Athletes in Franchising: What Franchisors Need to Know

Thomas Nieto (middle) with Marques Colston (left)

and his wife, Emily Colston

Athletes in franchising has recently become a trend.. As more and more athletes are turning to outside revenue sources and looking for a way to carry their legacy beyond playing time, many are finding franchising to be a viable option. With strong support systems, semi-absentee models and proven track records of success, franchising offers great benefits for athletes looking to get into business. Additionally, athletes are used to having playbooks and following a set game plan to success, which franchising provides. For emerging brands, having an athlete franchisee can elevate the brand further than any marketing effort. I should know – my company, Main Squeeze Juice Co., inked a deal with former New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston. He has been instrumental to our growth. What started as a partnership has now turned into Marques holding a position on our executive team, which has been extremely beneficial. Over the years, we’ve learned a few things about athlete and franchisor relationships that will be valuable to anyone considering onboarding an athlete franchisee.

Understand their brand

First and foremost, the number one thing to know about working with an athlete is that they have a personal brand. Their brand is made up of who they are as a person, the team they play for, how they conduct themselves professionally as well as in the media, and so much more. Each athlete works to create and maintain this identity, and are looking for business opportunities that align with their brand. It is important to be aware of this, as it will be easier for you to sell your concept if it aligns with their personal brand. On the other side, it will help you see if this partnership is the right fit for your brand, as they will now become an extension of your business in both the media and consumers’ minds.

To get a sense of their brand, study their interviews and games – see how they respond to questions and interact with the media. Look at their social media. Get to know their personalities, learn what causes and passions they share, and see how they portray themselves –keep in mind that their public image will always be associated with your brand once they become a part of your business.

Don’t be blinded by the excitement and celebrity

There’s no denying how exciting it is to hear that an athlete is interested in your concept. Not only are they great for brand awareness, but they bring an element of celebrity to your brand. That being said, it’s understandable to want to make concessions to keep them interested – you’ll agree to anything to get them to sign on. But the wrong franchisee can cause friction and even damage your brand in the long run. Therefore, it is important to not be blinded by the athlete’s fame or fortune. It is important to treat them just as another business partner albeit with a few perks. Make sure their needs and wants align with the opportunity presented to them. Spend time with them to ensure their personal and brand values align with yours, and make sure it is the right fit, not just the nice fit.

Treat them like business professionals, not an athlete

Athletes who get into franchising are interested and engaged in their future. They are looking to make an investment of both time and money for a concept they feel called to. They typically keep business investments separate from their athletic business dealings and you must do that as well. When interacting with them, treat them as a business professional, not as an athlete. Talk to them as you would any other business associate – friendly and engaging, but serious and intelligent. Respect their wishes, learn about their career aspirations (outside of touchdowns and Super Bowl rings), and explain your concept just as you explain it to other franchisees. Always remember, they are not an athlete you’re a fan of, they are a potential business partner.

Keep them engaged

Once they have signed on as a franchisee, keep them engaged throughout the entire process. Have them share ideas for their locations and openings and take part in marketing efforts as it makes sense for their personal brand. In some cases, like Marques’, have them take on larger roles in the company if it makes sense for both parties. Even if they are semi-absentee, constantly update them, develop your relationship and show them that there is more ROI than just bottom line numbers – an athlete can gain a support system and a franchise family through an investment in your company. They can craft a legacy. This engagement and freedom to craft their legacy alongside your brand will speak volumes.

Athlete franchisees offer incredible perks for an emerging brand, but come with a few risks. Franchisors must learn to navigate the precarious relationships to ensure both the brand and the athlete franchisee enter into the best partnership for all parties involved. Much more than money, these partnerships can create lasting legacies for both brand and athlete. With that, it is exciting, fun, challenging and rewarding to bring on an athlete franchisee – just as anything in business is.

Thomas Nieto is a co-founder and the CEO of Main Squeeze Juice Co., a smoothie and juice bar based in New Orleans, backed by Super Bowl champion and Director of New Business Marques Colston.

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