Derek Jeter’s Se­cret (Busi­ness) Weapon

JAYMEE MESSLER THE PLAY­ERS’ TRI­BUNE Messler’s sports man­age­ment firm rep­re­sented Derek Jeter un­til the base­ball su­per­star re­tired. Then the duo hatched their own sports me­dia com­pany.

Inc. (USA) - - FRONT PAGE -

Jaymee Messler worked her way up from be­ing an as­sis­tant in the fast-talk­ing, male-dom­i­nated world of sports man­age­ment to be­com­ing the se­cret weapon be­hind Derek Jeter’s me­dia plat­form, the Play­ers’ Tri­bune. Af­ter she’d spent 12 years at Ex­cel Sports Man­age­ment— where she and the Yan­kees star, a client, found each other—the two teamed up to hatch the plat­form, which is ded­i­cated to pub­lish­ing first-per­son sto­ries by ath­letes. Says Jeter of his part­ner: “A lot of people said start­ing a new me­dia com­pany was a crazy idea, and many thought we would fail. Jaymee is a true en­tre­pre­neur. She is some­one who be­lieves strongly in her vi­sion and has pur­sued it fear­lessly.” Since the Tri­bune’s found­ing in 2014, Messler has raised $58 mil­lion for the New York City–based up­start, and now has set her sights on ex­pand­ing into pod­casts, TV, and fea­ture films. —AS TOLD TO YASMIN GAGNÉ

I was al­ways

into sports. I have a twin brother, and play­ing sports was how we con­nected. When I was in col­lege, I heard about this sports agency in Vir­ginia called Oc­tagon, which was in­ter­est­ing to me, but my first job af­ter I grad­u­ated was ac­tu­ally work­ing for a fa­mous chef at the Water­gate Ho­tel. It was be­fore the Food Net­work was around, and I was able to start build­ing a brand for this two-star Miche­lin chef who had this huge per­son­al­ity. I started out as an as­sis­tant, but I got re­ally into the brand­ing as­pect and built a role for my­self. I would go around the coun­try with him, help­ing to plan cook­ing demon­stra­tions.

Some­one in­tro­duced me

to this ten­nis agent, Jeff Schwartz, who worked at [tal­ent agency] IMG. He rep­re­sented Pete Sam­pras and Martina Hingis, and I in­ter­viewed to be his as­sis­tant. I was ob­sessed with get­ting that job, and I was ag­gres­sive about get­ting it. I hand-de­liv­ered a thank-you note the next day. I stayed with Jeff for 19 years, even­tu­ally be­com­ing the chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer of Ex­cel Sports, the agency we built to­gether.

In the sports world,

es­pe­cially back then, there weren’t a lot of women in de­ci­sion-mak­ing po­si­tions. I cre­ated the roles I had for my­self, find­ing the

in­ter­sec­tion of man­age­ment and mar­ket­ing. There were a lot of chal­lenges in a re­ally male en­vi­ron­ment: Ev­ery­one thought I was the as­sis­tant, all the time, un­less some­one made a spe­cific point to in­tro­duce me with a ti­tle. My ti­tle was so im­por­tant, be­cause if I walked in some­where with an ath­lete, people would as­sume I was part of their en­tourage.

Es­pe­cially early

in my ca­reer, a lot of wives and girl­friends didn’t want me in­volved with the play­ers. It was a chal­lenge I didn’t ex­pect. I re­mem­ber a cou­ple of spe­cific in­stances where I had a meet­ing with an ath­lete and his girl­friend and pitched an in­cred­i­ble cam­paign and thought it went so well, and then af­ter­ward I was told she didn’t want me do­ing any­thing with them.

I al­ways felt

I had to prove my­self, and go above and be­yond to make sure I was in­dis­pens­able. But as a re­sult, there was never any bal­ance for per­sonal life. I felt like if I wasn’t there, or I wasn’t needed, things would go wrong.

As a CMO,

I saw a need for a plat­form for ath­letes to be able to have a voice and share sto­ries in an au­then­tic way. Derek, hav­ing worked in one of the coun­try’s big­gest me­dia mar­kets, saw it too. We felt that trust has eroded be­tween play­ers and re­porters, be­cause so many ar­ti­cles are head­line-driven these days, and a lot of ath­letes I worked with were wary of shar­ing their sto­ries with news out­lets.

I was ready for

some­thing new, and Derek was start­ing a new chap­ter. It felt like the right op­por­tu­nity for us to launch a com­pany on the heels of his re­tire­ment. We met with a bunch of VCs, and all of them said: “So, you’re telling me that you’re build­ing a com­pany that’s 100 per­cent re­liant on ath­lete con­tri­bu­tions? Good luck with that.” But then Derek in­tro­duced me to Thomas Tull, who was the chair- man of Leg­endary En­ter­tain­ment, and he got the con­cept right away, be­cause he loves sports and he knew about con­tent. He was our first in­vestor.

We launched the day

af­ter Derek’s last game. Ev­ery day, we pub­lished a new story: Rus­sell Wil­son wrote about do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, Blake Grif­fin wrote about work­ing for a racist boss, the next week Dan­ica Pa­trick wrote about dat­ing a fel­low Nas­car driver. The more sto­ries we told, the more ath­letes wanted to share their sto­ries.

I re­cently

moved to L.A. to build out the pro­duc­tion side of the com­pany. Right now, we want to be di­ver­si­fy­ing the way we tell ath­letes’ sto­ries. We’re look­ing at de­vel­op­ing scripted or un­scripted video and au­dio con­tent. Our rev­enue growth was 30 per­cent in 2017, and we’re go­ing to end 2018 with any­where from 105 to 135 per­cent growth.

I’ve learned so much

in the past four years about fe­male ath­letes. Some of the prob­lems that ex­ist for them stem from the fact that they don’t have as much vis­i­bil­ity. I want to tell those sto­ries: If you’re con­nect­ing to these play­ers, more people are go­ing to want to watch them. If more people watch them, their salaries will get higher.

Be­ing in­clu­sive

and be­ing di­verse is a huge pri­or­ity for the plat­form in gen­eral. It’s a chal­lenge, be­cause when you’re grow­ing—we started with 30 em­ploy­ees and now have more than 100—you feel a sense of ur­gency to hire cer­tain po­si­tions, but you want to be thought­ful about whom you hire. Now, I try to be a men­tor to other women: We al­ways say, “How do we send the el­e­va­tor down?”

I think there

are a lot more women now in de­ci­sion-mak­ing roles in sports. You’re even see­ing more women on the field, like Becky Ham­mon, who’s on the bench with the Spurs, and then the Mav­er­icks just hired their first fe­male as­sis­tant coach, Jenny Boucek.

Very early on

in my ca­reer, I rep­re­sented a ten­nis player who would only wear Adi­das on the court, even though she was signed to an­other shoe brand. The night be­fore Wim­ble­don, I had to get a pair of Adi­das shoes couri­ered to me and lit­er­ally paint over the Adi­das stripes so no one could tell. The young fe­male as­sis­tant who sent me the shoes went on to be­come the head of a sports league, and we’re good friends now. Some­times, we get to­gether and we just laugh. I mean, look where we came from!

Early in my ca­reer, a lot of wives and girl­friends didn’t want me in­volved with the play­ers. It was a chal­lenge I didn’t ex­pect.

THE NEW ALL-STARS “There are a lot more women now in de­ci­sion-mak­ing roles in sports,” Messler says. “You’re even see­ing more of them on the field, like Becky Ham­mon, who’s on the bench with the Spurs, and the Mav­er­icks just hired their first fe­male as­sis­tant coach, Jenny Boucek.”

Field­ing A New Part­ner­ship “She had the courage and con­fi­dence to leave a notable and es­tab­lished job to pur­sue an idea she was deeply pas­sion­ate about,” says Jeter of Messler, his busi­ness part­ner. “She was will­ing to take that leap of faith.”

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