Steve Nash, Marketing Guru
An interesting take on Steve Nash’s creative mind and how Steve dabble’s in marketing and seed-stage capital.
When most successful athletes endorse a brand, they usually lend their faces and names to commercials and print ads, and show up to smile and shake hands with fans for public appearances. They choose brands that align well with their image – for example, Wayne Gretzky and Skechers or Serena Williams and Gatorade. They do not usually decide to actually write and direct the commercials themselves.
Article by Hollie Shaw, Financial Post
But few athletes are as known for their on-and off-court intelligence, offbeat sense of humour and business savvy as Steve Nash.
The Victoria-raised Phoenix Suns point guard and two-time National Basketball Association MVP known for his on-court versatility is multi-tasking in a completely different forum off the court: as a respected marketer, filmmaker, branding strategist and venture capitalist.
The public was introduced to Mr. Nash’s advertising work when he wrote, produced and directed his own commercials for Vitaminwater and Nike through Meathawk Productions, a company he owns with his cousin, Canadian filmmaker Ezra Holland. The partners have also collaborated on ads for EA Sports, Toyota, B.C. Hydro and Luyou, the Chinese footwear and apparel company Mr. Nash signed with in January after 15 years as a Nike spokesman.
Interned for three months in 2008 at noted New York ad agency Deutsch Inc., where he worked on the Anheuser-Busch account.
Social Media Czar
Close to half a million followers on Twitter and 1.3 million Facebook fans, through which he promotes the Steve Nash brand – his passions and his business projects.
Helped form Consigliere, which bills itself as a “modern marketing consultancy armed with an investment fund.”
Wrote, produced and directed his own commercials for Vitamin Water and Nike through his co-owned production company Meathawk Productions.
Healthy Eating Ambassador
Holds an equity stake in Liquid Nutrition, an expanding Montreal-based quick-serve
If anyone doubted the 37-yearold’s deepening interest in marketing, it evaporated after he did a three-month unpaid internship at New York ad agency Deutsch Inc. in 2008.
In an interview from Phoenix, where he was outside shooting hoops in the sun a week after his team had missed the playoffs, Mr. Nash said his attraction to marketing stemmed from an interest in filmmaking.
“I realized that many of the opportunities to make films were in advertising,” said Mr. Nash, who through Meathawk produced and co-directed a documentary on Terry Fox last year. “Creating compelling and creative content for different brands is a way to express yourself and develop your skills as a filmmaker or as a writer. As you get a bit more accustomed to the game of advertising and marketing, the whole thing becomes intertwined: You get a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between the content, the product and all sorts of aspects of the business.”
“Creating compelling and creative content for different brands is a way to express yourself and develop your skills as a filmmaker or as a writer.”
As it turned out, Mr. Nash’s foray into branded viral video, which is frequently given more creative rein than traditional TV commercials, came just as the emerging medium was exploding. Bigger brands were realizing online commercials’ storytelling potential as the popular spots garnered millions of views and circulation throughout social networks and mainstream media. In addition, marketing experts note, viral ads have a legacy that keeps viewership up for much longer than a TV campaign would.While viral ads may have made advertising riskier, “everyone inevitably had to buy in,” Mr. Nash asserts. “They had to accept that this is the way of the future and it had changed the game, made it more accessible to people and made it more exciting. I think we are going to see people take bigger and bigger risks.”
Mr. Nash’s spots for Vitaminwater and Nike reveal a sardonic sense of humour and an affinity for self-deprecation. One Vitaminwater spot, “Fashionista,” paints the star as an egomaniacal narcissist preparing for a fashion shoot: “Why do companies ask me to pitch products?” he sniffs. “Because I move products.” Another shlocky, infomercial-style spot casts him as a hectoring pitchman, “Canadian celebrity Steve Nash,” promoting the drink as an cure-all alternative to the painful old method of “Vitamins. Water. Repeat.”
But Mr. Nash’s creative endeavours and penchant for self-mockery belie an astute business sense.
Executives in Mr. Nash’s latest venture, Liquid Nutrition, a budding Montreal-based quick-serve restaurant in which he has become an equity partner, are using his production company for marketing and viral ads. Liquid Nutrition is also in talks with another Nash venture, Tempe, Ariz.-based vitamin company OneBodé, about creating a line of privatelabel multivitamins, according to Glenn Young, president of Liquid Nutrition Group Inc.
Mr. Young, the former vicepresident of IMG Media, said Mr. Nash’s aptitude for business was evident when he first met him to discuss whether the sports and entertainment consultants would represent the athlete. Mr. Nash’s ability to leverage his own personal brand into compatible business ventures was unrivalled among professional athletes, he recalled.
“We were all so impressed as to how he had built up a portfolio of complementary and interrelated businesses and how involved with them he was while continuing to play at such a high level,” Mr. Young said. “We were dealing with some of the most sophisticated marketers in the country and we were very impressed, not only with his experiences to date and what he had accomplished, but with all of the background and research he did. He is very committed to learning as much as he possibly can. Marketing seems to be a bit of a passion but he takes great interest in all areas of the business. And because of his profile he can go to the best people in various disciplines and be a sponge, and that is a complete benefit to the businesses that are associated with him.”
When Mr. Nash first began talking with Liquid Nutrition in the fall of 2009, Mr. Young recalled, “[the business partners] were having a discussion about putting an athlete at the front of a brand. Steve quite quickly turned it into more of a partnership discussion, and he ended up becoming an equity holder.” Liquid Nutrition is making a public offering on the Toronto Stock Exchange in May.
Mr. Nash said he is involved in the marketing of “the majority” of the brands he represents. “For me as a spokesman, I want to be involved with products or people that I am excited about [and] have a vested interest in a company,” he said. “As far as writing and directing and producing, if they have an openness and willingness to allow us to get involved and create some things, then definitely that is going to play a big part in whether I sign with a company.”
While Mr. Nash would not discuss the size of his stake in Liquid Nutrition, which is now in research and development on a signature Steve Nash drink, he said “it definitely piqued my interest to be an active member of the team.”
Tapping Mr. Nash for the marketing of Liquid Nutrition is not about appeasing an insider, Mr. Young said, adding Meathawk’s profile is tailor-made for Liquid Nutrition.
“Two-thirds of the leads for franchise opportunities in Canada and the U.S. come from the Internet, and in that medium Steve and Meathawk have had success,” he said. “We are a premium brand, but we have a grassroots feel and we are going to build on that sense of humour he has. Look at his activity on Twitter an Facebook. It is phenomenal how involved he is in these areas.”
Further inroads in marketing come through Mr. Nash’s new venture-capital firm, Consigliere, which he formed with ad veteran Michael Duda of Deutsch. Consigliere will invest in startups with a strong marketing focus in sectors such as e-commerce and sports, and is now raising capital and negotiating with several players, Mr. Nash said.
“Consilgiere is a separate venture [from Meathawk], but definitely there is an alignment [between them],” he said. “We haven’t figured out any direct avenues or projects to work together on but there definitely is the vision to have the two be partners in the future.”
Mr. Nash’s portfolio of business ventures also includes a chain of fitness centres, Steve Nash Sports Clubs, in his home province of British Columbia, that just opened an 18th location, and a stake in skin-care company Mission Skincare. He is also co-owner of the Vancouver Whitecaps, a Major League Soccer team.
Gordon Hendren, president of Toronto sports marketing consultancy Charlton Strategic Research, said Mr. Nash’s canny business sense is perhaps most evident in his deal with Luyou, the Chinese sporting goods manufacturer, news of which made waves in the sports community last fall.
It came as the NBA transforms into an increasingly international entity, and its players are taking advantage of it. Fellow NBA All Star Baron Davis left Reebok for Chinese sports apparel giant LiNing in 2009, and Kevin Garnett left Adidas last year to sign with the Chinese sportswear brand Anta.
“Steve Nash is not your typical professional athlete,” Mr. Hendren said. “I have not seen any other athletes this involved in their [various business ventures].
“[Luyou] is a leading-edge deal. North Americans may scratch their heads at that, but China is a huge growth market and it is a great market for basketball. If you think about it, [Mr. Nash] is probably not Nike’s [top-paid] athlete. With this [Luyou] deal, he goes to a market where he can leverage his equity -he’ll be the star guy -and he will probably make much more money. But this is less about ego and more about a business opportunity. He did the smart deal, not the obvious deal.”
Mr. Nash, who battled injuries last season but still led the NBA in assists for the fifth time, has said he plans to keep playing basketball for another two years. It’s likely marketing and film production will be a key part of his future.
“[Meathawk] is something that we want to do for a long time, so we’re building up a foundation that will hopefully last a long time and definitely into my post-career endeavours,” said Mr. Nash, who anticipates more work with Meathawk on EA Sports, Toyota and Luyou.
“I saw it as an opportunity to get involved and develop an education but also an opportunity to do some great work when I’m done playing, and it’s been great how people have been so receptive to that.”