If you’re like most men between the ages of 20-40 you’ve probably consumed one, if not many, protein shakes in your lifetime…. and just because you drink a protein shake doesn’t mean you’re a meathead. However, if you have had your fair share, you most-likely have used the brand MusclePharm at one point. The brand has been one of the top sports nutrition supplement companies for several years despite increased competition and an utterly saturated market. To be mentioned as one of the top brands in the market along with Glanbia, Pepsi Co., Coca-Cola, Clif Bar and Company etc. is no easy feat. What makes it even more interesting is the brand was founded by former NFL player Brad Pyatt in 2008. Pyatt isn’t a household name, but he did appear in NFL games and had a successful stint in the Arena Football League. Because he was officially a professional athlete and is the man behind MusclePharm, there’s no question he is one noteworthy athlete-turned-entrepreneur.
If you blinked slowly you may have missed Brad Pyatt’s time in the NFL. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2003 by the Indianapolis Colts, he spent just three years with the team and appeared in a total of 16 games. In that span, he caught 3 passes for a total of 14 yards. Pyatt was much more successful as a kick and punt returner for which he amassed 544 yards on 19 kick-off returns. After bouncing around on practice squads in Miami, Pittsburgh and St.Louis (now the Los Angeles Rams), Pyatt decided to join the Colorado Crush in the Arena Football League for a couple of years in 2007. In Arena Football he caught 162 passes for over 1,800 yards and 32 touchdowns. In 2008, he retired from playing pro football and started the next journey of his life.
MusclePharm is Born
Immediately after his playing days, Brad Pyatt and his friend Cory Gregory founded MusclePharm Corporation. Pyatt and Gregory put together a team of scientists that included two full-time PhDs and Roscoe Moore, who is a former assistant to the US Surgeon General to build an innovative brand of sports nutrition that is specifically focused on athletes. The company grew like wildfire because of the demand for supplements across all demographics. Anyone from bodybuilders to average Joes looking to lose weight were buying MusclePharm products. In three short years from 2009-2012 MusclePharm grew from $1 million in sales to $50 million. Three years later sales increased to $150 million. In the middle of this rapid growth, Pyatt took MusclePharm public from a private company and also enlisted billionaire Dr. Phil Frost as an investor. The growth was remarkable and Pyatt was sitting on a war chest of resources that he decided to put to good use.
If MusclePharm wasn’t a household name for sports nutrition users already, Pyatt started throwing millions at celebrity endorsers. He enlisted the Godfather of bodybuilding, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the greatest golfer that ever lived, Tiger Woods, and then buzzy NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick (one could say he’s still relatively buzzy), as well as others. No nutrition brand in the world could boast a stable of celebrity endorsers like MusclePharm. Not satisfied there Pyatt took it a step further and became the official nutrition company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Major League Baseball team the Cincinnati Reds and Premier League giants Manchester City. All of these strategic partnerships gave the brand an opportunity to land just about every large retailer in the USA. At the pinnacle of MusclePharm’s existence they were working with Wal-Mart, Costco, Target, GNC, Vitamin Shoppe, Vitamin World, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Amazon and Bodybuilding.com. The success and growth of MusclePharm was almost to good to be true…. well, it actually was.
Before we get into the downfall of MusclePharm, let’s note the brand is still very much alive and well today in an industry that has faced challenges and scrutiny for years. Right after the brand hit its peak of about $150 million in sales, CEO Pyatt abruptly resigned. Why would the founder of a brand growing at that rate resign just like that? The answer would soon follow as MusclePharm would face dozens of lawsuits and pressure from the SEC for accounting and disclosure violations for a slew of executive perks given to Pyatt under his watch. What is even more troubling is most of the legal issues stemmed from mislabeling their products with the incorrect quantities of protein. For those of you who are not aware of how sports nutrition supplements work, particularly protein powders, protein content is king. Bodybuilders and athletes alike were being tricked to thinking there was a certain level of protein in their product when in actuality it was not nearly that high.
Pyatt removed himself from the situation with a healthy severance package and left now CEO Ryan Drexler to clean up the mess, which is exactly what he did. In 2020, MusclePharm continues to sell and promote its brand. It no longer possesses the stable of celebrity endorsements it once had due to the need to free up the cash (dropping Arnold and co. saved them about $30 million in cash commitments). However, the brand has recovered from its lawsuits and can now be found on shelf, online and internationally just like other brands. Due to ongoing competition, MusclePharm will never experience the runaway growth it once did, but it’s safe to say it is solidified as one of he major brands on the market despite the controversy.
As for Pyatt, perhaps we should put an asterisk next to his name on the list of former professional athletes who have become great entrepreneurs. Make no mistake about it, he grew nothing into a $150 million brand. That in itself deserves recognition, but there will always be questions regarding the legitimacy and the way his run as the head of MusclePharm ended.