Professional athletes are budding entrepreneurs, investors, and business operators. However, today's athletes aren't working solely with financial capital to accomplish this. Athletes use valuable assets like social capital, marketability and direct connection with fans to facilitate new opportunities. Athletes also utilize these assets to create relationships with brands and develop backgrounds that are useful for secondary career planning or personal brand building.
Many athletes do this well. Paul Rabil, for example, built his personal brand around lacrosse and used it to launch an extremely successful business career away from the sport. Rabil is one of the greatest professional lacrosse players of all time. He's also a highly successful athlete influencer, media operator, investor, and entrepreneur, most recently as a founder of the Premier Lacrosse League, launched in 2018. Rabil began his professional lacrosse career while working full-time, which is common. He eventually quit that job and started a clinic business to support his lacrosse wages. The trajectory of Rabil's career changed by becoming an early user of social media to connect with lacrosse fans. "For me [social media] was the only way to connect with a lacrosse fan because we weren't getting coverage on linear media," says Rabil. "I committed to being an early adopter and learning about the platforms, understanding trends, understanding consumer habits and building out creative and thoughtful content."
During the next three years, Rabil achieved numerous on-field accomplishments, launched a successful personal business, and operated on all major social media platforms, which drove more lucrative endorsement deals his way. "That was the time that it became real to me that I was on to something," says Rabil. His increased marketability provided a classroom to study the business behind endorsements. "I asked a lot of questions," says Rabil. "I would work with [the companies] directly around branded campaigns and learn about the business strategy." Rabil grew from these experiences into the operator, investor, and entrepreneur he is today.
Rabil taps his extensive network for his successful podcast "Suiting Up with Paul Rabil," where he interviews athletes, executives, and entertainers on a variety of topics. Rabil shares his accumulated knowledge and experiences at networking events designed for athletes, entrepreneurs, and investors like the Players Technology Summit. "It's like giving someone access to build," says Rabil. "We often hear the term networking, whether it's in business books, whether it's on a podcast or whether it's in national media, but it is an art. "It's very intricate and it requires you to be consistent and also have a level of awareness to do it the right way, and if you can solve for that it can be incredibly fruitful in the long run." These events have led to guests for Rabil's podcast, investments, and investors for Rabil-led ventures, like the PLL.
The PLL tackles issues like diminished TV presence and low player wages that plague Major League Lacrosse, the incumbent professional lacrosse league. To do this, the PLL adopted a revolutionary tour-based season, allowing the PLL to feature its players in major markets and optimizing it for a major media rights partner and better venues. The PLL landed that media rights partner in NBC, which will air games on its family of networks, including its digital streaming platform.
The PLL is increasing player salaries to a reported average salary of $28,000. The average MLL salary was reportedly around $8,000 in 2018, although increases were reported for 2019. "We wanted to build this with the players," says Rabil. The PLL will provide players with health care and equity in the league. "Because we are a true single entity as a business, we view this company akin to an early stage Silicon Valley technology company where you have a carve-out of your cap table for your employees," says Rabil. The PLL will encourage players to connect directly with fans through investments in original content and access to highlights and statistics to share on personal social media channels.
To put this together the PLL founders sought strategic capital—investors that understood the broader industry, the opportunity, and the relevant trends. "[Strategic capital] was really important to us because there are so many tenets to building this league properly," says Rabil. The PLL debuts on June first.
Rabil is a talented storyteller. His passion and enthusiasm are contagious, whether he's speaking about the PLL or interviewing a guest on his podcast. Rabil's passion and enthusiasm, along with his curiosity, are why his career path seems like no surprise. The only surprise is what Rabil will do next.
This article was initially published by Forbes on February 27, 2019.
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