‘Up to 50% of pro-athletes go bankrupt or suffer financial hardship in the 5 years post-retirement – and I wanted to change that’

Interview | Sport
Louis Saha and Kate Hamer from AxisStars
Louis Saha and Kate Hamer from AxisStars

Business Leader recently spoke to Premier League icon Louis Saha and ex-L’Oreal and Unilever digital marketing consultant Kate Hamer about their company – AxisStars. The firm has a platform that provides a safe environment where sports stars and entertainers are offered business advice and education, as well as providing fully-vetted services and opportunities directly.

Why did you set up AxisStars in the first place?

Louis: As I came towards the end of my career and started to write my book, I realised that things that I thought had only happened to me, were a really common occurrence not just in football but across sports and entertainment. Pro-athletes and entertainers are encouraged to focus on their talent and hand over control of everything else to advisers. Best case scenario, you have good advisers, but you can still find yourself alone at retirement and you haven’t learnt the right questions to ask or things to do to take over management of all those decisions for yourself. Worst case scenario, you get the wrong advisers and you end up having to rectify those mistakes still in the peak of your career. Up to 50% of pro-athletes go bankrupt or suffer financial hardship in the 5 years post retirement and I wanted to change that. By creating a safe ecosystem, it enables talent to learn and inform themselves throughout their career, as well as building a strong network of peers across the industries.

Kate: I was instantly inspired by Louis’ vision for AxisStars when I read an interview he did in the Guardian. I could see that not only would it help a wide range of talent, but it would also solve some problems and overcome obstacles that brands and businesses often come up against. Having spent my career in marketing consumer brands, I knew that influencers were a big opportunity to get your message out to your audience but so often the options were ‘career-influencers’ who are almost like a form of paid media. Being able to get in touch with sports or entertainment stars is much harder but they offer a great opportunity for longer term partnerships

What have you (Louis) learnt about the business world through your work with AxisStars?

I’ve learnt that it is so, so important to partner with quality people that understand your vision, especially when it’s ambitious. Too many were coming because they wanted to use my name but not really there to help. So definitely you need to have skills to pick the right team. There is an enormous need of perseverance and confidence because you will have to be more patient than you thought. So definitely learn how to plan things more with proper strategies and less personal emotion involved in decision or action. The last and most important is I love what I do so I learnt that I love just the idea of helping improving things.

What are your ultimate goals for the platform – nationally and globally?

Our ultimate goals are to reduce the number of pro-athletes and entertainers suffering from financial or personal problems post retirement. On a broader scale we also know that by enabling talent to build the right team around them, they will be far more confident to use their platform to speak out about issues that matter to them. Just look at what Marcus Rashford has achieved. There are plenty of others who would like to do the same but they know that without the right support, they put their careers and livelihoods at risk. We truly believe that it is entrepreneurs and stars with influence who have the biggest potential to make a positive difference in the world.

Our growth plans are to focus on the UK and Europe to build out the Community initially, then expanding to the US. We know that there is demand for the platform worldwide and creating links between pro-athletes and entertainers globally will only serve to make their network stronger.

Why do athletes make good influencers?

We talk about career influencers – who have decided to be an influencer as their job – and star influencers. There is absolutely a place for career influencers but they have become more like a form of paid media. Their followers watch them like a soap opera but they are aware that they are being paid to advertise all the time.

Star influencers can offer a longer-term partnership and a deeper engagement for brands. They have a following for their day job and this gives brands an opportunity to find talent they can work with that has a real synergy with the brand and its values. They can also add legitimacy to products if they are using them regularly in their work for example.

Why have you chosen OpenSponsorship in particular for a partnership – why are you a good fit?

We’ve been speaking with Ishveen for a while now and we really like the way she works. OpenSponsorship and AxisStars have the same values and approach in terms of wanting to bring transparency and ease to the industry. They have proven success in the US and so when they said they were launching into the UK and Europe, it was the obvious thing to partner.

Why is it more beneficial for brands to go direct to athlete-influencers?

Many athletes only have an agent for their professional contracts and so they don’t necessarily have anyone looking for additional commercial deals for them. When brands go to agents, they may not have the time or the experience to be able to progress. By going direct to the talent in the app, the brand can at least find out if they are interested – often the talent won’t even be told that a brand approached them if the agent is not interested in progressing the deal.

We are soon launching agent access for AxisStars too so that our star members could had over deals they are interested in to be negotiated by their representative. As part of this we will be supporting agents and helping them to inform themselves more about brand deals.

How important is this as an income stream for athlete-influencers?

The career of a pro-athlete can be extremely short – especially if they get a bad injury. So, it is super important for them to be as financially prepared for the future as they possible can be. Generating extra income whilst playing not only gives them more to save or invest but it also helps establish their personal brand outside of their sport which can help them to transition into whatever they want to do post retirement.

Tell me a bit about women in sport and why this helps them in particular.

Women’s sport gets far less investment than men’s sport does. There are some great initiatives to support it but often they are separate to men’s sport. AxisStars is created for all athletes and by having them all in one community together, they can benefit from strength in numbers. Our female athletes get access to all the same services that that our male ones do – they see relevant offers for their interests and other criteria that they select on their profile.

It means that some brands who may not have considered working with women’s sport, will be exposed to female athletes as well as male and can start to test some campaigns with them all under the same roof.

Even just for product seeding, a lot of brands don’t know how to contact female athletes but in AxisStars it is super easy and you can actually get much better engagement, despite their lower follower numbers on social media, because they are more proactive when they do manage to get partnerships and sponsor deals.

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