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: D.J. Podgorny, @DJPodgorny
Travis Brody, Founder of The Growth of a Game and President of Premier Class Consulting, has one goal: to grow American football in Europe. By importing equipment from the United States, representing import players and coaches, organizing skills camps, publishing articles, and aggregating important information for teams and players, The Growth of a Game does just that.
“Sharing the game and making it easier for people to play and for players to get better on the field is what gets me out of bed each morning. We're not only doing all the things that teams want, but we are giving them what they need to improve, whether that's optimizing their budget, increasing their level of play on the field or helping in their overall operations. That's what I'm passionate about.”
For the last three and a half years, Brody has pursued this dream of developing football overseas. In April 2013, he founded Premier Class Consulting and began working with European teams by selling imported American football equipment. Soon, the business expanded and a representation operation for import quarterbacks and head coaches was spun up. Then, in November 2014, The Growth of a Game launched.
“The Growth of a Game website was launched to promote football, provide resources and suggestions and tips for players and coaches across Europe, and to help them understand the prevalence of the sport.”
Today, The Growth of a Game features articles translated in nine different languages – it is the only resource in Europe that provides consistent translations for American football-related content – and is on pace to reach over 250,000 page views in 2016 in just its second year. Football advocates from all over Europe flock to the site to view their unique content and tips.
Yet, while both entities have experienced success early on, entrepreneurship and being a champion for the expansion of international football weren’t always at the forefront for Brody.
Upon graduating high school, Brody enrolled at Occidental College in Los Angeles, where he studied history while continuing his football career. However, after only one year, the allure of business beckoned.
Taking the role of manager for an up-and-coming local band, Brody left Occidental College to hit the road and work full-time in the music industry. After about a year with the group, he enrolled back in junior college and continued to work nights and weekends.
Then, the semester prior to re-enrolling back at Occidental, Brody packed his bags and went overseas to finish his football career. This time, he signed a contract to play quarterback for the Brussels Bulls, a semi-pro team in Belgium.
"For me, more than anything, it was an opportunity to go live and work in Europe, with the added bonus of continuing my football career. I had been away from the sport for a couple of years and still felt like I had more to give to the game. It was a win-win."
Initially, Brody’s plan was to play for the duration of the spring season, spend the summer traveling Europe, then come back home to finish his degree. But, after an amazing experience with the Bulls, he accepted a contract extension and ultimately stayed in Brussels for a total of two and a half years.
“It really opened my eyes to a lot of different things. It’s unique being a professional player in a niche sport. It allowed me to connect with a lot of European and American players and coaches over here. I was really fascinated by the prevalence of the game in Europe. It was going on extensively and nobody had really paid too much attention to it in the U.S. It was surprising and encouraging.”
After completing some consulting work with start-up teams and leagues in places like Portugal, Latvia, and Estonia, while doing some coaching at camps, Brody started to get extremely career-focused. He returned back to Los Angeles to finish his bachelor’s degree at Occidental.
Upon arriving back on campus, Brody connected with his former college coach and landed a job as a recruiting assistant. Serving as a recruiter and host for potential players, Brody was able to develop an eye for evaluating talent and a skill for connecting with people.
Also during this stint at Occidental, Brody rose to the ranks of President for the Sports Business and Law Network. Within eight months at the helm, he helped grow the organization from 10 people to 91. As the membership base grew, so did the caliber of guests the group was able to attract for speaking engagements and other interactive events.
“I used it as a platform to learn and lead, but to also create career opportunities for myself.”
Upon graduating from Occidental, Brody had three separate job offers, all within the business of sports, due in large part to his efforts as President of the network. Ultimately, Brody decided to join Sports1Marketing, a company founded by Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon. He joined on as an Account Executive after graduation. Within three months of starting, he would be promoted to Vice President of Business Development. Much of that had to do with Brody being proactive with his career.
“As an entry-level person, the best thing you can do is not act like an entry-level employee. That's what separated me at Sports1Marketing. A lot of account executives spent most of their time with the interns and almost self-identified themselves as interns. I didn't work that way, I was literally in the CEO's office every single day. I did my work from my CEO's office and listened in on every single call, every single meeting, and I got to learn things very, very quickly. In a few months, I was not only given the opportunity to prove myself, but also learn a rapid amount in a very short period of time because I was in on some very high-level meetings. I was forced to make decisions on important matters and it challenged me.”
Brody extended the lessons he learned into solid advice for anyone aiming to work in a corporate environment.
“Don't put yourself in a position where you're beholden to your position. Try to take more responsibility for things and learn other elements of the business so you can make yourself more and more valuable. At the end of the day, what you're trying to do is prove that you're valuable to the organization and that people can trust you in your role or the next role for that matter.”
After spending a year and a half at Sports1Marketing, Brody decided to take a risk and start his own company that focused on facilitating the development of American football in Europe: Premier Class Consulting.
“I was very fortunate to have the courage to just jump in and do it. A lot of people assume that they can't. I never thought that I would be in this position until I was at least in my forties.”
While the path to his current role certainly wasn’t conventional, that is something Brody is proud of today.
“I take pride now in the fact that my career path was non-linear. Hindsight is always 20/20 and that's easy to say that based on where things are now, but I'm proud that I did things differently than most people tend to do. Without it, I wouldn't be the person I am today.”
Brody and his team work tirelessly to build off of the recent momentum for American football abroad. In the last twenty years, the amount of senior-level teams has grown from 400 to over 1,500 in Europe. There are an additional 150-200 women’s teams, as well as thousands of youth-level contact and flag squads. And, with the NFL’s investment in the International Series, times have never been more exciting for football in Europe.
“It's incredible that this sport has been able to grow so much in places that don't have direct access to equipment, fields or high quality coaching at the outset. And, still, the game continues to thrive. I love hearing feedback from players who are so thankful to have the opportunity to learn from great coaches and be part of a professional camp. It's inspiring to see how excited and passionate they are about it and to see them come from all across Europe just to attend our camps.”
The future is certainly bright for American football overseas. For the first time in the history of the NFL Draft, a player was selected directly from a European league. Moritz Böhringer of the German Football League’s Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns was picked by the Minnesota Vikings in the sixth round in the 2016 Draft.
“I think that, without a doubt, in 10-20 years Europe will be the second-best resource for players in the NFL. I think we will start to see a growing number of players coming out of European leagues to the NFL. I think we will start seeing, most likely in places like Germany and Austria, the leagues start becoming more professional where a vast majority of players are paid. I have no reason to believe that, in 20 years, the number of teams won't double or triple.”
“The number of players may be five or ten times what it is now. More and more kids are identifying American football as an option to them and we will see a snowball effect. Kids start to realize that it is an option early on and that is the best method for success. If more kids see the NFL on TV, they will be more inclined to play which leads to more players and consequently more teams. We’re starting to see that now.”
As the NFL begins to reach saturation in North America, The Growth of a Game seems in prime position to reap the benefits of the NFL’s inevitable expansion into Europe and beyond. With powerful figures such as Colts' owner Jim Irsay and Commissioner Roger Goodell speaking often of a potentially permanent NFL franchise in London, the change may come sooner than we think.
American football appears to be a force to be reckoned with in the European market and The Growth of a Game is in a primed position to succeed long term.