diego State University in 2012, I realized the power of direct, human-to-human storytelling that Kobe was able to convey through his book. And, I kept wondering why more athletes weren't using the latest technologies (social media, blogging, video cameras) to better connect with their fans, who essentially determine an athlete's worth.

That year, I remember being at a party with an MLB player who I had known in high school, and I asked him why he wasn't more active on social media. "I hate social media," he told me. You hate better opportunities to connect with your fans? That doesn't make any sense. Over the course of the next several years, I studied athlete brands more and more, which eventually propelled me to co-found The Institute for Athlete Branding and Marketing, a first-of-its-kind think tank that innovates the way athletes build, scale, monetize and profit from their personal brands.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your company and what your mission is for  athletes?

A: Our mission is to champion athletes in the business of sport. Thanks to fantasy sports, social media and easy-to-use digital publishing tools, athletes are the becoming an exponentially bigger window through which fans consume sports and support affiliated brands. So, it only makes sense for athletes to make as much money as they can — and significantly more than they're earning now, relative to the other stakeholders — especially when you consider their window of opportunity is tiny in most cases.

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However, it's hard to change rules, institutions and collective bargaining agreements over night. That's why athletes should leverage the same Internet-driven, immediate and scalable ways to earn more money — the same way "Internet celebrities" (influencers) earn hundreds of thousands of dollars every month. And that's why we started The Institute for Athlete Branding and Marketing, because, frankly, no one else is comprehensively showing athletes and their representatives why, how and what to do in this capacity.

Q: In this current climate with the integration of social media, digital media, and sports how important is it for athletes to build their brand?

A: I would go as far as to say it can be the difference between a hard and soft landing after an athlete retires from playing professional sports. Whether we want to admit it or not, once you've been "on top" in terms of fan attention and spotlight, it's hard to stay there when the media isn't putting you all over TV, radio, newspapers, magazines and the Internet anymore.

Fortunately, digital and social media allow anyone (but more easily athletes) to build their own audience (your own fanbase), which they can leverage beyond their playing days — whether it's to maintain a six- or seven-figure income through influencer marketing, tap into their massive network for post-playing career opportunities, continue building their brand, or some combination thereof.

Q: What are a few things you would recommend for athletes in hopes to kickstart their personal brand?

A: First, realize your personal brand is a brand, which means it's a business. And, in many cases, a multimillion-dollar business, so you can't do it alone — nor do you have the time to do it alone — if you want to generate the highest-level results.

With this in mind, either work with your agent's marketing people (assuming they are qualified, forward-thinking, knowledgeable and creative) or surround yourself with people who fit this mold and can quarterback your personal brand for you. 90 percent of the work should be done by these people, not by the athlete. For example, if an athlete shoots a video, the video probably needs a campaign strategy (how to maximize views, engagement, etc), a script and storyboard, maybe a sponsor, producers, editors, etc. The athlete will show up for the video shoot and do his or her part, but everything else should be managed by highly qualified, forward-thinking, knowledgeable and creative professionals.

It all starts with high-level people who can produce high-level results.

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Q: As you know, not every athlete is on the same pay scale. Some athletes are on minimum deals or non guaranteed deals or playing in smaller markets and different sports. Can you describe how a solid brand can help you monetarily?

A: It probably goes without being said that a strong athlete brand doesn't mean a whole lot if the athlete doesn't have the skills to compete in a professional league.

But, assuming an athlete is qualified to play professionally, a solid brand means an athlete is more marketable, and marketing is arguably the most important aspect of running a successful business. Let's not forget: teams and leagues are businesses, and the goal of any business is to maximize profits. The more marketable an athlete is, the more value he or she brings to a team and league, and the more job security and compensation he or she will enjoy as a result.

In other words, a skilled and marketable athlete is worth more to a team than just a skilled athlete.

Q: What we love about your site are your Athlete Brand Analysis pieces  where you breakdown various athletes and how marketable they are. If you had to pick a Starting 5 of athletes  that have the best brands, who’s on your team and why?

A: My starting five is: LeBron James, Cristiano Ronaldo, Tom Brady, Michael Phelps and Alex Morgan. And my sixth man is Lavar Ball. While I'm at it, the rest of my roster includes: Kenny Stills, Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, Lindsey Vonn, Ty Dillon, Kevin Durant, Javale McGee, Paul Rabil and Kerri Walsh Jennings.

First and foremost, everyone in the starting five has a website — the cornerstone of a modern-day athlete brand.

Now, let's get into the particulars: LeBron James is at the forefront of the athlete-driven content phenomenon with Uninterrupted. Cristiano Ronaldo's digital footprint has the highest monetary value of any athlete in the world. Tom Brady only recently started upping his athlete brand game, but I love what he's doing with TB12 and the TB12 Method. Michael Phelps retired and is still omnipresent. Alex Morgan does a terrific job of making her personality shine through. And, whether you like him or not, Lavar Ball is revolutionizing the way athletes do business (what we at The Institute call the "Direct-to-Fan" Model).

Q: As a professional athlete can you talk about other streams of income that are available?

A: There are eight Internet-driven income streams — what we call "digital profit centers." They include online advertising, sponsorships, affiliate marketing, guest publishing, original content, subscription services (fan clubs), e-commerce and revenue sharing. For more about each of these income streams, check out our insider's guide: How to Create the Most Profitable Athlete Brand

We’ve seen countless athletes lose endorsements and business opportunities because of their brand, what is one way an athlete can make sure they are presenting themselves in the right way?

Be authentic and don't pretend to be someone you're not. I know this sounds cliché, but it's true. Don't worry about presenting yourself the "right" way. Just be you and do you.

There are co-branding (endorsement) opportunities out there for everyone — not just for the "look good, sound good" athletes. It's all about matching an athlete's brand to a brand (a sponsor) that fits his or her mold. Problems occur when athletes try to fit a square peg (their athlete brand) into a circle (a sponsor that doesn't fit their mold).

photo via josh hoffman

photo via josh hoffman

Q: What’s the next big thing athletes should be looking into within the digital media and sports business space?

A: We're already seeing it, but we'll see it exponentially more: athletes becoming media moguls and starting their own media companies. There are tremendous, unbelievably scalable business opportunities here. Athletes can be the face of it if they're comfortable doing so (like LeBron and Uninterrupted), they can stay behind the scenes if this approach better lends to their personality and style (like Kobe and Granity Studios), or they can take a hybrid approach (like Durant and Thirty Five Media).

Athletes' greatest asset here is their "celebrity" and the doors they can open. If they understand (or want to learn more about) the modern-day media production and distribution landscapes, it's a cherry on top. Either way, surround yourself with highly qualified, forward-thinking, knowledgeable and creative people who can do the heavy lifting, at least while you're still playing professionally.