As NBA All-Star Weekend winds down some of the residual talk remains about the “Value” having the event in New York may or may not mean to the future of the New York Knicks, and how Carmelo Anthony as the face of the team can use the Big Apple, even a frozen Big Apple, as a way to show potential players how amazing it would be to play in New York. As Sinatra says, if you can make it here you can make it anywhere. All week there were quotes from All-Stars talking about the amazing experience of Madison Square Garden and of all the business opportunities, from fashion to technology, that New York presents. All true, but in a day of digital media and a global environment, do you actually have to PLAY in New York, with its everyday pressure and distractions, to really build true brand value?
Hard to say that is the case. In reality there are many elite athletes, from Tom Brady and Steve Nash to Jeff Gordon, who spend part of their time actually living in New York and taking advantage of all the city has to offer without playing for a local team. LeBron James has spent days and weeks in the offseason with the biggest and brightest in New York but he doesn’t have to play there to build a brand. Looking at the numbers the same seems to hold true; of the 25 highest paid athletes in the world according to Forbes, one (Anthony) calls New York his fulltime place of business. Last year’s Bloomberg Sports Power 100, which rated the top 100 athletes across all sports on various business capabilities and engagement, had only TWO New York athletes- Anthony again and the New York Rangers Henrik Lundqvist- on their list.
Now this is not to say that playing in New York is not without its merits, win or lose. Current Knicks GM Steve Mills, when he was head of Madison Square Garden, always preached to players that of they had business interests beyond basketball they should take advantage of their time in NY. Captains of industry, media, fashion etc. all are at games every night, and those introductions came very easily for players like Kurt Thomas, who had an interest in financial literacy, or Jerome Williams, who had a passion for fashion brands. The teams did NOT have to win, but the players had to be smart, professional and successful to get that into and that extra value. The same would hold true regardless of sport, much like playing in LA can boost a player’s media interests and grow a potential business there, like Baron Davis and Elton Brand have done in filmmaking.
However today, one looks at successful athletes as brands, and a New York playing address is almost unneeded. Payton Manning, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Floyd Mayweather, Alex Morgan, Serena Williams, Bryce Harper, Sidney Crosby…even the biggest names of NBA All-Star Weekend like Michael Westbrook, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Durant; have all done amazingly well with dollars, brand value and name recognition without playing in New York, and there is no reason, given the way brands engage now, that their value can’t continue to grow. Having the ability to come to New York and meet with brands, having smart people around you managing your business, and most importantly, KNOWING and UNDERSTANDING your realistic goals is more important these days than a street address.
Is there an extra cache for actually winning in New York? Probably safe to say that several Giants, especially Eli Manning or Victor Cruz, have ridden a wave of New York success more so than if they were in San Diego or Atlanta, and there is no doubt that several Yankees outside of the legendary core of the Bombers’ championship team rode on field titles to bigger opportunities. However Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, because of their persona, would probably have been as big without wearing pinstripes because they understood their brand. The list of athletes who have come to New York and left in a shambles far outweighs those who have come and succeeded in business.
So is it better to visit, learn and then play and WIN elsewhere, than trying to conquer the biggest mountain as a “New York” athlete? If you look at the track record of success for New York teams the last 15 years, it is hard to say that winning elsewhere in the right culture and then marrying that success with ties on Madison Avenue proves the point. Then again, winning in the biggest and most demanding environment is becoming more rarefied air it seems with each passing year so maybe there are ancillary benefits to being part of those teams, although for the superstar athlete the upside may not be as great as for the secondary player who can ride that title to doors that may not have been open before. In some ways not playing in New York can even make the superstar athlete have more of an aura, for when he/she comes to town it is much more of an event than a happenstance that can occur when they are seen every day in media every day.
Now does that mean that all the “recruitment” talk is not without its merits? Probably not. Anthony and teammate Amare Stoudemire have used superstar status to drive their brands which they may not have been able to do elsewhere without a title, so playing in Gotham and NOT winning, does have brand value. Maybe that is factored into the recruitment conversation; come here, build the brand, get the money and if you win great, if not, that’s Ok too. However to try and do both, win and build brand is something that many have tried, and few, very few have succeeded at.
We are in an era of all access, both good and bad. There is no place for the elite entertainer or athlete to hide, and information at every level can be had at the flick of a Google search. The nuances, the little extras are what probably matter most, and for many, you can have that cake without playing here, just buy a place and set up shop for some visits. Will this weekend entice a future star to put down playing roots vs. visiting roots? We shall see, but to have it make a true difference in building brand, these days you can build from winning in Green Bay, Seattle, Denver or even Oklahoma City and then come to New York for the business. It wasn’t true years ago, but it is more true now than ever before.
What’s needed is a commitment and understanding of the business goals one lays out, the successful partnership with the right brands, an understanding of balance of on field and offield success and a willingness to invest and work both sides. It takes commitment to business as much as commitment to play, and winning at both is tough. Few can pull it off as well as a Jeter or an Anthony or a Williams, but then again that’s why they are superstars as athletes and brand ambassadors, no matter where they live. New Yorker’s would love to have the titles and have their stars bring them home. However of you are a star athlete, Madison Avenue will find you if you have the pieces, you have to find it much less in today’s all access world.