“Evan was not one of those agents from a huge agency that handed everything off to someone else. He is creative and helped me fill a lot of dreams. He is a friend and my agent.”
Evan Morgenstein is an elite sports agent. And while he may not appreciate the comparison, Evan’s career in sports marketing is similar to that of the movie character Jerry Maguire. Like Maguire, Evan worked for a large agency that represented high profile athletes.
“I did that for a couple of years, thought that 99 percent of the NBA athletes that I met or worked with were utter worthless, thankless assholes.”- Sports Agent Blog
So rather than bleed for athletes who didn’t appreciate his efforts, Evan decided to build a different type of agency, one meeting the needs of underserved, yet exceptional athletes. Sixteen years later, PMG Sports now represents over 35 Olympians including Dara Torres, Bruce Jenner, Janet Evan, Cullen Jones, and Nastia Liukin. And with hard work, PMG has helped its clients team up with the likes of McDonalds, AT&T, Deloitte, and TD Ameritrade.
As you may have guessed from his quote above, Evan isn’t shy in expressing his opinions. He shared some of those opinions with me during a recent discussion.
What was the genesis of your company, PMG Sports?
I started with a national team soccer player, Juergen Sommer, and the belief I could do things that no one had ever done before.
I met my first Olympic athlete, Josh Davis, at a trade show in Atlanta in February, 1997. Josh, the captain of the US swim team, had won 3 Gold medals at the Atlanta games, and his agent would never call him back. After talking for weeks, Josh called me and said he wanted me to be his agent. It was incredible. But what I didn’t know was how influential Josh was. In three months, I had 16 of his teammates and friends in swimming as clients. PMG Sports was born.
You said that you wanted to “do things that no one had ever done before.” What did you mean by that?
Our only goal was to change the environment of the haves and have nots in the Olympics. The Amy Van Dykens, Janet Evans and Michael Johnsons were huge. But what about athletes like Josh Davis who wanted to make the Olympics their career, and not just every 4 years? And the vision came to me. Build a middle class in the Olympics. And that’s what I do every day. I work for great athletes who deserve the efforts and opportunity to be great and not lose to better funded athletes who aren’t as good!
Given that many athletes fall below the definition of the “middle class” of Olympians, is there a reasonable place for them to participate?
See this is the inherent inequity of how the US Olympic Committee and the national governing bodies work. They are whores for the sponsorship money, the millions. They placate the media and their sponsors by talking big. They say,
“We are about all of the athletes, all of the time.”
That is without a question the biggest lie in the Olympics. They can’t prove it, not through their funding, promotion or marketing practices. Go to any national championship of any sport in the Olympics. You won’t see 3rd tier athlete’s images anywhere, only the stars. 100% of the sports are like this. Therein lies the problem. They are set up like little thief-doms focused on head count, memberships and control, not the athletes.
Can you talk about the process for taking a brand (an athlete) and associating it with another brand (a corporation) in a non-athletic setting?
I find the concept of an athlete as a brand to be utter bullshit. They are people and tangible as such. These NBA guys that love talking about their brand also love speaking of themselves in 3rd person. I hate that. Get a grip. You are [here] today and forgotten tomorrow.
Our greatest challenge is to get sponsors to go beyond what their PR agency tells them to do. They need to think grassroots to national opportunities. The better plan, the more invested and grander plan will bear fruit. Too many companies have NO idea what they need, want or can do. The problem is that too many agents are gatekeepers, not marketers, in the use of athletes. They are pimps, and it makes me sick!
I get your point that an athlete does not equal a brand and they are people, but what do you mean by “the better plan?”
Most of these agencies do a media event in NY and some social media and they think they have done something. They have no long term strategy. Their PR firms are paid on the numerics of what they secure. So if you book The Today Show, it is nirvana for the PR firm. If not, the client is bummed.
Here’s a better approach. We execute online programs with mommy bloggers like Amanda Beard that reaches millions! A program can be created for a long period of time by working that avenue. One-offs are so meaningless. But we do these deals because the athletes want to work, need visibility and need the money.
Besides being successful in their sport, what things can an athlete do to improve their marketability? Is building an online/social media presence important or valuable?
If an athlete doesn’t have a social knowledge and presence and work it EVERY single day, they are UNMARKETABLE! You have to put yourself out there for anyone to see you. Thinking if you train hard, keep your nose clean and try real hard good things will happen is ridiculous. Marketing is a jungle and you are either king of the hill or someone else’s meal!
Take three of my clients as examples: Nastia Liukin, Amanda Beard, and Dara Torres. They all speak to their fan base. They all work their social universe. Companies follow them. We do deals from PR agencies that hear their voice and it’s the voice of their customer. Amanda has her own blog speaking to her core fans and demographic.
In addition, not all athletes are created equal pertaining to marketing. My clients such as Eric Shanteau and Cullen Jones have amazing stories. Eric found out he had testicular cancer before the 2008 Olympic trials and waited until he made the team to tell his family. And while at a theme park as a child, Cullen went on a slide, crashed into the water at the bottom, went under and drowned. He was revived.
Eric now is a spokesperson for Livestrong and produces one of the best open water swims each year at Lake Lanier, GA. Cullen is the spokesperson for Make a Splash, the largest educational program in the world speaking to African American and Hispanic kids about the importance of swim lessons!
Thanks Evan for the insight and opinions!