Long compared with one another for their similar styles on the court, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Michael Jordan made certain they would all share the same title off the court – global businessman – as Fortune reported this week that all three mega stars have signed with consulting and advisory powerhouse Teneo to manage their brands and businesses.
It’s a big move that expands how athletes are perceived in terms of dollars, cents and the management thereof.
Since its inception, Teneo has only worked with CEOs and leaders of the world’s largest companies, institutions and governments as clients.
By bringing in individual athletes, advisory firms like Teneo and the rest of the strategic consulting complex now consider mega athletes as bona fide businesses that can benefit from the same services afforded to large multinational corporations.
ATHLETES AS GLOBAL BUSINESSES
In a borderless world where a sport can produce global household names, the problems faced by elite mega athletes are becoming increasingly similar to those faced by a Proctor & Gamble or a Nestle.
As Maverick Carter, LeBron James’ business manager, puts it:
“LeBron is at the size where he does need to be run like a big company, so I’m not afraid to bring more smart people on board to help me do it.”
Money begets money, and athletes at the top of their sports who net the biggest prizes are needing more progressive and skilled counsel in how to deploy, manage and transform their cash.
Just last month, Michael Jordan became a billionaire, largely due to his off-the-court brand sponsorships, his founding of the Jordan shoe brand, and his ownership in the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats.
And his counterpart LeBron is just as talented an investor as he is a basketball player, with big wins like an ownership stake in the English Premier League team Liverpool FC and an early equity stake in Beats By Dre as a brand ambassador. Kobe, too, runs what is essentially Kobe Inc.
Long-term business plans with acute focus are needed more than ever for the growing enterprises of these athletes.
A PREMIER ADVISORY FIRM
Enter Teneo, who comes in with such expertise particularly in financial matters. The firm has seven distinct divisions:
- Capital (investment banking)
- 360 (capital allocation and capital structure advice)
According to Fortune, the acquisition of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Michael Jordan as clients went hand-in-hand with the arrival of Charles Denson as chairman of Teneo’s Sports Division.
Denson – a 34-year Nike veteran who was president of the Nike Brand for 13 years before retiring in 2001 – grew the worldwide sporting company from $9.8 billion in revenue to $25 billion in revenue during his tenure.
Now out of retirement, Denson is looking to pivot Teneo Sports’ focus towards providing individual athletes with advisory in the areas of wealth management, tax planning, personal branding, business development and strategic partnership.
This marks a tectonic shift in Teneo’s traditional sports client base, which has largely been municipal and organizations seeking advisory in the management of sporting events, notable examples being the Vancouver and Sochi winning Olympic bids.
CHANGING SPORTS LANDSCAPE
Larger agencies such as IMG and Octagon offer these same services in addition to athlete representation, but there’s a different feel to Teneo’s entrance into the market because it’s a firm known for expertise in financial decisions, political intelligence and regulatory proficiency.
That’s not to say IMG or Octagon can’t manage these sorts of factors for their clients, but sports agencies don’t specialize in these affairs the way as Teneo, whose advisers range from former SEC chairmans to United States senators.
Under the deal, Teneo is not replacing the army of advisers and agents who have long served the parties of Kobe, LeBron and Jordan. Instead, it is being granted an extra seat at the table and in the boardroom.
The Latin word “Teneo” has many meanings, mainly to keep on, to persist, to persevere and to endure.
But, in parlance of our times and more appropriately, it means what Kobe, LeBron and Jordan have done throughout their careers and will continue to do as they grow their global empires under the auspices and counsel of this very company: to ball.