Digital Branding in Sports
Digital Branding in Sports
Do you notice those athletes or teams that seem to have a presence above and beyond their playing field? It doesn’t happen by chance. There’s a strategic plan behind shaping a brand to elevate it, to make you think of it in a certain way. That’s what our guest, Mike Jones, does with college programs and athletes — he propels them as a brand.
Mike played multiple sports as a kid and focused on football into his later high school years. He played in college, then became a part of the staff to work in the ranks of the collegiate sports. Now his business, J1S, creatively pulls all those skills together for clients.
Enjoy this discussion & find other episodes of Hustle & Pro.
- [00:30] Quick hits with Mike Jones
- [01:50] Mike’s athlete profile
- [05:00] College athletes and athletics
- [07:40] Janine Beckie
- [11:45] Giannis Antetokounmpo
- [16:00] OU Football
- [20:00] Defining a team at a higher level
Resources within this episode:
- Mike Jones: Twitter | Instagram | LinkedIn
- J1S: Twitter | Instagram
- Kelly Walker: Instagram @kelly_walkertexas | Twitter: @kelly_walker_TX
Connect with Lifestyle Frisco:
Welcome to Hustle and Pro season two, talking sports in Frisco from youth to pro. Now here’s your host Kelly Walker.
Welcome to Hustle and Pro, we welcome Mike Jones today. We’re going to talk about Mike’s own sports story and carrying that over into how he’s telling and sharing other sports stories for a living. Welcome to the show, Mike, how are you?
I’m doing well. I think it’s been good. How are you doing?
I’m great. I’m excited to hear some, some stuff from you on what you’re up to lately. Before we jump into, before we get into some of that, I want to have a, do some quick hits, so I haven’t had you on before. And I like to tell our audience a little bit about you, um, as a sports fan and or athlete. So are you ready?
I’m ready. Let’s see, we got
Who’s your favorite athlete of all time?
Okay. What’s your favorite sport to play?
And what’s your favorite sport to watch?
Do you have any sports superstitions?
So I, I do. Oh, it was weird when I was playing. I never tied my laces until before kickoff.
You warmed up without shoes tied.
Yep. Warmed up with my, you know, obviously as a, you know, an, a skill position that the cleats are pretty tight, but yeah. Never had them, never had them tied.
Okay. That’s a good one. What about you? What’s your favorite sports movie?
Uh, remember the Titans. Okay.
Football of course. Okay. So that’s probably going to answer a lot of my next question before we get into some of your career. Um, Steph, what, uh, can you give us a rundown of your own profile as an athlete?
Yeah, I mean, I was, I was kind of always an athlete grew up multi-sport athlete. I think I’m still big proponent on that. You know, I want, I think kids should play as many sports as they can get their hands on and just figure out what they love, played baseball, soccer, basketball, growing up. Obviously when I got into high school, I started to focus more just on football and, um, played through my four years and then went on to play at the university of Southern miss, which is a group of five school in the conference USA, um, as a wide receiver for, for a season before my, uh, I had an injury with my, my wrist and, uh, like every athlete, uh, unless you’re one of the select few that can make it to the league, your, your play day comes to an end, uh, at that stage.
Yeah. You mentioned. So you played all those other sports and when you got to high school, you only played, so for your high school, you only focused on football or did you get to get a little bit into high school with other sports?
I did. My I’m recalling her. I did my freshmen and sophomore year doing basketball and football junior, senior was just football and that time. So at
What point were you, uh, realizing you could play after high school?
I would say you really, I mean, I was a late bloomer and I think a lot of kids really are. I don’t, I think you really start it coming around. You’re going into that junior season is really when your kind of head comes around to saying like, Hey, maybe there is something after this. Um, and your eyes start seeing that end of the tunnel where it says, Hey, I could, I could do something post high school, my freshman and sophomore year. I was so small compared to, you know, that growth spurt that I hit. I think for me, I was, I was still, it didn’t Dawn on me that there was something I could do after this.
Okay. So let’s talk a little bit about what you do for a living. I mentioned how you like to, well, you’ve made a career out of telling and sharing other sports stories specifically, um, and kind of a unique way. So I dunno, kind of give me a rundown of who you work with and how you do that. And what, like, I haven’t even mentioned J one S but so tell me a little bit about that so that we can explore what that is.
Yeah, definitely. So I own and founded a creative agency called J1S. Um, it’s an umbrella company that’s focused across what we call the active lifestyle consumer. Um, but even more specifically, one of our entities, J1S collective is focused specifically right into the sports area and we help sports properties, um, professional athletes with creative and branding marketing. Um, so we are, some of our clients include like Oklahoma football, Georgia tech, football, uh we’re, we’re helping them elevate their brand marketing on the digital side.
Okay. So I noticed those are at the collegiate level. Is that a primary focus for you guys?
It is, yeah. We’re are that, side’s very focused within the collegic athletic space. Um, we have not dabbled into the professional rings. We’ve worked with the professional athletes, but now to the property side.
Okay. So do you have, um, probably have good perspective on talking about like that college athlete and specifically all that entailed, you know, what they’re going through and what they have to deal with besides being on the field or the court? Is that something you guys work with?
Yeah, it’s, there’s a lot they’re juggling at that stage of their life and, you know, helping them work through this kind of pivotal time. And while they have a pretty large platform, we tell athletes all the time, the minute they hang up, their Jersey, whether that is at the NFL level or at the collegiate level, the amount of attention and the platform that they have decreases by a lot. So while they’re in that spotlight and they have the Saturday night kind of window or Sunday, if they’re lucky enough, they need to maximize on every day, every moment they have, and we’re there to kind of help these athletic departments, um, team up to really do a good job at giving them that chance, that opportunity to do so on a large platform.
So you mentioned the athletic department and you mentioned the two schools that you work with or, you know, football program at whatever school. Um, so are you, I guess, set me straight on if you’re allowed to work with specific athletes in college or is the red tape there that you can’t because they can’t be, you know, in a, like, be paid for something. So how does that work out?
Yeah, there’s um, right now, and there’s a lot of rules coming down the pipeline with the new name, image and likeness, but currently once they’re signed and they’re a part of the enrolled into the university, um, we can work with them as a perfect, you know, as a partner of the university, um, before they are signed to an actual school, that’s kind of where we can not touch them. So when they’re a high school athlete and they haven’t signed their, their letter of commitment to a certain school, um, we can not be involved in that process, uh, in terms of helping them actually with branding and marketing. Um, so we’re kind of step one, sir, at the school and they’re enrolled in their part of the program. We kind of step in to help facilitate that for them. Um, and, and there’s no red tape on that side. Now there’s new legislation coming down on, um, the new name, image and likeness, and we’ll see how that nets out, hopefully in early 20, 21. But right now we’re able to help them as a, as much as the university will allow us.
So you work with them through the school though, really?
And so let’s talk about some of those things. Um, I was, I wanted to talk about, um, specifically like a soccer athlete that you guys work with. So you’re, you’re talking about elevating themselves, their brand, like you said, this is their chance, why they, why they are playing, why they have a Jersey on to get their personality out there. Right. Cause you’re not so much, they’re not selling anything for anybody else really they’re trying to sell their themselves and make a brand for their own person. Right.
Totally. Yep. Okay.
So tell me a little bit about that [inaudible]. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say her name or not. Um, but tell me a little bit about that. Okay. Yeah. Janine, Becky. So, um, like the, the, uh, campaign that you guys did with her.
Yeah. So Janine is, uh, she’s one of our, you know, I love working with Janine. She’s a, was a Texas Tech grad that has gone on to play at the professional ranks and at the national team level and the women’s soccer side. So she’s a part of the Canadian national team. Um, and then also has ties to the Europe leagues where she plays for Manchester city. So for her, I think one of the things with that is it’s just sport. The women’s industry is so underfunded and the athletes, they quite honestly, they’re not, when you think of professional players, you think of LeBron James and the max deals of the millions of dollars that they’re making the women’s soccer leagues are not funded nearly as well. And, you know, so if you can get five, 10, $15,000, additionally, from off the field activities, that can be a pretty big increase in their yearly compensation.
So, you know, and again with somebody like that, you’re trying to work on what’s the longterm play after, after sports come to it to an end. So Janine’s got a bubbly, fun personality, and it just lights up a room when you are around her or she’s, she walks into a room. And for her, it’s just being able to use the digital platforms to grow that audience organically and show people who she is more than when she’s just on the field. And, um, we started a couple of different things to help highlight that she has a blog that she kind of puts out. And it’s, it’s a really neat, uh, video series where it’s just the behind the scenes of what it’s like to be a professional athlete in women’s sports. And then she also has a actual like podcast where she talks about a slew of different topics from fellowship to women’s sports, to, you know, trending topics within women’s EFA, collegic, and professional ranks. So she she’s a big coffee lover. So we partnered with a coffee shop that’s in Manchester, um, who helps facilitate that for her, but it’s just helping work alongside them to be able to reach these opportunities that they wouldn’t be able to do necessarily if they didn’t have an additional support team,
Right. To do that on your own. Um, it’s kinda just like bootstrapping it and you might not really get an audience, like it’s hard to get and build an audience if you’re just doing it on your own without a marketing engine behind you. Right. So, so for her, well, after her, career’s done, she now has other irons in the fire that she can go explore and has skills that she’s, you know, marketable and other ways now because of these experiences. Right?
Yeah. And you know, one thing that we try to tell all of our athletes is, and I think you would know this very well is content is King. And if you can look at yourself as a media publisher, no matter if you’re an individual or a large corporation, when you do have to go to the table and speak to whoever it may be, you come with a lot more leverage because you control an audience, you control attention. And if you just think about it at the highest level, think about the amount of money that the Netflix is and who’s of the world are spending on new original content. And the reason for that is they are fighting over the eyeballs, right. And if you can be somebody that comes to the table and says, Hey, I have proven track record that I can actually bring eyeballs to a piece of content or, or an audio piece or whatever that may be. Um, you have a lot of leverage at the table.
Exactly. Okay. Can we talk about, you mentioned LeBron, so, um, makes me want to talk about, um, you guys work with Giannis Antetokounmpo right. So the world’s largest game of horse, how did that come about and why did that happen?
Yeah, so Giannis, his work was partnership it’s no, it’s okay. I mean, I didn’t know how to say it either until I had to have a partnership with him and it’s, it’s extremely tough, name it’s I may even say wrongly now it’s, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Um, and it’s, I I’ve had the, I did it like a million times during that partnership to make sure that we had a right, but that was a, uh, an entry for Metro by T-Mobile who was formerly Metro PCs is probably the more common name. They changed their name to Metro by T-Mobile. They had been under the T-Mobile umbrella for a while and in a way to kind of enhance their brain perception, they changed their name and started to, um, they moved into the NBA and we’re getting a partnership in the MBA space. So they obviously, they brought on some athletes to help with that. And one of them was Giannis. So what’s always great about that is when you have an athlete at that size, do you immediately have an attention that you’re going to get from it, but it’s really also a point of how do you really push that when an athlete is in season and they’re not going to be available as much as you need them to be, to shoot a campaign, to be a part of a campaign. So in this instance, um, we relied heavily on influencers. We found four of the biggest, uh, YouTube basketball players, and we let them be the legs of the campaign, but have Yonis kind of at that top level, uh, the face behind it all and, and Yonis was, um, kind of the, the largest game of the horse. The competition was too. You could go and be on the next shoot with Jada’s for the TV commercial spot. And it was a really well done piece by multitude of agencies. It wasn’t just a one agency. You have logon air. Yeah.
That seems like that would be a, you know, a group effort, lots of, lots of moving parts to that.
Yeah. It had the Richards group log. It, their octagon is all the representation side for Giannis. So it’s a team effort when you’re talking about an athlete, as large as him and then a fortune type 500 company, like T-Mobile, um, a lot of moving parts involved.
Definitely. What’s the, what, how do you measure that campaign? Do you, I mean, can you imagine like, yeah.
Yeah. There’s I wish, I wish there was a simple answer to how you measure it. Right. And when you’re doing a campaign of that scale, right. Um, the digital side to a we’re talking about the largest game of horse is just one component to a much larger advertising play by a company. So you have their television spot, which was playing off of it. Um, they had, if you watch the TV 32nd spot Giannis plays horse. So the digital campaign was kind of pulled and inspired by that second TV spot. So they’re playing off of each other. So, you know, there’s multiple touch points that a consumer’s seeing it from. So, you know, when you’re really doing this, a lot of it is brand perception at the highest level of understanding, did we move the needle in terms of intent and brand perception? There’s a lot of, you know, very small tactical numbers that you can look at impressions, reach that help you see that. But I think with something of this magnitude, when a brand is taking that big of a move and shifting that many media dollars into a certain property space, it’s a two, three year approach to see what does it look like in two, three years? Have we made the NBA audience, the avid and casual NBA fan, more aware of Metro by T-Mobile and would they consider Metro by T-Mobile more than they would have two or three years ago
Beforehand? Yeah. That is a big scale project and campaign. Okay. Then let’s shift gears and talk when you’re talking about an entire department, like a college department, um, Oh, you and who, you mentioned another, um, school.
Okay. So when we’re talking about working with an entire department, um, that’s also a lot of people involved, I’m assuming, and you have to get a lot of people on board and figure out your voice and what you want to say. Um, so the OU campaign, I think it was football specific right. Was dare to be different. Yep. So did the, did they come to you or if you reached out and pitched to them, do they have a need that they need to create a new identity set themselves apart, have a fresh, you know, personality and brand out there?
Yeah. We reached out to them and there were, you know, we’ve been very selective. J1S has been picking certain collegic athletic programs that we wanted to partner with. Um, and we reached out to them. They were one of them that we wanted to work with. And the reason is there’s such a big traditional program. And everybody, you know, obviously here at Texas, they’re very well known. The Texas OU rivalry is very heated to say the least. Um, but for, for them, it’s, I think what makes collegic athletics unique from a brand marketing perspective is it’s probably the only sport where you can sign the top 25 athletes every single year. If you look at the NFL there’s differentiation that has to be done, right? The draft, the way it’s structured forces, there is an even playing field every year, right? The best, the best teams are always picking up the end of the draft, unless there’s some trade ups or things of that nature.
Right? So there’s a way that the, even the playing field, as best as I can sure. College athletics doesn’t work that way. You could technically go and sign the nimble and kid in each position that you need every single year. So it’s all based on the amount of work that you can get done on that recruiting field. So for an OU or somebody like a Georgia tech football, if you can get an edge in providing a better storyline, you’re a more relevant program to a 17 year old kid. Um, those go a long ways in signing the best talent. And then essentially, as we know, talent usually is the number one driving force to what causes winning.
Sure, definitely. So knowing that that audience is, like you said, a 17 year old kid, who’s just like rewind for in your own life, heading into their, um, junior year of high school and realizing, okay, I’m focusing on this. My goal is to go play. Maybe my goal is to play D one and they’re starting to look and pay attention. What do you, as an agency, what are you looking at then for digital platforms to use?
Yeah, I mean, we’re, you know, I think for us, we’ve really focused in and honing in on the Instagram, the Twitter, Tik Tok is on the rise. It’s definitely something we’re consistently having conversations with on our program side. Um, it’s definitely a younger audience and sometimes these things move so fast, um, and keeping up with it can be tough, but I think, you know, today, the, the former ABC is now Instagram, right. And NBC is Tik Tok, right? These, these channels that used to control this audience is now just on the social platform side.
Yeah. Because if you are trying to reach them on a daily basis and what they’re consuming, that’s how they’re consuming it. Even if it is new, true news or something, like you said, the old mainstream media that they might watch, it’s, they’re still consuming it and finding out all of the things they’re finding out about on Twitter, or I don’t think they’re finding out about news on Tik Tok. Right. But Instagram and all that, all the other things they’re kind of when they’re scrolling and seeing content come across, it’s not just music, I guess.
Yeah. Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s interesting the way that they, this new generation consumes their version of, you know, news.
Yeah. So are you then, is that kind of a play, like when you’re working with an athletic department or a school in general, is that something where you’re, um, focuses on them creating good content themselves? Or are you purchasing space to be seen in and reaching new audiences wise? They’re exploring like on Instagram.
Yeah. I think for us, it’s, it’s helping them with ink. What I’d say is the biggest area that collegiate athletics lacks in is what we call the awareness section of the campaigns. Um, just because of the resources and red tape of universities, sometimes they don’t have what’s necessary to do really high level brand campaigns. That usually is where brand perception shift occurs. They’re very focused in what we call engage in direct campaign. So your game day graphics, your tickets sales or new uniform stuff, that stuff is engaging your audience, but it doesn’t define your brain narrative. Right. So if I’m trying to swing the sixteen-year-olds brand perception of, of us, it’s gotta be higher than that. Right. There has to be a larger message. And that was the point with dare to be different, was it was an empowerment message for Oklahoma football to say, when you come here, you know, you’re more than a football player and we are making that loud and clear that that is our message and our positioning. Um, that’s the, that’s the goal, right? So while their internal teams do an amazing job at that middle and more direct type content, we’re coming in to help facilitate higher level awareness brand campaigns.
I love that. And I think most of us see that. And don’t the goal probably is that we don’t realize it either, right? You’re, we’re seeing it one, five, seven, 10, 15 times in over time. It’s just sort of the normal that, that’s how we associate with that college or that, that athlete, whatever the brand that we’re talking about, it’s just sort of becomes our normal perception of them. And we don’t realize we’re seeing a campaign at all.
Exactly. Yeah. We want it to feel it. Our goal is it’s all in the subconscious, right. We don’t, we don’t want you to feel like you just were, were brought in add or that you feel like you’ve been told to think this way. Um, our goal is that when they hear their head football coach tell them, Hey, Oklahoma football is coming in to see you today. What’s that first thought that comes to their mind. That’s what we’re trying to help.
Ah, okay. That’s awesome. I love that. Okay. Then a wrap up, I’m going to circle back to, you said you, you went to the university of Southern, um, my gosh, Mississippi. Yes. Sorry. Southern Mississippi. Um, what made you choose to go there?
Honestly, I was an elite, a high school football player coming out. Um, I was good enough and they, they gave me an opportunity and, you know, really, I’m really thankful for Todd Monkin, who was the head coach at that time. Um, he’s kinda big, big reason. I am where I am today. He one allowed me to get on the roster there and then to hired me onto the staff, he offered me my first job in college athletics. Uh, it’s a very competitive field to get into. So being able to be hired onto a, you know, a group of five visual and FPS type program was a big step towards it. Um, he is now he went to Tampa Bay after Southern miss, and then he went to the Browns and now he’s back in college athletics as the offensive coordinator at Georgia. Um, but yeah, it was, I went there, got onto the staff there and was able to kind of ride my career. I spent five years in college athletics, so a lot of it’s owed to Todd Monkin, uh, giving me my first break.
Did you know, did you have any idea that that would be part of the deal, you know, like after you were done playing that you wanted to be part of the staff and like work in sports or would you, were you not even that thinking that far ahead?
I was, I went and I, I, I didn’t even know that there was the off the field positions in college athletics. I only thought like I was, I wanted to always be an offensive coordinator. I loved football. I wanted to be a coach and it wasn’t until I got my first op like, look behind the curtain of what goes into an actual football team at that level, that I even knew that there was positions like marketing and branding and operations and recruiting. Um, I just never even realized it. And I think a lot of kids probably don’t that are coming out and, um, you know, Todd Monkin offered me the job quite honestly. I didn’t even know what I was getting into.
Isn’t it amazing how many jobs there are behind an off the field? Like it takes a slew of people to put that product out there. Doesn’t it?
Yeah. It, I tell people all the time when I said Southern miss it’s a lower revenue school. It’s a definitely the financial budget is much, much smaller than maybe an Alabama, Texas that you think of. Um, even in Oklahoma, like nowhere close to that. And my, I was, my job was on the recruiting side. It was also on the operations. So you’re talking, making sure the four buses that take you to the airport who takes to the seat placements for where the kids are going to sit on the plane to the food that they have when they arrive. Um, one of the things that people don’t even think about is there’s this heart attack moment that you’re having. If you’re off the field in college athletics, where you’re playing, you’re playing is coming down to land, right to wherever you’re going to play and you get cellular service. And you’re looking for the first text from the person that’s supposed to be there for the buses, because if you lay it on that tarmac and there’s no buses there, your head coach is going to rip into you. So the, I always sat next to our DFO and he was always sitting there waiting for that text message to come in and say, okay, the buses are here. We are going to be okay. The, you know, like there’s little things like that, that go into just getting the team to the field.
Little things, but a big thing, because that’s the logistics that makes it all, you know, the dots, all connect and people get where they have to be and keeps it all rolling. Well, it’s fascinating to me because as a marketing person, myself, and that’s my background and a lover of sports and consumer of all things, sports and all of these athletes stories, which I love. Um, this is really fascinating and interesting to me. So I appreciate you taking the time to hop on with me today and fill me in a little bit about what you’ve been working on.
Of course it was awesome. Being able to get on the local, local podcasts and people doing really good work in Dallas. And I’m proud of what’s going out of the city right now. So thanks for helping contribute to that.
Yeah, absolutely. We have a lot of, especially up here in Frisco, a lot of sports moving and shaking every day. And so I love to be able to have people jump on and talk to me about what they’re experiencing. So I appreciate your time. And so that wraps it up for us today at Hustle and Pro this week. So thank you, Mike, and thank you listeners. And we will see you next week.