A little over a year ago, in the days following the 2012 London Summer Olympics, I was fortunate enough to sit down with two-time U.S. Olympic swimmer and gold medalist, Anthony Ervin.
In that meeting, I was thrilled to become his manager.
His path following the Olympics was to compete on the World Cup circuit, representing the United States as he raced in Dubai, Doha, Stockholm, Moscow, Berlin, Beijing, Tokyo, and Singapore. The only problem? As Anthony told me that day “I don’t know how I’m going to pay for it.”
I was stunned. Here was a world class athlete, representing our country, coming off of the biggest athletic stage the world has to offer and throwing the flights for his competitions on his Amex, hoping it would all work out.
Obviously the traditional route to take is corporate sponsorship. That has always perplexed me from afar. Sponsorships are only awarded to a fraction of 10,000+ athletes who compete in the Summer Olympic games alone. Let alone the fact that Anthony was leaving in a few weeks and such deals can often take months to pitch, land, negotiate and finalize. For Anthony to compete for the United States on the World Cup, we were going to have to get creative.
Fortunately, making things happen with virtually no money to start with is something I have a deep experience in due to my career managing DIY bands in the music industry with grassroots strategies from the bottom up.
Thus, my (and my interns’) instant reaction was “Anthony should do a Kickstarter.” What was striking to me from the getgo however was Anthony’s reaction. Let me preface this by saying that Anthony is one of the most intelligent, cool and connected people I’ve ever met. A Cal Berkeley grad who is incredibly well read responded with “What’s that?”
In my professional field of working in the arts and technology; crowdfunding sites have been a huge tool in launching, shaping and sustaining careers for artists of all sizes. As Anthony has a global following and was already selling merchandise online, turning to his audience for help seemed like a no brainer.
The campaign was a blast to put together. Anthony was to write songs for his fans, send postcards from Russia, and had his friend Frank Zio design a tour poster, T-shirt and more to incentivize fans to help Anthony compete on the World Cup circuit. I couldn’t wait to launch this campaign. The only problem? Kickstarter rejected us. Turns out they only work in the arts and technology.
Luckily we were able to turn to a white-label platform and with my deep experience in online marketing, direct to fan, merchandising, and crowdfunding, our project was more than successful allowing Anthony to even give overage funds to his charity of choice.
The success of the project, the unsolicited press Anthony received, the fact that his mind could be at ease while he competed knowing he wasn’t returning to thousands of dollars in bills on his credit card resulted in 15 medals (9 of them gold) and an American Record in the 50m Freestyle.
Meanwhile, I was in a fellow music executive’s office telling the above story. The response? ”I have a friend sponsoring an Olympic weightlifter who is living in her coach’s basement to train as she receives a $400/month stipend from her governing body. This is a thing.” As we discussed the concept further, Dreamfuel was born.
What I’ve quickly realized is that athletes are a lot like musicians and artists in a few respects. They spend a ton of time on their craft using skills that might not be inherently tuned to marketing themselves or building a community; let alone tapping into it. Most artists begin by creating music, film or art because they love it. Same for athletes; most do not enter the field for glory alone. The aforementioned weightlifter is named Holley Mangold. From The New York Times: "In London, Mangold does not expect to earn gold. No American weight lifters do. The women’s world record for the combined total in the snatch and clean-and-jerk is 326 kilos (719 pounds); Mangold’s personal record is 255 kilos (562.2 pounds). She’s just hoping for that feeling when the lift comes together, when her body goes down and the bar floats up. ‘It’s like peace, there’s no struggle,’ Mangold said. ‘That’s what we’re all searching for, that feeling of weightlessness.’"
Yet even those who are expected to and do win gold medals are struggling. I saw one naysayer post on Anthony’s campaign saying “surely an Olympic gold medalist like Anthony Ervin can get a sponsorship.” Although that might have been the perception, Anthony didn’t have any sponsorships at the time that I came on board. Luckily that has changed, and crowdfunding helped carry Anthony through until those deals came about.
Athletes, particularly in Olympic sports have a financial need, that is for sure, with 85% of Olympic hopefuls earning less than $15,000 USD / year. The public can now rally around the athletes they support to help make their dreams a reality. I’m excited to help bridge that gap to create a much needed additional revenue stream for athletes. However, my interest in making this a reality goes far beyond the athletes’ raising money.
I can’t wait to teach athletes how to genuinely connect with their audience and supporters in a way they may not have thought about before. I’m excited to teach athletes how to sell merchandise; something we take for granted in the music space. I’m excited to show them how to get creative with incentives that go beyond physical goods. I’m excited to show athletes that they have supporters all around who want to see them through their journey, helping in every way they can along the way. Whether a fan can contribute funding or not, the power of a Tweet, Facebook post, and/or email to friends about what the athlete is doing is as powerful of a contribution to the athlete’s career as donating directly.
We are honored to launch this week with 6 athletes from a variety of sports. Each athlete has a story to tell. For example, Canadian National Champion in Javelin, Brooke Pighin, survived and triumphed a near-death ski accident. World Championship silver medalist and new father, David Plummer, is planning a comeback from missing the 2012 Olympic team by .12 seconds. All of these athletes train at a world class level day in and day out, and they all need your help.
The question isn’t “Why Dreamfuel,” rather, “Why not Dreamfuel?” Thanks to the power of the internet, connecting athletes and fans intertwined with a genuine need that the public can help with; we can’t wait to assist in the process of fueling athletes toward their dreams and beyond. How fun that we as the audience get to be a part of athletes’ journeys and assist them in their ride to the top? We may not have to get up at 5 AM to train, but we will be here cheering, supporting, tweeting and spreading the word far and wide as the audience becomes a part of the athletes’ path. Dreamfuel helps to make this connection between the athlete and fan a reality - something that is fun, inspiring and extremely beneficial to both parties.
We can’t wait to see what comes about from this connection both for the athletes and the fans.
-Emily White, Cortney Harding, Emily Erdman, Melissa Garcia, Ben Patrick, Jessica Weigand & Katie Dawson a.k.a. #TeamDreamfuel 1.0