This is the Digital Strategy Call with host Brent Lollis and special guest Leigh Steinberg, the mega sports agent who was the inspiration for Tom Cruise's character in the hit movie Jerry Maguire.
Help spread the word about The Digital Strategy Call
Below is a full transcript of this episode.
This is the Digital Strategy Call with your host Brent Lollis, an award winning digital strategist to Fortune 500 CEOs and superstars like Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift and American Idol mentor and Big Machine Records founder Scott Borchetta. Our mission is simple: to help you navigate the warp-speed changes in the digital world and make you the undeniable leader in your industry.
The Digital Strategy Call is made possible by Creative State, helping you conquer your competition with world class responsive websites, video production, branding, search engine optimization and social media. Go to CreativeState.com, or call 866-658-7423.
Leigh Steinberg, welcome to the Digital Strategy Call.
You grew up in a middle class family out in Los Angeles. Why don't you tell us a little bit about your upbringing?
My father was a high school teacher and later principal in the LA city schools, but his real passion was human relations so he was President of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission for a number of years and that was his focus. My grandfather had run Hillcrest Country Club, which was the hang-out for a whole set of Hollywood celebrities, so I had the unusual balance of having a father focused on education and values and a grandfather who played gin rummy every day with Groucho Marx, George Burns, Jack Benny, Danny Kaye. I had a picture on Marilyn Monroe's lap. I have an autographed Elvis Presley guitar, so it was entertaining.
My dad had two core values. One was to treasure relationships, especially family, and the second was to try to make a meaningful difference in the world and help people who can't help themselves. I was always hard-wired to try to go out and make a difference in the world and it formed the underlying philosophy for the business I've put together.
I was always hard-wired to try to go out and make a difference in the world and it formed the underlying philosophy for the business I've put together.
You were a leader, both in high school and college in student government. Do you think that what you just described is what lead you to leadership at such a young age?
Absolutely. My dad had a corollary to those values, which was when you see a problem in the world and you're waiting for the amorphous day or them to solve it and anything from poverty or racism or domestic violence or something as minor as who is going to pick something off the floor that someone dropped, he would look at me and say, "You could wait forever for they or them. The 'they,' son, is you. You are the 'they.'" It instilled a sense of personal responsibility and also, not in a grandiose way, but in an overall attitude that my brothers and I, each of us was responsible for making a difference and we couldn't sit and complain about things that bothered us in the world without doing something about it, and going ahead. I was hard-wired again that way.
When did you first know you wanted to be as sports agent? How did that come about?
There was no sports agentry back in the 70s when I signed. Most players were represented by themselves or they took what was offered or sometimes their parents represented them. There was nothing to aspire to. I was looking forward to getting into court as an attorney and either being a defense attorney or prosecute criminals, but I never got there because in 1975, Steve Bartkowski, who was a quarterback at Cal, came into the dorm where I was a dorm counselor. He ended up asking me in 1975, when he was the very first pick in the first round of the draft, to represent him. There I was brimming with legal experience, so we got the largest rookie contract in NFL history.
I saw when I went to Atlanta to sign the contract there were klieg lights in the skylight for a movie premiere. A huge crowd was pressed up against the police line, and the first thing we heard was, "We interrupt the Johnny Carson show to bring you a special news bulletin. Steve Burkowski and Leigh Steinberg have just arrived at the airport. We switch you live." I saw then the tremendous idol worship and veneration that athletes are held in communities across the country, how they're the movie stars and I was looking for a craft where I could use the underlying philosophies in it. I saw that athletes could be role models and trigger imitative behavior, because of their high profile, and they could permeate the perceptual screen that especially rebellious adolescents put up against all authority figures.
We encouraged them to go back to their high school and collegiate professional community and set up a high school scholarship fund or a collegiate scholarship fund, which people like Troy Aikman has done at UCLA, and Kerry Collins at Penn State, and Edgerrin James at University of Miami. Then to put together a charitable foundation at the professional level, which would embody the leading business figures, economic leaders, political figures and community leaders and execute a program like Warrick Dunn, the former running back putting the 145th single mother and her family into the first home they'll ever own by making the down payment and having it outfitted.
There was no field to aspire to. The economics were completely different than they are today, but that got me started.
Some reports say that your clients have given upwards of $800 million to charity. You talked about you guiding them to do that. Why is that so important to you and such a passion of yours?
I think it's beneficial for the athletes in that it takes them away from the concept of self-absorption and gets them to see themselves as actors in the world. I also think it lays the basis for a second career by having them network and reach out into the communities that either raised them or support them to put together relationships that can be helpful. It also teaches them a set of skills.
In terms of the world, it is, I think, critically important to have athletes utilize that high profile to make a positive difference because the newspapers are filled with domestic violence and drunk driving and a series of off the field activities that don't really project that well. I wanted this practice to have meaning and purpose, and to be able to root these athletes into their communities and then target a variety of societal problems that were disserving to each athlete and let them then utilize this philosophy in their own way in their own time.
Let's pivot a little bit to the focus of the podcast, the Digital Strategy Call. How has technology and the internet specifically changed your profession, that as you said you were on the leading edge of creating this profession. How has technology changed the profession?
If Rip van Winkle had gone to sleep back in 1975 in a world where telephones were rotary, where they rang busy if you were on the phone, where we read newspapers to get information and watched some television to do the same. There was no internet. There were no computers. There were no cell phones. He would awake today in culture shock.
The entire way that information is transported and made available to people has radically and dramatically changed because you have multiple platforms of content supply, all of which create this viral community and so to be able to communicate with people today, we've had to design a new strategy that understands how to use LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, and every other platform of content supply to get a message across. Particularly, when I was out of representing athletes for five or six years, there's a generation and now what are they using to accumulate information? They're tweeting and Facebooking and snapshotting and using all of these alternative methods, so we have very vibrant social media that talks about both my own philosophies but also what we're doing in the world and is able to communicate that to a broad audience through daily providing content in all these different ways about the nature of the practice, things I might be doing in my own life, and it's been instrumental.
For example, I have an autobiography, The Agent, and without social media, it'd have been very hard to get much attention for that book, but it comes across in each of those categories. It also has set up a system where an athlete has no privacy. The ubiquitous nature of the cell phone camera means that we can follow an athlete from the moment he leaves his home, so it creates real danger in the sense that the athlete thinks he's using, in essence, a small, between-friends tool, when in reality he is broadcasting to the world. It means carefully plotting for each athlete their own social media profile and cautionary tales as to what the content is.
Branding today is the essence of doing many, many forms of business...
Branding today is the essence of doing many, many forms of business, so it's the amount of followers someone has on Twitter or on Facebook or on LinkedIn, and that then equates or translates in to everything from how much money someone might get paid for an endorsement to whether he's desirable for endorsement to my own ability to do book deals and public speaking. It factors into virtually every business transaction.
We also see it as a very vital area for investment and involvement in our firm. Back in the late 90s, I put together something called Athlete Direct. This was still the rudimentary days of the internet. You had to access AOL. We made deals with Michael Jordan, the basketball player; Ken Griffey, Jr., the baseball player; Troy Aikman and other quarterbacks and put them up on the internet for the very first time. Fans could follow their weekly diaries. They could read about their charitable foundations. They could interact with them in chats. We designed an e-commerce application for them to buy directly. Germinated the company as part of our firm, and then sold it for hundreds and hundreds of time multiple a couple years later. We sold that.
All of the new internet sites, the start-ups, were very vibrant and then sports, it could be a new internet site, it could be a new way of relating. We put a venture fund together to be able to invest in those breaking forms of technology where we could help developing new technologies and start-ups, work their way into professional sports, collegiate sports, high school sports, and develop business plans for them, hopefully take them to market as rapidly as possible and then try to create a presence that is so unique that when the next imitator comes along with the next similar concept, people want Kleenex rather than tissue. They want a Cadillac rather than a car, and you're able to sustain the viability of the company.
In the past, athletes who came to the end of their playing careers had a few standard options. They could go into television. They could go into movies. They could go into business. How has the internet and social media and the things we've been discussing changed the post-career or second career options for professional athletes?
It has changed them enormously. When I had clients on the San Francisco 49ers, they trained in Santa Clara, so I would ask them, "Are there any businesses approximate to this that you might network in?" "Well, high tech." I'll give you a couple ways.
Athletes can now use their brand to take a concept ...
Brent Jones, the former tight end of the 49ers, through contacts he made now runs a multiple billion dollar hedge fund in technology. Steve Young, the quarterback of the 49ers, has been integrally involved. Athletes can now use their brand to take a concept ... Let's say it's digital greeting cards for people. Troy Aikman can not only have an investment in it, not only take an endorsement fee, but he can actually help the company grow by giving them presence. "Hi, I'm Troy Aikman. I want to wish you the happiest of birthdays," not only is an individual endorsement, but it helps and if he takes equity in that business and rides the liquidity wave, he can end up in wonderful economic shape.
Athletes now can use their brand to build parts of this so we now see a new internet project that allows athletes to post on multiple websites through this site and then endorsers and advertising goes with that, and then they do a profit split. You're finding that they can not only be endorsements, they can help a company grow and they can benefit from an equity position.
Leigh, this has been a fascinating conversation. If our listeners want to find more about your business and your various ventures, where can they find it?
Leigh, thank you so much for joining us on the Digital Strategy Call.
It's been my pleasure.
Thanks for joining us on the Digital Strategy Call. Subscribe today. Never miss an episode. Be sure to visit Creative State, helping you conquer your competition with world class responsive websites, video production, branding, search engine optimization and social media. Go to creativestate.com, or call 866-658-7423.