By: Joe Londergan, @joehio_
There are many different ways to make your mark in our ever evolving industry. In the past decade, an element that has come to the forefront of importance for organizations, athletes, and students alike is personal branding. Someone who can speak volumes to this is Tim Evans, President and CEO of Athlete Web Design. Tim graciously took time out of his busy schedule to speak with Front Office Sports about his work helping to build personal brands for some of the world’s finest athletes, his journey into the sports world, and how to efficiently manage your time as a young professional.
Tim is a Wisconsin native who took an interest in sports, particularly football, at a young age.
“I was a die-hard Packers fan as long as I can remember. It was the tail end of the Don Majkowski era and the start of the Brett Favre era. And then I always played sports growing up. That was back during the time when, in the 80’s and 90’s, kids then played football, basketball, baseball, whereas now it is somewhat specialized where football is a year round thing. I was always involved in sports and then when I went to Iowa, I wasn’t a big Iowa Hawkeye fan at the time, but after going there, I now bleed black and yellow.”
While a student at the University of Iowa, Evans majored in industrial engineering and was a member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, but maintained an interest in entrepreneurial ventures and the emerging world of dot-com.
“I liked business but I also liked technology and that’s kind of when I went the industrial engineering route. But that was during the time also when it was really the wild west and people were just trying to figure things out online. I always had a business aspiration to be my own boss and start my own thing. I was always doing extra business classes to kind of hone the skills and kind of learn more things because I knew those things would help. I always knew I wanted to do something on my own but knew that there are things you have to do. You have to get the degree, you have to get the grades, and you have to go to class.”
Evans’ time as an engineering student was an early indicator of the time commitment demanded in the sports industry.
“Getting an engineering degree is challenging, and the math side of things, knowing the numbers and how to compute different things, whether it be studying for an exam and knowing that ‘hey if you don’t have your stuff together, you’re going to have to stay up late and get up early to figure it out’. That I think applies to if you’re working in sports. Whether you’re working on a project for a client or there’s a deadline. I think that’s a huge thing. When you’re out of college, there are deadlines, there are things you promise, and things like that mean you can’t wear that 8 AM to 5 PM hat. Especially being a business owner and being an entrepreneur.”
Balancing work with fun can be difficult for any college student. But it is essential.
“It’s nice to have your fun but ten years down the line, going out Thursday, Friday and Saturday night every weekend, are you going to remember that and is that going to help you with your career? Probably not. I think some people, on the social aspect side of college, if they’re having struggles with time management; limit some of the social aspect. I say SOME because I think the social side of things is very important, but also prioritizing your day of classes and things you have to do from most important priority to ‘that can be done next week."
Nearing the end of his time as a student, Evans wasted no time throwing his hat into the entrepreneurial ring.
“About six months before I graduated, I looked up ‘Brett Favre dotcom’ and it was taken by a guy in California. So I looked him up, sent him an email, and six months later we have a company called Athlete Web Services.”
Tim went on to detail the story of his professional evolution from this first venture, to his current gig.
“I went to the site BrettFavre.com, it had a cool Flash intro on it (this was January of 2002), and he had just registered it in November of 2001. That was back when Flash intros were cool. I said ‘hey, I’m a Packers fan, I see what you’re doing, I’m a domain guy too.’ So we started talking and we built out a site for Brett.”
“We approached Bus Cook (Favre’s agent) about doing the site and if Brett Favre wanted a site and the story goes that he got burned by a web group out of Milwaukee in the late 90’s and they ended up not doing anything. So that was an example of our first stuff and over time, we built up some ideas, but it was a time when personal branding wasn’t a thing. We didn’t have a monetization model and people weren’t understanding it, so we weren’t making a lot of money.”
“Then I stepped out of the company. I was doing my own thing at the time, with a telecommunications company using a direct sales model. So I was still in the tech industry, but then right around 2005-2006 was when I started a small business web development firm called Evans Web Services. I now currently have two companies in Evans Web Services and Athlete Web Design. I can remember where I was on a Sunday in September of ’06 when I looked up AthleteWebDesign.com on my Blackberry, and it was available. I looked it up at a sports bar called The Ram in Schaumburg, IL where I had to go that day because I was in Chicago and I needed to catch my Packers. I remember Favre threw his 400th touchdown pass that day in Detroit to Greg Jennings.” (Now THAT is how a sports fan’s memory works!)
“So I registered the domain, but it wasn’t a company that day. It took some time. We got a logo up, and got some inquiries, and 2008 is when we really started pushing it forward. Initially, what we did was register a handful of guys’ domain names, if a player’s name was available. If you look up domains of NFL rosters right now, 95-98% of every player’s first and last name is registered as a domain name. It probably isn’t owned by them, it’s somebody else. Whether somebody in college registered it in their name for them, or maybe a family member, or even a domain investor may have bought it.”
“So initially we had a small portfolio of names and if somebody were to come to us we’d use it for lead generation purposes, and help them build out an official website. If they had someone already lined up to do their site, we’d either give the domain to them outright or make a nominal trade for some signed memorabilia. We helped guys like Demarco Murray, Knowshon Moreno, and many others. We bought JordyNelson.com for $100 from SEDO, an online domain marketplace, where someone had it for sale in April of 2008 and 2 years ago when Jordy was ready for a site, we had the domain name. We said “hey we have the domain, we can include it as part of the project”. I think that’s the biggest thing I’d tell your readers: If their first and last name dot com is available, go and get it.”
Athlete Web Design helps its clients build their digital platform with services like logo design, complete web site design as well as well as ongoing maintenance/management, and setting up online stores for clients to sell items like memorabilia. Evans says a part of their business also comes from clients getting involved in side projects such as charitable foundations and small businesses.
“The offseason is the time when a lot of athletes, at least in the NFL are thinking more about that for the upcoming year. There’s a lot of crossover as well. We’ll do a site for an athlete, and then 6 to 18 months later we’ll get a phone call from them saying “I’m starting a business with my father in law. Can you help us with that site?’ So there’s crossover in that.”
Athlete Web Design not only provides these services for athletes, but for several sport organizations such as Hawkeye Football Camps, Sure Sports Lending, and The Legacy Agency.
“Initially when we started it was only going to be pro athletes, but over time our design and quality got really good to where sports companies are coming to us saying ‘Hey, we like how you did so-and-so’s site, we’re a sports company, can you do our site?’ So I’d say it’s a 50-50 mix. It’s individual athlete brands and then also sports companies.”
With this realm experience, Evans knows first-hand how important personal branding is for those attempting to leave a lasting impression on consumers inside and outside the realm of professional sports.
“I think personal branding in a 2016 world is everything. It has gotten to a point where a company’s digital brand is more important than their offline brand. Whereas a personal brand, you have your social media platforms and people are going to look you up. We’re in an age where it doesn’t matter who you are, anybody can find out anything about anybody. You can actively manage that to where you are putting yourself in the best light, whether it is social media or a website, whether you are a student trying to get a job or a pro athlete. It doesn’t have to be an extravagant website that a guy in the NFL might have."
"Let’s say you’re a student athlete, if your domain name is available, why not get it? If you’re in a college town, 97% of the players on the team aren’t going to go to the next level but you’re still going to be loved in that college town for what you did at the university level. That might help you get some traction whether it is business, job opportunities, other opportunities with travel, speaking gigs. And that’s why I suggest getting it if your domain name is available. There are ways of getting it back for a little bit of money but it’s definitely worth taking the time to look it up.”
Tim had these parting words of wisdom to share:
“For anybody who is striving to be better, hone your skills, always be learning, go to conferences, listen to podcasts, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. When you ask questions, you are always going to learn something. “
See more of Tim’s work at AthleteWebDesign.com