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NFL Players Learn from Smith Experts

Mar 11, 2014
Experiential / Reality-based Learning

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Hank Boyd teaching the players about market research
Hank Boyd teaching the players about market research

UMD-Smith Executive Programs, NFL Design and Deliver Consumer Products Boot Camp 

Some NFL players, including Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith UMD ’10, recently gathered in Baltimore for offseason training -- but not for the gridiron. 

They worked on their business skills under the tutelage of experts from the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. 

The Smith School's Office of Executive Programs teamed with NFL Player Engagement to prepare the athletes to run a business or accelerate an existing venture during Boot Camp: Consumer Products, which took place from March 2 to 5. 

Fifteen current and former players, as well as a couple of spouses, participated. 

Hank Boyd, Tyser Teaching Fellow and associate chair of the marketing department at the Smith School, moderated several panels and delivered class sessions. "We focused on issues like intellectual property and licensing -- all in the context of marketing in its classic four-tier structure (analysis, control, implementation and planning)." 

Harry Geller and John LaPides, entrepreneurs-in-residence at the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, coached the participants for a "Shark Tank"-style pitch competition hosted by Under Armour. Boyd judged the competition alongside Under Armour and NFL executives, including former All-Pro cornerback Troy Vincent, senior vice president of player engagement. LaPides also taught about finance principles. 

“NFL Player Engagement always strives to collaborate with top educational institutions for our Boot Camps, and we are proud to have worked with the University of Maryland on the first Boot Camp: Consumer Products,” said Vincent. “The academic component is of great importance in preparing players for life after football, and the Smith School did an excellent job of assisting the players in learning about the consumer products industry and identifying the next steps necessary to pursue their interests outside of football.” 

A concurrent NFL Consumer Products Summit enabled participants to network with league licensees and retailers, and retired linebacker Carl Banks shared insight from his entrepreneurial pursuits and successes in the fashion and food industries. In one of the sessions, Banks said “there’s only so much room in the broadcasting booth.” 

Broadcasting has been a popular focus of such prior NFL boot camps. The league chose Baltimore for its first “consumer products” edition to “tap into the expertise of Under Armour and the Smith School of Business,” according to the Baltimore Sun. 

Smith Executive Programs, with its track record of developing leaders in industries from health care to transportation, welcomed the task. 

“We appreciate the significance of equipping these participants to excel as entrepreneurs,” said Assistant Dean of Executive Programs Gary Cohen. “A player's short earnings window makes it crucial for these athletes to channel their competitiveness and determination into a pursuit that provides long-term financial stability.” 

Pitch Competition and Torrey Smith's Takeaway 

The players channeled that competitiveness through the boot camp’s pitch competition. Four teams were assigned an NFL-related product idea to develop. “Team Swag,” including former Redskins cornerback Phillip Buchanon and Jets linebacker Quinton Coples, captured the tilt. Its pitch to bolster NFL Rush Zone -- a kids' online community -- bested the others, including a luxury cologne line pitched by the Baltimore Ravens’ Smith. 

Smith, a UMD criminal justice graduate, impressed Boyd. 

“Torrey’s in a real good spot in his playing career,” said Boyd. “Yet, he’s giving back to the community and focused on ‘How can I further myself and build my own brand?’” 

That brand ties into the Torrey Smith Foundation and its mission to promote mentoring and educational resources for Baltimore-area youth. Smith said the boot camp sharpened his long-range vision to establish a youth center that fosters both academic and athletic development. 

“Hank Boyd gave an awesome talk on market research,” Smith said. “For me, it represented why it’s important to understand who our potential volunteers and supporters are and how to motivate them to engage and feel ownership and become a real part of the mission.” 

“The entire boot camp showed me what it’s going to take for my vision to become reality,” Smith added. “It’s also energized me for what’s just ahead -- like the Battle of the Beltway (March 29 celebrity fundraiser basketball game at Comcast Center pitting a Smith-led Ravens squad against a team of Redskins).”

More Player Reaction 

Boyd said the boot camp “nicely packaged ‘how to apply marketing principles for a competitive advantage’ with John [LaPides’] insight to ‘what it takes to get the funding and keep the organization running, and why cash flow is so critical.’” 

LaPides inspired Arizona Cardinals long snapper Mike Leach and wife Julie to live-blog: “This morning we heard a presentation from John LaPides from the University of Maryland about business planning and financial wherewithal. ... These topics are pertinent to us and where we are at with our Potty Pals (toilet-training) product.” 

Former Ravens linebacker Nick Greisen said his insight from the boot camp has boosted his confidence about approaching buyers and investors in the future. “The NFL and the business school at Maryland did a great job with this program.” 

Greisen and his peers’ aptitude impressed Geller. “It was very rewarding working with the players. Their thought processes regarding product development and market fit was incredible given they had 48 hours to produce a concept and a pitch,” he said. “All four groups were very receptive to learning how to make a concept understandable, impactful and concise in a 10-minute pitch.” 

The players’ commitment inspired Boyd. “These are the ultimate athletes – performing in the NFL – and they’re wise enough to act now on the realization that ‘it’s not going to last forever,” he said. “This made for an extra special executive engagement and really made me focus on: ‘How can I make this pop? How can I make it exciting and lively?’”


Related story: Smith Business Close-Up: NFL Entrepreneurship Bootcamp [VIDEO]

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business 

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, MS in business, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.