Seeds Sown and Expectations Set for Success at L.E.A.D.’s Annual Celebrity Baseball Clinic

The post below is a guest post from my friend, CJ Stewart. CJ and his wife, Kelli, are the founders of L.E.A.D., which stands for Launch, Expose, Advise and Direct. L.E.A.D. works to empower at-risk Atlanta male youth to lead and empower their city. 

“Today you are the primary celebrities out here…”

That is the message that Kelli Stewart will deliver to hundreds of at-risk Atlanta Public School students anxiously awaiting in the stands early morning November 20th at Turner Field.  They will be there to participate in L.E.A.D.’s 9th Annual Celebrity Baseball Clinic.  For the past 8 years in our capacity as L.E.A.D. co-founders, Kelli and I have counted on this message to get the attention of the young people attending our annual baseball clinic.  We know from years of experience that if the message gets through and we can get our young people excited about the game of baseball, then we will have a better chance to plant seeds of success in those young fertile minds. Consequently, this will allow us to set much needed expectations regarding how much we need them to not become successful, but most importantly significant.

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The proof is in the pudding as this year’s clinic will be facilitated by past participants who have gotten the message and have gone on to become L.E.A.D. Ambassadors.  They are now becoming celebrities in their communities, as more and more Atlantans become familiar with L.E.A.D. and our work.  The Ambassadors’ celebrity is valuable because it creates credibility with the new clinic participants.  Credibility is key for the Ambassadors to pull off an unforgettable experience for their young charges.

Through L.E.A.D., we currently serve 31 high school Ambassadors – the program runs from November through July of the next year. These are 31 young black males who attend Atlanta Public Schools and who are being groomed to lead Atlanta and the world.  By 2020, L.E.A.D. hopes to serve 100 Ambassadors annually.  The goal has always been to have L.E.A.D. Ambassadors set a good example for, and lead, their peers within APS high schools. They are being specifically trained to be influencers within their schools and inner city Atlanta communities, and for good reasons – the Ambassadors know their schools and communities better than any adult mentor could.  With 100 Ambassadors, L.E.A.D. will be able to provide peer leadership in 11 APS high schools, and continue to assist APS to realize its mission of creating “… a caring culture of trust and collaboration, [where] every student will graduate ready for college and career.


Not only are the young black males that L.E.A.D. serves being positioned as leaders in their communities, they are being groomed to be career ready when they graduate from college.  They will need three things along the way from their Atlanta community to guarantee their success in this regard:

  1. Access to other influencers and decision makers;
  2. Constant encouragement (time and prayers); and
  3. Financial investment

They will also need:

  1. Internships and shadow opportunities while they are in high school and college;
  2. Interview opportunities for open, and newly created, positions upon graduating from college; and
  3. A yes after the interview.  If L.E.A.D. does its job right, and the Ambassadors do what they are charged with, a “yes” will be inevitable.


Access to these necessities for success should be a no brainer, and L.E.A.D. should not have a difficult time finding opportunities for its Ambassadors.  After all, Atlanta is the home of Coca-Cola, Delta, UPS and Chick-fil-A.  Additionally, the world’s newest athletic venue is being built in Atlanta and will bear the name of Atlanta’s newest corporate resident, Mercedes Benz.  Porsche has recently acquired an Atlanta address for its North American headquarters connecting its proximity to the world’s busiest passenger airport – Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

But . . . here’s why you must help:

  • ON THE DOWNSIDE:Youth from inner city Atlanta zip codes 30310, 30315 and 30318 grow up to represent 80% of Georgia’s State Prison population. About 60% of black males either will not graduate on time or at all from Atlanta Public Schools while the state of Georgia ranks 31st in education in America.  It takes an investment of $3,500 per young man annually for L.E.A.D. to develop an Ambassador, and it costs Georgia tax payers $100,000 per year to incarcerate one of them. Do the math!  And if the numbers don’t motivate you, maybe your sense of humanity will.  Did you know that Georgia is number one in America in incarceration and America leads the world in incarceration?
  • ON THE UPSIDE: According to the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), if xx% of blacks graduate from college, there will be a $xxx economic return to the city of Atlanta.  Additionally, it follows that the higher the graduation and employment rate, the lower the incarceration rate.

It stands to reason that if we don’t participate in the lives of young black males and empower them to live a sustainable life of significance, then Atlanta will never truly become a world class city.  I recently stated this very sentiment to several of my Leadership Atlanta 2015 classmates at a CEO Roundtable discussion.  Woodruff Foundation chairman, Russ Harden, was there and he agreed with me.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Maynard Jackson, Ceasar Mitchell, Courtney English, Byron Amos, Vernon Jones, Herman Russell and Andre Dickens all achieved a high level of celebrity in their own right.  We have every reason to believe that given the right opportunities our young black men can hold similar careers, with the potential for even greater successes.  We fully expect by 2020, our Ambassadors will lead in positions such as Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent, Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education, Atlanta Police Chief, Atlanta Fire Chief, Georgia College and University Deans and Director of Athletics, Atlanta Mayor, Atlanta based Fortune 500 Company Executives, L.E.A.D. CEO, Clergymen and Atlanta Public Schools Teachers and Principals, to name a few; and, we believe that it all starts with Kelli’s message to the eager young baseball clinic participants each year.

With that said, let’s raise the profile of over 50,000 Atlanta Public School students to celebrity status by sharing this blog, and come out on Friday, November 20 to Turner Field between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm, to meet L.E.A.D. Ambassadors and join in the excitement with 300 new young celebrities.  You are also welcome to worship with the Ambassadors on Sunday, November 22nd at 12:00 PM at Elizabeth Baptist Church , 4245 Cascade Rd SW, Atlanta, GA  30331-7245

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Global Soccer Leagues Turn To Digital Strategies To Compete For Viewership And Fans In The United States

The race to capture American soccer fans’ viewership attention just gained another runner.

August 14 marked the beginning of Fox and the Deutsche Football League’s five-year United States television agreement. Under the deal, for the first time, all 306 of the Bundesliga’s matches will be aired in the United States across television, digital and mobile platforms.

The announcement of Fox’s deal with the DFL signals the growing competition between American networks to obtain soccer rights and appeal to the growing interest in the sport amongst U.S. viewers. Under the Fox deal, the Bundesliga will join the English Premier League and Major League Soccer as soccer leagues whose matches are aired on American television networks.

While financial terms of the DFL’s agreement with Fox weren’t available, soccer leagues have recently been heavily compensated for their American broadcasting rights. This summer, the English Premier League signed a six-year contract extension with NBC to air all of its matches across the network’s platforms. The extension is believed to be valued between $800 million and $1 billion. In January 2015, MLS signed an eight-year broadcasting deal with Fox, ESPN and Univision reportedly worth $720 million.

While soccer is the most watched sport globally, the question remains whether U.S. viewership numbers can sustain the presence of three soccer leagues on American networks. Leagues, networks and experts, however, do not foresee any issue in attracting American viewers to the new soccer offerings on their televisions.

“The 2014 FIFA World Cup proved that there is a large enough audience in the United States to sustain long-term viewership. U.S. audiences have become enamored with high quality soccer matches. U.S. fans will watch good quality soccer,” said University of Miami sport communication professor, Dr. Tywan Martin.

Like Martin, networks recognize that the quality of their brand of soccer is paramount to securing the highest number of American viewers. “Americans like high scoring games. The fact that the Bundesliga is the highest scoring game in Europe is a selling point in the United States,” said Fox International Channels’ chief marketing officer, Liz Dolan.

The DFL echoed Dolan’s sentiments on a strong soccer product being necessary to attract a large American viewership base. “I like MLS’ claim that their league is, ‘all about the fans’. If you have that attitude about football, then no one can deny watching the Bundesliga. There is no doubt that the atmosphere of fully packed stadiums featuring all types of members of society is fan and audience based. This particular stadium atmosphere gives the Bundesliga a very special profile compared to other brands of football,” said DFL CEO, Christian Seifert.

Other American communications experts, however, think that the Bundesliga may have a harder time capturing the attention of American fans than its rival leagues. “There are enough future fans in a vacuum, yes, to sustain viewership of three leagues. The problem with the Bundesliga or Serie A, is that neither of those leagues is as culturally translatable to the U.S. as the Premier League is. Since Americans share a common language with Great Britain, it’s been far easier for American fans to learn about Premier League teams and players,” said Dr. Galen Clavio, an associate professor of sports media at Indiana University.

To educate fans about the Bundesliga, Fox has built a robust digital strategy aimed at attracting younger and new soccer fans to the league.

“The digital strategy for us across the world is very important, because it is such an effective way to reach younger viewers. We will run promos on Fox Sports, but if we want to reach younger and newer viewers, we must use a digital strategy. Sports is so much about breaking news, scores and details. Digital can deliver that so much better than television,” Fox International Channels’ Dolan explained.

Fox is heavily focused on its digital strategy out of the gate with its Bundesliga deal. The first game broadcast under the deal on August 14 will be simulcast globally on Fox’s YouTube channel. “This has never been done before. We wanted to make sure that we started with a bang. The August 14 simulcast from Munich will reach 300 million homes around the world. We want to introduce our first game to as wide of an audience as possible,” Dolan said.

Overall, leagues are bullish when it comes to the potential viewership and fan growth that the United States presents. “The U.S. together with China is the biggest football markets in the world. We completed research in 2007 with MLS and what we saw, is that until the age of 14, football is the most popular sport. There’s huge potential, therefore, for football in the United States,” the DFL’s Seifert noted.

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Mike Chang: From Air Mattress to Six Pack Success

By:  Sydney Harris, Ruling Sports Contributor (Twitter: @SydDontLie)

You see another advertisement featuring a guy with ripped abs, a smile on his face, and a multi-million dollar fitness franchise. You hear the pitch and might think, “Hey I could be just like him.” You think about it for maybe three, four days tops, and then it slips your mind.

But listen to Mike Chang for five minutes, and you will actually want to try his workouts. Hell, you’ll be planning your next trip to the gym before he’s even done talking. Chang breaks it down for you, starting at “Level One” as he calls it, and then helps you work your way up to the chiseled abs or lean stomach you desire. Except this time, it’s an attainable goal.

And just like the fitness empire he built, Chang started at Level One.

“I grew up in an area where I was always a little afraid of going outside and afraid of my neighbors, because to be honest, it was a little ghetto,” Chang says, referencing his upbringing. “Being Chinese, being a little kid, you know everybody is bigger.”

So fitness became a way for Chang to build confidence, as well as strength. He started working out at 11-years-old, then began developing his own workouts at 14. Growing up in the 90s, Chang also remembers a lot of discrimination. He didn’t have much, so the fear of being judged and proving others wrong fueled him.

“That was kind of the underlying drive at a young age,” reflects Chang. “Fitness put me in a position to prove them wrong.”

Confidence ultimately came when Chang gained a sense of independence. He and his sister discussed running away several times when they were younger. Then when Chang was 16 and his sister was 17, they finally moved in to their own apartment. The control over his own life, finally being independent, was what helped him gain the confidence that he is still working on today.

“It is always building more and more,” admits Chang. “The confidence level I am at today is still a stepping stone.”

So Chang went from a 16-year-old in his own apartment, throwing parties and enjoying the freedom that comes with no longer living under your parents’ roof, to college. Three years into his degree, he decided that college wasn’t for him and dropped out. He knew that if fitness and business were his passions, he needed to be able to integrate the two.

So now flash forward from 20 years old and no longer in college, to 27 years old and looking to turn a hobby into a business plan.

“It would be like a crazy roller coaster ride,” Chang says, describing the beginning years of his company. “Really exciting and you throw up all over the place, but then its so fun that you jump on and do it again.”

He was living in a three-bedroom apartment, with two business partners who were helping him with the start up. His bed was an air mattress that he deflated every morning so that his room could be used for the office. Chang easily summarizes the first year of the company is one word, “tough.”

“I had so many over draft charges. It was insane,” says Chang. “I would go out and buy a bottle of water, an energy drink for about $2.50, and then get hit with a $35 draft because I thought I had 50 bucks in my account. Well, nope didn’t! And I would do that a couple times a day and then I would get the bill, and see my bank statement, and bam! $35 over charge. Holy crap. But was life bad? No it was really fine.”

Fine turned into moving out of the apartment and converting its entirety into an office that fit 25 people. Fine turned into moving out of that office, and into a greater space in downtown Austin, Texas. Fine turned into a $15 million company that has allowed Mike Chang to make a difference in other’s lives.

“It’s a dream,” say Chang when asked what the transition from an air mattress to success has been like. “Right now I’m staring at Lake Travis. Literally right now. It’s very calm; there’s a big reflection from the sun and it’s like a dream. It’s not like it just happened at the snap of a finger. It’s non-stop, non-stop, non-stop grind. I would say for probably the first time in a very long time in my life, I am actually slowing down.”

Yet slowing down doesn’t necessarily mean letting up on the company and it’s product.

“To say that I am the same person I was five years ago when I started the company would be false. Starting the company and being able to help people the way I did, and learn a lot from the business, from producing the content, from working with the people, really taught me a lot. It’s definitely taking the company to the next level and changing my path and where the company is going to go.”

Chang used to run at 100 miles per hour, literally running from desk to desk in his office. However, in the last five months his reality has shifted. He’s taken the time to begin studying the role of psychology and how it correlates with fitness. How does the mind connect to the body?

“So I learned that it doesn’t matter the amount of money you have, what you own, what you drive, what your house looks like, what you want your body to look like, or even what the world thinks of you,” Chang says. “What really only matters is your perception of reality.”

“Afterburn” and maximizing the amount of calorie burning your body does after a work out will remain in the company’s fitness videos. Progressing individuals from more personalized beginner workouts to intense fat-burning exercises that actually work will still be available, too. However, you may see new content soon, perhaps even a new channel. Chang wants to help people see that while health and fitness are vital to people’s lives, happiness should not be determined by the perception of the body or what physical materials an individual owns.

Enter the study of psychology and Chang himself growing as one of those individuals. Just like when he developed his own fitness program, he doesn’t believe in teaching someone something that he has not mastered or understands himself.

“The company was created to approach it in a fitness and health direction, but the underlying goal is to help someone create the life that they want,” Chang says. And that is what Chang is still working toward to this day. “Some people’s reality is literally going to change.”

You can sample Chang’s workouts online by visiting his YouTube channel. (

About Sydney Harris:  

The daughter of a high school baseball coach, Sydney ran the bases from the moment she learned to walk, kept score after learning to count, and quickly grew to be an avid sports fan. Not long after, Sydney took her newfound passion for sports and immersed herself in the industry, working with marketing in collegiate athletics, and integrated media and broadcasting in the NFL and NBA. It was also during her time at the University of Miami and University of North Carolina, where she earned her master’s in Sport Administration and bachelor’s in Journalism and Mass Communication respectively, that she realized the potential the sport industry has to change the society we live in. Now Sydney envisions herself working toward her goal of sharing athletes’ and teams’ unique and awe-inspiring stories in order to motivate and make a difference.

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Why Carli Lloyd’s Instagram Account Is The Key To Growing Soccer Interest In The U.S.

The United States Women’s National Team won on and off of the soccer pitch on Sunday night. 26.7 million Americans tuned in on Sunday night to watch the Americans beat Japan in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. That more Americans tuned in to watch this soccer match than any other in American history is significant to the growth of the game’s popularity in the U.S. going forward.

A handful of factors contributed to the widespread viewership of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup final game. For instance, being played during primetime hours likely swayed more American viewers to tune in. Beyond that, some Americans may have tuned in during Independence Day weekend to show patriotism as their country’s national team fought for a world title. Yet, there is likely more to the widespread viewership of the game than the timing of the game.

One thing that may have driven the high viewership numbers is the marketability of the 2015 U.S. Women’s National Team. Coming into tournament play, high expectations were placed on the team’s success. Driving those expectations in part was the return of several key starters from the 2011 team to this year’s team. Coming off of the 2011 Women’s World Cup, several of these starters, ranging from Alex Morgan and Hope Solo, have managed to stay in the public limelight. Through marketing deals and news stories, these women have helped the national team stay in the public spotlight in non-tournament years and subsequently helped generate public interest in the team.

Beyond staying in the limelight through marketing deals, though, many members of the 2015 United States Women’s National Team kept interest in the team afloat through their significant social media followings. For instance, Hope Solo has 979,000 followers on Twitter, whereas Alex Morgan has 1.6 million Instagram followers and Carli Lloyd has nearly 350,000 Facebook fans. The team’s significant social media followings may have played a role in viewership of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup final rising 77 percent over 2011’s viewership numbers.

European soccer leaders believe that strong digital presences are key to growing the sport’s popularity in the 21st century. Take for instance, the Bundesliga. Earlier this year, the German soccer league made news when it began broadcasting its games for the first time in the United States, thanks to a partnership with Fox. In selecting a media rights partner, the Bundesliga wasn’t just concerned with the financial aspect of the deal, but in how different media partners could assist its international growth strategy, which relies in part upon a strong social media presence.

“If you have growth potential internationally, the media strategy is important so that people can see your product wherever possible in the world,” said Jörg Daubitzer, the managing director of DFL Sports Enterprises, which oversaw the sale of the Bundesliga’s media rights to Fox.

For Daubitzer and the Bundesliga, contingent to signing a media rights deal was a partner’s ability to help grow the league’s brand digitally. “Our search for an American media rights partner began a few years ago when we saw that the Bundesliga was developing in international markets very positively. We thought it was time to find the right partner who reflected this growth opportunity and perspective,” he noted.

One thing that attracted the league to Fox, was the Bundesliga’s belief that Fox could help manage its digital assets. “Fox has proven over many years that they are able to work with and handle big properties. They’ve proven that their able to help brands build up their value, especially in the United States,” Daubitzer said.

For American teams and leagues seeking to build their fan base and national presence, Daubitzer believes that a solid digital strategy is necessary. “The most important aspect will be to use the new digital opportunities to get in contact with soccer fans worldwide and communicate directly with them. In the past, it was always necessary to speak to fans via a third party. The biggest opportunity for all properties in sport is the ability to communicate with fans directly through digital media,” he argued.

In the next four years, it’s important that the stars of this year’s United States Women’s National Team find their way to being featured on cereal boxes and shoe ads. Yet, if this year’s roster is serious about growing the game of soccer nationally, building strong and meaningful digital presences may be the quickest and most effective way to accomplish that goal. Thus, let the tweets and selfies on Instagram commence!

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Isiah Thomas’ Hiring: Women Don’t Even Deserve Respect In The WNBA

By:  Ashleigh Mattox, Ruling Sports contributor

It has been widely reported that James Dolan, Executive Chairman of the Madison Square Garden Company (MSG), which owns and operates the New York Knicks and the WNBA’s New York Liberty, has hired Isiah Thomas as President of the Liberty.  This has sparked controversy because, in 2007, a jury awarded a former New York Knicks female executive, Anucha Browne Sanders, $6 million in punitive damages due to Thomas’ creation of a hostile work environment, which resulted in sexual harassment.  (An additional $5.6 million in punitive damages was awarded for retaliation against Browne Sanders.)  Despite proclamations of innocence and threats to appeal, MSG eventually agreed to settle the lawsuit for $11.5 million.  While MSG issued a statement on May 5, 2015 that it “did not believe the allegations [against Thomas] then and [it] do[es]n’t believe them now,” Browne Sanders’ allegations may have had a little something to them if MSG was willing to settle for over $11 million to make the case go away.

Dolan has put the WNBA in an impossible position in light of efforts made by the NBA, the NFL and even historically slow-to-evolve Major League Baseball to include women.  The NBA has partnered with Sheryl Sandberg for the “Lean In Together” campaign, which encourages men to become involved in order to achieve gender equality.  The NFL supports “A Crucial Catch” to raise awareness for breast cancer and “No More,” an organization focused on domestic violence and sexual assault.  Major League Baseball is getting into the mix with its Mother’s Day initiative “Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer” and Mo’ne Davis throwing out the first pitch before Game 4 of last year’s World Series.  While many may question the sincerity and effectiveness of these efforts, they all reflect some level of awareness by the major sports leagues that women are important to them in some way.  In this climate, how can the WNBA have a team lead by someone with Thomas’ history and keep a straight face?

Hiring someone found to have sexually harassed a woman to the tune of $6 million to run a women’s organization like the Liberty is embarrassing for MSG, Dolan, the Liberty and the WNBA.  The WNBA serves an important function by providing young girls with role models and encouraging girls to become involved with sports.  In the wake of the NFL’s initial two game suspension of Ray Rice for entering an elevator with a conscious woman and leaving it dragging an unconscious woman, shouldn’t sports welcome and encourage the involvement of women, whether as fans, players or executives?  Shouldn’t leagues send a unified message that women are wanted, respected and safe?  This is the opposite of the message sent by James Dolan with his obtuse hiring of Isiah Thomas to lead the Liberty.  Dolan’s message is that it is not important to treat women with respect even in our own league.

Ashleigh Mattox is a retired attorney living in Orange County, California, with her husband and daughter.  She was born and raised in Southern California and is a proud alumna of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Chapman University School of Law.  She loves all things sports, especially the NFL, and holds a special place in her heart for the New Orleans Saints, the Dodgers and the (currently lowly) Lakers.  

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From A Chicago Bulls Ball Boy To Top Sports Apparel Designer: The Story Of Sportiqe

Everyone remembers their first date.

Not everyone is driven to their first date by NBA legend, Scottie Pippen, though.

From a young age, Sportiqe founder, Jason Franklin, has lived a life less ordinary than most. It is that life less ordinary, though, that has allowed Franklin to become one of the NBA’s most-popular apparel providers.

At 15 years old, Franklin found himself like many other boys growing up in America: A lover of sports, but someone whose talents weren’t going to allow him to turn pro. What Franklin had that most others didn’t, though, was an intense drive to find a way to keep his passion for sports alive in spite of his athletic talent. Little did he know, a bike ride he took through Chicago as a teenager would pave the way to his future career.

“The Bulls’ practice facility was in my hometown. I rode my bike to the front door and knocked on it, asking if they needed a ball boy. Someone came to the door and said it was the middle of the season and that they’d send me an application for the following season. They did and I along with 1,000 other kids applied. Five were interviewed, two got a job and one of them was me,” Franklin reminisced.

Becoming a ball boy for the Bulls in the 1990s was the equivalent of hitting the lottery for a teenager growing up in Chicago. The job not only meant later bedtimes on game nights, but unimaginable access to some of the world’s biggest sports stars in their natural environment.

“Michael Jordan came back and the Bulls won three championships. The highlight of my experience had to be being in the locker room for the celebrations of those championships. Being a high school kid and getting a chance to be around and witness that first hand is dream come true type of stuff,” Franklin said.

Spending time in the Bulls’ locker room not only allowed Franklin to rub elbows with the players, but to be mentored by them. Pippen took a liking to the young Franklin, and when Franklin came into the locker room talking about asking his first girl on a date, Pippen not only offered Franklin advice, but a ride — in his Ferrari.

Along with the rides and advice on girls, Pippen, Jordan and the Bulls offered Franklin important lessons about what it takes to win on and off of the court. “The strongest thing I took away from my experience was watching how those guys handled themselves off of the court. Watching their interaction with people during my formative years of 15-18 really helped shape how I handle myself as a professional. The way people wanted to be around them and the types of people they were off of the court allowed people to gravitate towards them. Through them, I saw the type of person you could be regardless of whether you were famous, and how the kindness you extend to people can become infectious,” Franklin explained.

With those lessons instilled in him, Franklin launched Sportiqe, a lifestyle licensed apparel brand, who lists the NBA as a partner. The brand’s stylish and comfortable t-shirts and hats are frequently worn by some of the world’s top athletes and celebrities, including Jay-Z, Beyonce and Justin Bieber. For Franklin, finding his way into the apparel industry was much like his becoming the Bulls’ ball boy: A natural fit.

“Growing up, I loved sports. I’d go to every single sporting event I could. When I realized I wasn’t going to be good enough to play professionally I realized I still wanted to be involved in sports in a way that I was passionate about. My grandma and great-grandmother were clothing designers. My earliest memories were sitting on my grandma’s lap in her knit shop and her showing me different yarns and fabrics. That got my brain working in terms of always looking for fabrics and colors and blending them,” Franklin said.

At the tender age of 10, Franklin became a third generation fashion designer when he began designing hats that would later be worn by the likes of Tupac and 50 Cent. “Apparel was something that was in my blood,” he remarked. Yet, the quick success he achieved as a child designer was only the beginning of what would become a life-long career.

“I’m a firm believer that if you find exactly what it is you’re destined to do, then you have the opportunity to do great things. I was very fortunate at a young age to be around a guy like Michael Jordan and a team that won three championships to see that they found what they were passionate about and worked as hard as they possibly could at it. At a young age, I realized I could blend two of my loves, fashion apparel and sports,” Franklin noted.

As NBA teams install Sportiqe-specific fixtures into their team stores and more celebrities and athletes turn to the brand, given Franklin’s background it is perhaps no surprise that he remains humble. For Franklin, Sportiqe’s growing success all boils down to an important lesson he learned as a teenager in an NBA locker room.

“People want to be around people with infectious personalities. Learning this in the Bulls’ locker room helped me grow Sportiqe as a brand. The more chances I get to be in front of people and meet them, the more they not only want to be around myself, but the brand. Sportiqe has grown by word of mouth, and it’s really been about one person telling another person about the brand. When people get a chance to be around Sportiqe, they gravitate towards it and that’s one of the things that I took away from hanging out with the Bulls at a very young age,” Franklin said.

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How The Miami Heat Became The Greenest NBA Team

This Earth Day, it’s important to give credit to the professional sports teams who are making waves in protecting our environment.  One team leading the way is the Miami Heat, who for nearly a decade, has worked tirelessly to bring sustainable efforts to their team’s practices and arena.

The NBA arena with the highest level of LEED certification is the Miami Heat’s AmericanAirlines Arena. Home to All-Stars, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, earlier this year, AmericanAirlines Arena became the world’s first sports and entertainment facility to achieve LEED Gold recertification.

Becoming the first arena in the world to achieve LEED Gold recertification was no easy feat for the Miami Heat. According to the Heat’s operations and sustainability coordinator, Jackie Ventura, the performance of the team on a number of green and sustainability factors was considered over the five-year period between it achieving its initial certification and its recertification. “From becoming certified to the recertification, it was all about keeping up our own standards and maintaining those standards,” Ventura noted.

The impact of the standards that the Heat maintained over the five-year period are notable. For instance, the outfitting of AmericanAirlines Arena with efficient plumbing fixtures allowed for the saving of nearly 4.2 million gallons of water. Landscaping designs added another 190,630 gallons of water saved. Furthermore, recycling efforts during the 2013-14 Heat season alone resulted in 330,810-pounds of waste being diverted from the landfill.

For the Miami Heat, the team’s sustainability measures serve two important purposes: Protecting the environment of the community the team calls home and promoting the team’s business interests. “Our sustainability practices are definitely important to the Heat from a business perspective. I like to say, ‘Green equals green.’ When you are consuming less, you are being fiscally responsible, because it allows you to be able to hold onto money that you maybe otherwise would have spent on other projects and instead, create new initiatives within your organization. It’s also important for us to show our community that we care about the environment. Our economy in Miami is driven by tourism and tourists come here for our beaches, which is the environment. If we are hurting the environment, we are hurting our community,” Ventura explained.

In terms of why leagues should take their All-Star Games green and why teams should turn their arenas green, the National Resource Defense Council provides some guidance. In a 2012 report, “Game Changer: How The Sports Industry Is Saving The Environment,” the NRDC argued that greening is a wise business decision for teams and leagues. To make this argument, the NRDC pointed to examples showing that greening creates financial savings, attracts sponsors, strengthens community relations provides competitive advantages and attracts fans.

While all of the “crown jewel” events in sports, such as the NBA All-Star Game, World Series and Super Bowl, employ greening measures, there is still more that can be done by all teams and leagues in this regard. Teams whose arenas haven’t achieved LEED certification should be motivated to do so. Furthermore, teams and leagues must continue working towards creating zero waste and zero carbon emission footprints. Yet, as teams and leagues work towards those goals, the success they’ve accomplished in creating more sustainable sporting events should be celebrated.

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The NBA And Its Teams Provide Solid Strategies For Teams Looking To Go Green

With over 1.3 million viewers tuning in to watch its regular season games, the NBA has a unique platform to facilitate social change. Last week, the NBA utilized that platform to educate its teams and fans about ways to reduce their collective environmental footprint. NBA Green Week presented by Sprint allowed the NBA and its teams to encourage environmental responsibility throughout their communities.

When asked why the NBA dedicates a week of its season to NBA Green Week, NBA senior vice president of social responsibility, Todd Jacobson, said, “Social responsibility is part of our league’s DNA. Through the NBA’s reach and the profile of our players, we have the ability to address important social issues, such as environmental awareness. In partnership with the Green Sports Alliance, the NBA, its teams and players are committed to taking steps to promote environmental stewardship and encourage our fans to join us. NBA Green Week presented by Sprint is our chance to highlight some of the great work taking place around the league, while promoting environmental awareness and encouraging our fans to think about their effect on the environment.”

Notably, NBA Green Week is the only week-long initiative hosted by any professional sports league that is entirely focused upon educating fans about environmental stewardship. One example of the week’s events is the NBA’s commitment to plant a tree with the Arbor Day Foundation every time that #NBAGreen was posted on social media or three trees every time a three-pointer is scored during the week’s games. Beyond tree planting, the NBA also partnered with Sprint to host phone recycling events and has also purchased renewable energy certificates in conjunction with Bonneville Environmental Foundation to cover the energy used during the week’s games.

Highlighted throughout the NBA Green Week agenda was the NBA and its teams’ partnership with the Green Sports Alliance. Founded in 2010 to inspire teams, fans, leagues and venues to embrace sustainability, the Green Sports Alliance counts numerous NBA teams and their venues as members.

In 2015, teams are continuing to identify standards of best practice for developing sustainability plans that they can not only adopt, but will also motivate their fans to engage in green practices. Several initiatives engaged in by some NBA Green Sports Alliance members serve as great examples of how teams can incorporate sustainability into their business model and positively impact the environment. These initiatives can easily be replicated by other teams, both inside and outside of the NBA.

Portland Trailblazers


The initiative: Inaugural members of the Green Sports Alliance, the Portland Trail Blazers and their arena, the Moda Center, are sports leaders in the green arena. Recently, the team launched the Threes for Trees campaign. In partnership with Daimler Trucks, the Trailblazers plant three trees for every three pointer scored during the season. 3,000 trees will be planted this spring in Portland’s Sandy River delta.

Ideas for other teams:  Other teams should consider ways that they can utilize particular areas of team success to drive sustainability.  Additionally, the lesson from the Trail Blazers, is that corporate sponsors are willing to come on board to support these endeavors.  Thus, teams’ corporate sponsorship teams should be creating activations centering around sustainability and pushing those to sponsors.

Miami Heat


The initiative: After the first NBA Green Week in 2008, the Miami Heat realized it could attain LEED certification for its arena, the AmericanAirlines Arena. In 2009, AmericanAirlines Arena received LEED Gold certification. In 2015, AmericanAirlines Arena became the first sports and entertainment venue in the world to achieve LEED Gold recertification status. “From becoming certified to recertification, we were focused on keeping up and managing our own standards. We want to keep leading the industry in terms of sustainability, because in sports, there are still very few stadiums that are LEED certified,” said the Heat’s operations and sustainability coordinator, Jackie Ventura.

Ideas for other teams: One thing that allowed the AmericanAirlines Arena to obtain LEED Gold recertification, was the Heat’s adoption of unique strategies to reduce arena waste. In this regard, it launched the Re-Heat program, which saves over 5,000 pounds of concessionaire’s food from the trash can, and instead, redirects it to local homeless shelters. Other teams can follow the Heat’s lead by identifying unique ways to reduce arena waste that also benefit their communities.

Golden State Warriors


The initiative: The Golden State Warriors pride themselves on the sustainability and green initiatives adopted not only at the team’s arena, but its headquarters and practice facilities as well. One recent initiative has focused upon recycling water bottles at the team’s headquarters. There, over 67,000 water bottles annually avoid the landfill through recycling initiatives.

Ideas for other teams: Water bottles continue to be one of the greatest causes of landfill waste. Other teams should follow the Warriors’ lead and institute sound recycling policies for their employees’ water bottles. Alternatively, teams can distribute reusable water bottles to their employees and provide water filling stations in their offices. Teams can also host giveaway nights where they distribute free reusable water bottles to fans to educate them on the waste issues that arise with disposable water bottles.

Houston Rockets


The initiative: Recognizing the presence the team holds in the Houston community, the Rockets hold an annual electronics recycling drive annually. The drive gives local Houston citizens an opportunity to turn in televisions, computers and other electronic components to have them safely and properly recycled. This initiative not only keeps these items out of landfills, but ensures the possibility of their proper re-use.

Ideas for other teams: Many teams host similar e-cycle events, but the key is to allow for the event to actively engage fans with the team. Thus, teams should consider including green giveaways in their events or ensure that there are educational materials on hand for fans to pick up about how they can make their home more sustainable. Furthermore, teams should engage employees to become involved in the recycling events by providing incentives to the employees who bring in the greatest number of electronics to be recycled.

Phoenix Suns


The initiative: In 2012, 966 solar panels were installed at the Phoenix Suns’ home, the U.S. Airways Center. The project, a joint effort between the Suns and APS with an estimated cost of $1.26 million, has some serious environmental impacts. The solar panels create 378,000 kWh of solar energy per year, which amounts to 20 Suns’ games worth of clean energy.

Ideas for other teams: A handful of other NBA teams have installed solar panels on their arenas. Given the steep price of these, though, teams should seek to involve corporate sponsors to partner in the initiative. Furthermore, teams can utilize the solar panels as a way to engage their communities. For instance, teams can host elementary and middle school aged children on field trips to visit and learn about solar electricity.

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How Adidas Signed The Best NBA Rookies To Its Brand

Last weekend may have been the most fashionable weekend in New York history.

In the midst of Fashion Week’s (or, is it really fashion month?!) kicking off, the NBA’s top stars descended upon New York City for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game. This year, for the first time ever, the NBA incorporated a number of fashion elements into the weekend’s festivities.

One such element is the presentation of the NBA’s first fashion show. Airing Saturday night, the fashion featured eight NBA players taking the runway in a three-round show, featuring boardroom, game day and night out apparel.
The official apparel provider of the NBA, adidas, also found its way onto the runway during All-Star Weekend. Over the weekend, Kanye West hosted the adidas Originals x Kanye West YEEZY SEASON 1 fashion show to mark the launch of his new sneaker with the brand.

Over the last year, adidas has intensified its push to dominate the market share of hip-hop and NBA enthusiasts. The YEEZY SEASON 1 launch marks part of a growing initiative by adidas to secure the biggest names in entertainment and sports to market its brand.

At the start of the NBA season, adidas made waves when the brand announced the signing of four of the top-six rookies drafted in the 2014 NBA Draft. Signing the number-one overall draft pick, Andrew Wiggins, along with Joel Embiid, Dante Exum and Marcus Smart marked a successful execution of company strategy for adidas.

“We’ve been targeting this class for a couple of years. As we look at our long-term strategy within basketball, athletes play a critically important part of how we plan to grow our business and brand. It’s the best way to connect with fans and kids. At the end of the day, the kids buying sneakers are the ones looking up to the best players in the game. We’ve always had a focus in partnering with the best athletes in the game, going back to Kareem, Allen Iverson and more recently, Derrick Rose. In this draft class, we saw an opportunity to reinvest in our portfolio of players,” said adidas’ head of basketball, Chris Grancio.

For NBA players, signing with an apparel company provides an opportunity to collaborate on the types and designs of sneakers they’ll wear on the court. As players’ fashion brands off the court continue to grow, with many having their own fashion lines, this is a critical opportunity for apparel companies to present NBA stars. “The relationship becomes more collaborative the more time that we have to work with the players. We are working on some custom player edition products for our rookies for the tail end of the season and the playoffs. We showed them designs and got feedback, so they’ll have input on their first player editions,” Grancio explained.

Launching a player edition sneaker is not only an honor for the player involved, but provides players with a critical opportunity in an age of fashion forward NBA players: Choice. “Guys are different when it comes to how many different pairs of shoes they wear during a season. Ricky Rubio only wants to wear three or four pairs a season. He likes to stay in the same product. We have other guys who will wear a new pair every single night. Guys like Damian Lillard will wear a different model five nights in a row. The guys who are sneakerheads, like Jeremy Lin, are emailing almost daily about the products they see at retail,” Grancio noted.

Sneakerheads who don’t have an NBA contract should cheer on those that do. The more that players like Lin and Lillard push the needle on sneaker style, the more likely it is that fans will see new, fashion forward products arrive in stores. Further, with the competition to sign top-level NBA talent heating up, sneakerheads are also likely to benefit, as apparel brands work to out maneuver each other in terms of creating the most stylish and trendsetting sneakers.

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Why It Took More Than Two Centuries For The Royal And Ancient Golf Club To Admit Female Members

The history of golf is intricately tied to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. The modern game of golf was created in its homeland of Scotland. In modern years, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club served as a governing authority of the game. Royalty, top golf professionals and high-powered businessmen have called themselves members of the prestigious club.

For 260 years, the history of golf was intricately tied to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. And unfortunately, part of that history is marked by the exclusion of women and minorities from some of golf’s leading and most prestigious clubs.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club led the way in excluding women from the ranks of its membership. As women rose the corporate ladder and up golf’s leader boards, it held onto its status as a “boy’s club” for nearly three centuries.

Yesterday, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club announced that in September 2014 it chose to break from history. For the first time in its 260-year existence, it decided to allow female members. Notably, while the club granted honorary memberships, it also afforded some women the chance to become full, dues paying members.

While the Royal and Ancient Golf Club’s decision should be celebrated, the question remains, why now? How does one of the most prestigious golf venues decide 260-years into its existence to break with tradition and let women into the “boy’s club”?

To answer that question, one needs to look to Rio de Janeiro, the host site of the 2016 Olympic Games. What could the lively, South American city have to do with changing a stale tradition born in Europe? The answer is simple: Everything.

Golf hasn’t been part of the Olympic program since 1904. In a history spanning centuries, golf has only made the Olympic program twice. For a sport that now counts 60 million players on six continents as game participants, being held off of the sports world’s biggest stage is detrimental.

The greatest detriment golf has missed out by being held out of the Olympic Games is not having its sport played out on the millions of televisions that tune into the Olympic Games every four years. The ability to participate on a world stage in front of millions of viewers could have propelled golf to participation levels beyond the 60 million it sees today.

When it comes to selecting which sports make up the Olympic program, the International Olympic Committee considers a number of factors. Global public and media interest make up several of those factors. Beyond interest in the sport, though, the IOC also considers social issues surrounding the sport, including discrimination existing within the sport.

Golf was added to the 2016 Olympic program in 2009, when two of the game’s leading clubs–the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and Augusta National–still precluded female members. Yet, given the factors the IOC considers in selecting a program, it’s arguably unsurprising that in the years leading up to the Rio Games that golf is distancing itself from its discriminatory past. Along with the Royal and Ancient Golf Club accepting female members, in 2012 August National–where The Masters is played–admitted two female members.

These clubs and golf’s leaders know that if the game wants to keep its spot on the Olympic program, it must work to be more inclusive. In order for golf to remain on the program–and not see another century long absence from the Olympic Games–it must continue to make progress in terms of inclusivity. One way to ensure that happens, is by eliminating discrimination at the highest level of the sport and working with top clubs to admit female and minority members.

One must question whether access to some of golf’s greatest clubs would have come sooner for women if golf remained on the Olympic program during the 20th century. Given the power of the Olympic Games on sport–in terms of global television viewership numbers and licensing revenue–one may think that the IOC could have provided the pressure necessary for golf to move further towards inclusivity. Regardless, though, of the reasons or timing, that women have been given an opening to a more equal footing into the game of golf is something for the young girls teeing off at the local course to celebrate.

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