This interview is presented to you by the University of Nebraska - Lincoln Master of Arts in Business with a Specialization in Intercollegiate Athletics Administration
By: Tyler Endebrock, @tjendebrock
Don Povia is a man of many traits. With a background in football, politics, blogging, digital media, marketing and more, he can (and does) do it all. As the Co-Founder of Blogs With Balls, Director of Sports and Entertainment at Carrot - a VICE Company and Managing Partner of Transition Sports and Entertainment, Povia has used his skills to fuel his entrepreneurial desires.
Povia began in sports as a high school athlete, leading him to play football at Monmouth University. It was at Monmouth where he had an epiphany, realizing he was not getting paid, and he would not end up in the NFL, even though he spent 75-80 percent of his time focusing on football. Accordingly, he began focusing on his future, so he starting interning while also working as managing editor of the school newspaper.
“I had a friend who worked at the paper and thought I would be good there, so that sort of served as a spring board for my career, as did my internships.”
Povia, a political science and history major, continued to work and write in school, which opened up the opportunity to work full-time as a press secretary during the last semester of his senior year. He entered the political world and even received a master’s degree from The George Washington University to focus on governmental work. It was not long until he had another epiphany.
“The more I worked in politics, the more I began to hate it. I was seeing just how divisive politics can be, and it really frustrated me. I’ve always been a people-person, and it was a big turn off for me. I always like to say I’m political, but I’m not partisan.”
“I worked in politics for a number of years and worked my way up, but since it was so frustrating, I started anonymously sports blogging as an outlet.”
Povia, along with some friends around the country, slowly built their reputation as sports bloggers. He would grab coffee or a beer with different people in the industry after work, which allowed him to grow his professional network while giving him the outlet of blogging.
“After working every day, I would much rather talk sports than talk politics. Meeting with people wasn’t really meant to further my career, it was more of just an outlet for me. From there, I began building relationships with people who created really good stuff online. With that, I saw an opportunity to make it my job, so I went out on my own for a little bit.”
Blogs With Balls began, and Povia started hosting conferences with some of the biggest sports companies in the business. During this time, he was working with his own clients, half of them in sports and half in politics. However, he knew he could make a difference and fill a void in sports with Blogs With Balls.
“Big sports players like ESPN and Fox were trying to enter the digital media space, but they just didn’t have the background or the expertise to do that. So, I wanted to fill the void by giving big sports companies a way to enter the digital world. There were very few people who could speak the ‘digital language’ within these companies, such as digital publishers and designers who were, day in and day out, creating content.”
“The Blogs With Balls conferences enabled me to put SB Nation, Bleacher Report, Sports Illustrated, etc. in a room together to connect with bloggers who create content for them. Not only that, but lots of brands saw that we have all these major players in one room, so they wanted a piece as well, which led to brand connection.”
While Blogs With Balls was booming, Povia turned his career towards becoming a digital sports strategist, consulting on his own with multiple agencies. However, he saw one big issue within these agencies: Approvals in the agencies had to go through the managers and the clients, which slowed communications. With digital media moving so quickly, he wanted to find a way to increase productivity and timing in the new digital age. Clients were the ones hurting the most because the content that needed to go out quickly was not being published either because it took too much time, or the agencies over-promised for projects they did not have the skills to do.
“I think everyone has a very particular skill set that they excel in, but I think they were missing out on the big picture of where marketing was going in the digital and social age. This kind of turned me off from some of these companies because of the promises they made to clients that they couldn’t keep. They were not built to create and publish the content correctly in one single company.”
Povia set out on his own again, bridging politics and sports by working with Jon Runyan, a former player with the Philadelphia Eagles who ended up running for Congress, and made storylines for using digital media with Jon’s campaign. He also worked with Takeru Kobayashi, the famous hot-dog-eating champion who saw the work Povia was doing and knew he needed his help.
“I worked for Kobayashi and started to show him he didn’t need the media because his brand was so big already. We would have him come in to Sports Illustrated once a month to do a challenge with a staffer, and the videos became so popular that one of them became the second most-watched video on their channel at the time. But because he was his own media, we were able to later on set up one camera, stream a video of him eating two turkeys to break Sonya Thomas’ (also known as “The Black Widow”) record, and we captured a quarter of a million views.”
Povia quickly made a habit of reaching out to multiple classifications of people in a way that related to everyone, and his own brand began to take off. He learned many things about the industry in a short amount of time, which led to his success in his space.
“I learned a lot about relationships. Being successful in this field is a lot about how you communicate with people, and then the creative ways to activate the assets you have. Break down some walls and connect with these players in the space in different ways.”
“One of the biggest tips I can give people is to actually do it. Don’t just talk about what you’re going to do. Go out and do it."
Povia heeded his own advice and started more projects each day. He began consulting with Tiki Barber at Thuzio, and with Vox around the time they were launching a handful of new creative verticals. Through these opportunities, he found a way to work with people in startups, athlete management and media branding, and he quickly saw they were all interconnected. His network was growing, but so were his responsibilities. Don knew he needed to expand his operations since his clientele was growing, so he started working with Carrot.
“I spoke with Mike Germano, the CEO of Carrot, and aligned my thoughts with his about creating a full-service digital agency. I began just consulting with them, but when we, for lack of better words, kicked ass at what we were doing, he asked me to come aboard and build Carrot’s Sports and Entertainment Division.”
For Povia, his big moment with Carrot was when they disrupted the NBA Draft and put Google Glasses on Victor Oladipo. Povia used his network to come together with The Verge, Thuzio, Google and Oladipo to create an exclusive to show the product.
“We continually showed that we don’t need special media personnel to get the story out. These celebrities can create their own stories, and Victor Oladipo was great because we could pitch this idea to multiple types of media. Unfortunately, the NBA found out about the idea to wear Google Glasses right before the Draft, but my point was proven that we don’t need these big media companies to showcase the talent that’s out there.”
Povia would continue to grow the Sports and Entertainment Division at Carrot and worked with some of the best sports representation agencies in the world to help athletes develop their brands. Once Carrot was bought by VICE, he wanted to continue what he was doing, so he struck a deal with Carrot where he could work half his time there, with half his time with his new business venture, Transition Sports and Entertainment.
“I come at Transition with a strategic and creative approach for marketing. I partnered with former Tennessee Titan Keith Bulluck, who wrote the business plan for Transition, and now we work with half a dozen football players, street artists, musicians, rock climbers and chefs. People will search a player’s name and figure out all about him online, but we wanted to build players’ presence offline.”
At Transition, they try to work creatively to see how they can leverage relationships and audiences to bring a full-service digital agency to light.
“We have kind of changed the view of Transition where we don’t just want to have things for them, like websites and such, but we have a roadmap of where they want to be in three years, six years, or ten years. They have a small window where they have a big spotlight on them, and we work to learn to leverage that spotlight so we can help them capitalize once the player’s career is over.”
“I’m pretty lucky because two days of the week, I still get to work with Carrot, while the other time I’m doing Transition. I was able to take the lead and secure the New York Yankees’ account, where we handle multiple aspects of their digital media, as well as commercials and billboards. On that account, I have people working with me who are analysts, creative leads, strategists, artists, coders and others.”
Povia knows he is fortunate to be in his position. People ask him all the time about what he does in the sports world. His answer?
“I do a lot, but it is all about communication, understanding, organization, and finding people who have the talents to accomplish the things I want to get done. I surround myself with people who know things I don’t know, and people who are capable of getting things done. If we do good work collectively, we will get good work done."
“That can be said for most things in sports business. Find the right players for the team and take the egos out of it.”
Povia knows he is living the life, and is very appreciative for the opportunities he has in front of him. He credits Blogs With Balls to what gave him his dream career.
“My job is fun, thought-provoking, challenging and interesting. My wife always asks me, ‘Why do you still do Blogs With Balls?’ I tell her I still do it because it’s fun and gave me my start. Why would I want to give that up? I wear a lot of hats, but it’s so nice to do something I love. I don’t consider this a job other than the hours I put in.”