Football has been a guiding force all of my adult life. The misconception is that league women sacrifice their own lives and careers to follow their husbands’; that they live in shadow, or worse, at the mall. Truth is: I have met all key influences in my life because of the game. Football has forged my path. It has seasoned me and I am grateful. I am just returning from the NFL BOOT CAMP: CONSUMER PRODUCTS where I was one of seventeen participants. While the Boot Camp is open to former and current players, this was the first year the invitation to apply was extended to NFL spouses.
My reasons for attending were two-fold. First, as an NFLPE Women’s Resource Initiative contributor, I wanted to experience a boot camp first-hand so I could answer future questions with conviction. I also had a few products of my own that I had shelved because I had bumped into so many walls. My experience in manufacturing was more “mouse in maze” than trail-blazer. At some point, I found an exit and took that strategy. What I learned this week is that there are a million reasons you might fail at bringing a product to market and most reflect strategy.
This, I believe, applies to everything in life. And this, I believe, is the same mindset that each of the players in attendance shared: a competitive, intuitive nature, the ability to break down competitors, to see a weakness and capitalize on it, to see an open hole and run with it. Player minds were sharp and it was a privilege to be surrounded by such talent.
NFL reps such as Leo Kane, Natara Holloway, Maureen Mason, Sheldon Melvin and Agaja Reddy filled a tight, all encompassing schedule and in three days broke down each facet of the consumer products industry: the business plan, the pitch, financial wherewithal and budgeting, licensing, brand management, manufacturing, quality control, retailers, market research and product marketing. Moderated discussions, led by University of Maryland Fellow Hank Boyd and University of Maryland Entrepreneur in Residence John LaPides, allowed for digging deeper. Both were available 24/7 for continued Q&A and became mentors to each of us. Industry leaders such as: G-iii Sports, Little Earth Productions, Modell’s Sporting Goods, Tervis, Profile Enterprises, Panini America and Under Armour were brought in to share their experiences and offer insight into their perspective fields.
None of their stories were sugar coated. What was inspiring is that no roads traveled were without adversity. It is a competitive industry and you could see the fire in each of them. In a world where players are accustomed to weekly battle, our presenters showed them that there is a place for their own competitive drive off the field. Each were winning and with that came an air of confidence and accomplishment. As former player and president of G-III Sports, Carl Banks shared, “If there is an opportunity to make a play, you don’t hesitate.” Outside of lecture, we were invited to nightly events in coordination with the annual NFL Consumer Products Summit. With combined evening events and morning breakfasts, we all made great friends and connections with suppliers, manufacturers, licensees and retailers.
If you think it stops there, strap in. “Time off” was devoted to breaking down into teams with the task of pitching a new or fine tuning an existing NFL product or line to a panel of industry judges. My team consisted of Torrey Smith, Plaxico Burress and Charlie Garner. TEAM PLAY ACTION. Like each of the teams, we dove in head first. Having discovered a niche market of young professionals who may want to show allegiance to their team with an understated approach, the sentiment of our line was “Act like you’ve been here before.” The task forced us to consider a marketing plan, in-store display strategy, distribution, manufacturing, product roll out and of course the actual pitch, which would take place on the Under Armour Campus. Five Teams. Five outstanding pitches that included detailed power points, graphics, reenacted TV spots and video. We were all so amazed at the talent in each presentation. For those of us in the thick of it - the number one question was - How did we get that all done?
In the end, Team Swag- Mike Stone, Phillip Buchanon, Quintin Coples and Dunta Robinson - won with their insanely thought out in-store NFL Rush Zone event plan that I am sure will make its way to retail stores near you. I look forward to that, as I look forward to seeing Plaxico’s socks at Nordstroms, to finding Phillip Buchanan’s board game at Toys R Us two aisles down from Mike and Julie Leach’s Potty Pals. I hope Charlie Garner starts his own radio show. All week Charlie asked the greatest questions, he listens, and then puts his own hilarious spin on things. I hope Corey Mays continues to light up the world with his smile and corporate America with his LED lights. I can’t thank Troy Vincent, Kimberly Fields, Samantha Kleinman, Jasmine Rancher, Natara Holloway and Tiffany Bishop enough for all of their hard work, guidance and daily gift bags. The NFL BOOT CAMP: CONSUMER PRODUCTS was so smooth it seemed effortless. If you get the chance to apply next year—don’t miss out.