Take it from someone who’s earned the right, sometimes the hard way, to talk about brand building. In today’s world, brand building is an integral part of the athletic make up. No athlete worth his/her weight doesn’t have a brand that he or she built from years of sweat, tears and grinding. They understand that the most important thing for a student athlete during the recruiting process and later as a player on the big stage is building his or her brand.
Consider that the career span of an average professional athlete, specifically a football player, is only two or three years to make good money after leaving college. While in college, the university is building a brand for their benefit, but this is precisely the time that the student athlete should concentrate on building his or her own brand. A student athlete only has a very small window to maximize the opportunity to build their brand.
While I was a student athlete at USC, I had the opportunity to see how the branding machine works. How the athletes were used to represent the program or sell tickets or merchandise was very eye opening. I saw that it isn’t just about the sport, it’s about building a recognized brand that people/fans want to support.
Recognizing these dynamics, I started my first business while I was a student. I knew going into football that it was a limited career and I wanted to have all the elements in place so that upon retiring, I could rely on another career. But I knew that starting a business had to go hand-in-hand with creating a brand with longevity. A solid brand can last a lifetime. For example, Stussy, Vans, Jordan’s are all sports brands that people could embrace because there was a culture behind the names.
So I built a brand first, then the business (training and educating student athletes) followed. My brand that I put forth via social media platforms was hard work, overcoming adversity, the struggle to be a success. And, 99% of the sports world can relate, since they’ve all struggled and survived at some point in their lives. Only 1% of athletes make it from a high school All-American to a college All-American to the NFL and the big dollars.
In building my brand and the business, I wanted to impact people’s lives as much as make a profit. I felt that being authentic, letting people know who I was and what I went through to make it, was most relatable. The pain and the struggle caught the attention from people all around the world. We went from having millions of views on YouTube training videos to creating a nationwide following where everyone wanted to buy our T-shirts and be part of what we were building. We went from making $20 T-shirts to developing a whole brand through social media that people could tap into. From these T-shirts, I opened a training facility and a school based on the concepts that I created in my own life. It was a classic case of using the struggle to be a success.
For us, we wanted the kids to wear our sweatshirts, wear our logos, to represent us in their lives. In doing so, they felt they were part of the lifestyle we created. I realized early on that you cannot fake your brand; it has to be authentic. The brands that last the longest are authentic, real and true. Fads come and go, but those brands that are true to who they are have longevity. Think Michael Jordan, Nike, Vans. Those are brands that people could buy into and identify with, regardless of demographics.
Building a brand is also being the brand. For example, we see a lot of players who post on social media that they are Godly, but are they in church? Are they living a good life? Are they really giving back to their communities? More often than not the answer is no; they are using these outlets to get some good PR. Yet if they don’t walk the walk, their followers will know quickly that’s not really who they are.
Another example is when a player goes back home to host a kid’s camp. It’s a once a year event, but typically that is the only time they come home. Are they really making an impact because they are only here once a year, or are they in the streets really changing these kid’s lives? That is what we are doing at WCA on a daily basis. I am passionate about giving back and making an impact on young lives — which is why the WCA brand is taking off. It’s authentic and appreciated.
Remember one guiding concept: your business as a player is limited, but your brand can last forever.