When Derek Jeter Decided To Do This 1 Thing, His Startup Took Off

Lauren DeLisa Coleman
Written by Lauren DeLisa Coleman

In an era driven by celebrity and personality, there is an intriguing, new trend where the powerati are shaking up the business frontier by applying their own personal brands to startups in fresh ways and disrupting entire sectors in the process.

Baseball great and incoming Miami Marlins CEO Derek Jeter and his partner Jaymee Messler are not only creating a new style in media for athletes, but also have developed a new template from which many businesses can learn.

Power of voice

The Players’ Tribune rocked the sports media world when it entered onto the scene because it put the power squarely in the hands of the athlete rather than the sports reporter.

Founded in 2014 by Jeter, The Players’ Tribune aims to connect athletes directly with their fans, in their own words, publishing first-person written pieces, video series and podcasts.

Many in the industry sounded the death knell for the company even before it launched. But Messler and Jeter defied the negativity. According to the company, the platform has netted a 73 percent growth in average engagement YTD, a figure that is now 4 million per month. Players’ Tribune social growth has increased YOY by 6 percent, monthly video views have risen to 15 million, an increase of 280 percent YOY. And the average monthly content views total 112 million per month.

“We knew we had a target on our back so we were (and continue to be) very deliberate and thoughtful about the stories we publish. Our editorial content is anything but self-promotional and has touched on tough and serious subjects, from race to gender identity to domestic violence to mental health issues,” explains Jaymee Messler, Jeter’s partner in The Players’ Tribune venture.

Though Jeter and Messler developed the idea of connecting athletes with fans over the last couple of years of Jeter’s playing career, The Players’ Tribune was actually not launched until much later. Strategically placed to go live the day after his last game, Oct. 1, 2014, the platform has been heralded as being a place where athletes could be sure their thoughts and stories came across exactly the way they intended.

“Derek’s brand and reputation played a major role in our launch and success,” says Messler, a former executive at a leading sports management firm with 20 years in the game. “Besides being an incredible athlete, mentor, and leader on the field, Derek is a respected voice and figure in the global sports community.”

The Players’ Tribune
The Players’ Tribune

Power of the inner circle

The duo’s athlete network was also extremely important in the company’s launch efforts. Messler cites the fact that the best ideas and concepts have often been developed by the players, themselves. “The athletes really set the vision for the company and frequently come to us with ideas,” she says. And the company’s board, which includes various professional athletes from Kobe Bryant to Danica Patrick, reads like a who’s who of sports list. A number of athletes also invested in the company to the tune of more than 20 percent. This major synergy and access provide competitive leverage in a dynamic, new manner.

“Quite simply, athletes are global icons and cultural influencers, and we’ve been able to tap into this opportunity by connecting and engaging a growing community of more than 1500 players through original, engaging multimedia content,” says Messler.

Power of the climb

However, even with a mega personal brand, the development of the company has not been easy. In fact, it is Jeter’s very relationships and previous experience that made many in the industry very wary.

“The challenge at the outset was to overcome the expectation that we would merely be a public relations mouthpiece for the athletes, and to prove that there was room for a unique media company in the sports landscape,” Messler says. In order to overcome such a perception, the company continuously works to connect players to fans across as many platforms and experiences as possible from social good to music.

Power of the team

So how to capture such success for your business even if you might not have a major personal brand such as Derek Jeter from which to launch?

“In sports, winning teams work hard to create their success, there are no shortcuts and they don’t get there by accident – the same is true in the world of business, regardless of your starpower,” says Messler. “We’ve relied on the collective strength of the team we have built in the three years since our launch rather than the just personal brand of an individual. And that’s a tip I would give to anyone in business today.”

This column was originally published in Inc. It is reposted here with the permission of author Lauren DeLisa Coleman.

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About Lauren DeLisa Coleman
Lauren DeLisa Coleman is a digi-cultural trend analyst, author and strategist. Her expertise is deciphering and forecasting power trends, public sentiment within the convergence of pop culture, millennials & emerging tech behavior and analyzing the impact on business, governance. Her sub-specialty is diverse demos, and she is a contributor to media outlets from Forbes to Campaigns & Elections, as well as a guest commentator on MSNBC. As an entrepreneur, she has provided strategic intelligence on projects from Snoop Dogg to Microsoft execs to public policy leaders. She heads Lnk Agency, a hot trend consulting & multimedia company. Her latest e-book is "Americas Most Wanted: The Millennial." @ultra_Lauren

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