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Meet Andrew Stallings of Athelo Group

Today we’d like to introduce you to Andrew Stallings.

Alright, thank you for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us how you got started?
I’m originally from Southeast Virginia; my entire life, I have known that I wanted to be in sports. It probably wasn’t until I was ten when my family uprooted and took us to the other side of the state to a little town called Roanoke. I was ultimately behind the learning curve, the social curve, and everything in between. I was able to cope socially during that difficult time because my dad purchased season tickets for us for the minor league hockey team in the East Coast Hockey League, the Roanoke Express. We would go to every game, which was a great bonding experience. It helped me a ton as I was adjusting to this new life.

The whole thing was fascinating to me, and I’ve always been very curious, so some nights I would sneak down to the tunnel and high-five players coming on and off the ice. The then-president and owner of the team got to know my family, and they would bring me to the press box to get a more intimate experience of how it all worked – it was very fun but also important and informative. At ten years old, I was getting a chance to experience sports in a way fairly foreign to kids. It was the first time I was like, “whoa, there’s more to sports than just what happens on the ice, track, or playing field.”

Fast forward to high school, I looked at colleges and universities, trying to figure out what I could do from a major perspective that’s broad enough to be applied to many different sports disciplines. That’s why I decided to major in Communications at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. Throughout those four years, I had my hands in many different pots, taking on part-time jobs and internships. I was working in journalism, freelancing for different blogs and media outlets, coaching women’s high school basketball, and doing everything I could to stay involved in the world of sports.

A big break came during my senior year when I got an internship with Sirius XM Radio in the production department. There, I could see the world of media from the inside through the lens of sports. That is where I got to see how the sausage is made and make a ton of connections. At the time, satellite and terrestrial radio were in this tremendous transitional era, leading to the catapult mechanism of podcasting today. I began understanding the importance of community structure at SiriusXM and was able to turn that internship into a full-time job for five years.

From there, I went to Octagon, a global sports and entertainment marketing agency in Connecticut. This was when I dove into the world of sponsorship. You probably now see a theme that I just continuously pivoted. Once I got well-versed in a specific industry area, I would shift again to continue expanding my skillset.

The world of sponsorships, event marketing, and consulting was fascinating, though. I traveled all over the country, setting up pop-up tents and handing out protein bars at Tough Mudder events. Then, when I was back in the office three days a week, I would constantly be raising my hand, asking questions, setting up meetings, jumping in, and helping out on different accounts and projects. This all ultimately led to me working on the global sponsorship account for Anheuser-Busch. While on this account, I was able to work on executions such as the 2017-2018 FIFA Confederations Cup and World Cup events in Russia with Budweiser. I also oversaw the global relationship between Corona and the World Surf League, so I stayed busy. From athlete management on behalf of the brands to understanding big property relationships, asset development, and brand strategy, it was around that time, before I went in-house to Constellation Brands as a Northeast Field Marketing Rep, that I started toying with the idea of how I could help my friends that were professional athletes. I also began thinking about how to help several colleagues who were starting to launch startups, brands, and companies that didn’t have large-scale marketing budgets for activations or sponsorships but still wanted to do big things. I thought, “how do I come in as an experienced, seasoned marketer with an excellent network that I can apply to many facets of a relationship?”

Everything at Athelo begins with the athletes, and the company name itself is just rooted in two words: “Athletes” and “Opportunities.” We’ve been at it for about 4 years, and to date, we count more than 25 athletes under management, along with over 110 different brands that we work with. I would be bearish if I didn’t mention that we were pretty much pandemic proof because of our relationships and many of the properties and brands we were working with. So, all in all, it was fascinating to see how the world shifted and how we continued to grow and evolve in due time. Our agency continues to flourish by bringing in new talent and offerings with diverse functional opportunities. We’re not trying to be the biggest agency monster overnight – we’re simply striving to be strategic and scale at a pace that allows us to serve our clients most effectively and efficiently.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
As a business owner, if you sit here and tell me that you’ve had a smooth road, I’d probably say that you’re full of shit. When you look at any business, especially in the business of relationships, consulting, and people, your job is human emotion. We are in the business of convincing people – 75% of what we do is to convince, build trust, and trust that we know what we’re doing. Because even if you fumble along with the follow-through, the trust in the partnership is so solidified that the brand, athlete, or anybody else won’t let you fail. So for me, my relationships and community over the years have led us to success.

I think in a lot of ways, everybody has their struggles financially. Everybody has their hiccups when you look at a big scale. But at the end of the day, I think what’s important is that we are just trying to diversify and be as uniquely positioned for the current world of sports and business rather than just going where the money is. If we were money chasers, we probably would be having a different discussion right now. But many of our moves and pivots are not fueled by the financial bottom line. I’m very proud that we can do that because a lot of agencies and companies don’t have the privilege to do so. Has it been a smooth road? No, but I think at the end of the day, what you make out of your experiences and journey is very valuable no matter what road you’re on. There are lessons along the way, and there are abilities that can benefit you and the people in your tribe, circle, and business. We do that with our interns. We do that with our employees. We do that with all our clients. What I learn or hear every day is constantly being applied to our business and team. Like, “how can I deliver more information and findings that can benefit the people closest to me?”

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
Weʼre an athlete-focused sports & entertainment marketing firm, rooted in 5 motives for our athletes x brand partners: Entertain, Evolve, Enhance, Educate, and Empathize. At Athelo, we ensure that our partners have the resources and creative vision needed to turn an audience into fans and those fans into advocates in everything they do. As we do with athletes, we serve to educate our brand, media, and league partners on the industry landscape across multiple sports verticals and identify creative and scalable solutions to their core message and values. We are building a community while working to benefit our athletes, companies, media partners, and properties.

We offer a wide variety of services, including – but not limited to – Athlete Management, Recruitment Models, PR & Media, Creative Support, and Brand Strategy & Development. What sets us apart is that we see and treat each other as a family – from the in-house team to the athletes and external partners. I’m proud to say that I’m doing what many dream of – what I dreamt of before. I’m constantly trying, learning, and failing. When you learn to love the process and losses more than the outcome, you know you have found your calling. Not many can say that, let alone at 34 years old.

We’d be interested to hear your thoughts on luck and what role you feel it’s played for you?
There is certainly a right place/right time mechanism for business and people and understanding when conversations need to be had. Budget conversations, good planning, and exact timing are important. I often reference that life and business are a constant game of Double Dutch. It’s like figuring out which way to go and what’s the best time to jump in. You can’t just abruptly jump into a jump rope. Otherwise, it’s going to fall on you. You have to be strategic to get your way in there, which goes with our relationships. If you look at our LinkedIn, we have CEOs of major companies following us or some of the biggest athletes in the world that follow us on Instagram. Are my team or I going and messaging them or entirely shoving our presence down their throat? No. There has to be the right opportunity and the right place for it. I think it’s a testament that they’re part of our audience and they care enough, also that we’re able to deliver something that keeps them entertained and educated.

But at the end of the day, it is just about timing and planning – I am diligent about that. Because, again, going back to the bottom line, it takes a long road of discomfort to get to a road of comfort. A place where you can actually be positioned to make strategic decisions like that and not have it hurt you or put you in the red. So much so that I think there’s always luck factored into it every day of our lives as human beings. But especially whether you’re in sports, you own an agency, you’re a boss, or an employee, it’s also about chance. You could have the best possible presentation or price for a company, and it could just come down to somebody liking you. It’s an unfortunate thing in life that it’s not always so black and white, but I like that it’s a bit gray. I like that we choose to live in the gray a little bit more than the black and white area. If it was so decisive, I think we would often be discouraged – always having that “what if?” mindset is super helpful whether you’re in business, life, or anything else – you should always be thinking like that.

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