This week I interviewed Brandon Steiner, speaker, author and founder and CEO of Steiner Sports. Brandon revolutionized the sports memorabilia and collecting industry. He was kind enough to share his thoughts on his career, sports and how to be successful.
Josh Wahler: You’ve done an amazing job of really building a brand for yourself and becoming an icon in the sports marketing and memorabilia world. A lot of people are involved in those industries, what do you feel sets you apart from everyone else and allows you to be so successful?
Brandon Seiner: Well, it’s a great question and a complicated one. It’s one of the reasons I wrote the second book, You Gotta Have Balls, which outlines everything that’s happened over almost 50 years. I think anyone who tells you they had success because of something they did over a very short period of time, they’re not telling you the whole story. For me, a lot of my success that I was able to have started when I was a kid, when I was ten, eleven, twelve years old. Some basic principles if you want to be successful, whether it be in relationships, with your family, your wife and husband or relationships with your clients or employees you need to know how to communicate and not all communication is equal. I think that’s a mistake that a lot of the time leaders or sometimes younger people make. They could be good communicators but you need to be a good communicator on a lot of different mediums. Texting is great, emailing is great, faxing, personal notes, phone calls. I mean you’ve gotta be able to do it all these days if you’re gonna be successful in different areas of your life. I think it’s really important that you’re trying different forms of communication and that you’re consistent with your communication. It’s one of the biggest complaints people have in a relationship that fails or a business that fails, that they didn’t feel included, they didn’t feel like they were involved. You need to be a great communicator and you need to use all the mediums of communication because they’re not all equal and they don’t all work all the time with different people.
JW: You’ve been doing this for a long time now, but earlier in your career was there ever a time you were star struck working with a particular athlete?
BS: Of course! I’ve been doing this for over 30 years at Steiner. I’m still star struck. I think in order to do what I do, you have to be excited to be in the company of someone who’s incredibly great or extraordinary at what they do. If you’re not start struck when you meet someone who’s extraordinary than you should be going down a different path. I’m still in awe when I see an amazing lawyer or I’m in the company of an amazing doctor. It’s not just awe struck that I’m with a famous celebrity or athlete, I think I enjoy that and with a lot of athletes still having met them many times still enjoy it or am still awe struck about it because I need to maintain that feeling in order to do what I’m doing. I can’t go sell that celebrityism without it being authentic and real. I really try to maintain the innocence of it and still like to be just as excited about being with a particular player or celebrity as I was the first time I was with them. It’s not as easy after 30 years to be honest with you, but it is something I work on and try to maintain. I think when it stops I’m gonna go home and pack it up because it’s kind of one of the more fun parts of what I do and I don’t want to lose that part of it. I am in the business part of it so it’s not all wow, wow, wow and take a photo and meet a player, but I try to maintain a certain part that’s exciting. I am trying to extract out what the average fan is trying to extract from that athlete or celebrity and if I lose that part of it then it comes out in the product.
JW: That’s a great answer I think a lot of people lose sight of that or act like they’ve been there done that.
BS: Yeah I mean, I tell all my people, don’t get it confused. No matter how many times you meet these guys they’re not gonna be your best friend. They have a lot of people being thrown at them, but you can still be excited. I mean why not?
JW: Switching over to baseball. Why do you think the MLB doesn’t really have a face of the sport the way the other major North American sports do. The NHL has Crosby, the NFL has Brady, the NBA has LeBron that you instantly think of when you think of those leagues. The MLB has huge superstars with guys like Trout and Kershaw but it doesn’t really feel like they have a face the way the other leagues do.
BS: I know that what you just said is true, although I don’t agree with it. I think that when you add up all the grains of sand you get the beach and it’s a really good beach with baseball. I think that baseball is an incredibly strong local and regional sport. I mean you’re talking about a team that plays 162 games compared to other sports that have 82 and in some cases 16. I think when you add up all those grains it’s unbelievable, the following and support that a baseball team gets compared to other teams in other leagues in other sports. I think it’s really hard to maintain. I think people have learned through the steroids and everything else that it’s really hard to be a great baseball player, a true legendary, great baseball player is not easy. The wear, the tear, the amount of game with how hard it is to play that sport. I think people come to the realization, yeah you can do it for a few years, but doing it for any length of time, that consistency over time in the sport of baseball is not easy. There’s less mega stars in that sport, but there are still a lot of extremely good players. It’s just hard to separate out because the way we analyze baseball players is really bad. It’s can you throw 100 miles per hour and can you hit a homerun. I mean nobody really gives you props for moving men over, doing the little things, being a great defensive player, having speed around the bases. In other sports, in basketball if you’re a good defender you get some real props, if you’re big assist player you get props, if you’re a great rebounder you get props. There are different measures in the other sports like football but in baseball it seems like we’re so clamped down on the strikeouts and so clamped down on the home runs. You don’t control your destiny in baseball the way you do in other sports. You can sit out in right field in the biggest series and not have a ball hit to you four games in a row. How do you show off your skills? You just don’t get up to bat in a big situation. In basketball you can give your best player the ball, in football you can throw your best player the ball, your best player can have an impact. In baseball you have to be a little lucky to be impactful in a big game, it’s not always something that can happen. You may get up and there’s nobody on base and two outs. What can you do? So I think the sport is a little different but I do believe baseball is in very good shape. You just can’t compare the sports unless you want to look at the totals. If you look at the total attendance for baseball versus total attendance for other sports, more people go to baseball than any other sport, more people watch baseball than any other sport. When you add up local and national games, you add up a 7 game World Series, just as many people are watching that as the Super Bowl almost. Do the numbers, add them up. When you add up all the playoffs games of baseball and all the playoff games of football it’s very close.
JW: Looking back at you your career so far, is there any moment or accomplishment that really stands out as special or a major highlight?
BS: I mean there’s so many. Certainly signing Phil Rizzuto was one of my first big breaks, with him going into the hall of fame. Doing my deal with Yankee Steiner and Notre Dame Steiner. Those two team partnerships changed the way teams in the league viewed collecting and dealt with collectibles so I’m very grateful. I think it’s one thing to do well in an industry it’s another thing to actually develop it and change it. I think those are the two things that I’m really proud of because they involved licensing, they involved autographs, they involved game used, they touched everything and you went to the biggest teams in all of sports and got them on board to support and push something that was really just a hobby and helped make it into a real industry.
JW: What advice would you give to young people who are passionate about sports and interested in working in a similar industry?
BS: I’d tell them, listen just because you’re interested in something doesn’t mean you’re going to be good at it from a business standpoint. I think it’s important to have interests, but I think it’s more important to have a purpose and an understanding if you want to make a living at something. Go deeper than just being interested in something or liking something. Understanding something and having a purpose about something you really want to get involved with will lead you to a commitment and then lead you to a really serious passion about something. I think younger people get kind of confused about passion and commitment and they bypass the understanding of what it really takes to be successful in a particular industry. I tell young people get more caught up in understanding what’s required, what it really takes to win at something you really like. You want to be an NBA player? Understand what it takes to be an NBA player, what’s involved, the ups and downs, the risks, the works that’s involved. You want to be a lawyer? Understand the work that’s involved, 4 years of law school, a certain GPA, what’s it like the first couple of years after law school, what the options are. Get a full understanding along with the ‘like’ and then talk to me about passion and commitment. Don’t bypass the understanding and purpose of something you like because a lot of kids misunderstand that and then all of a sudden they find themselves in college, lost. They just completely misread something they thought they liked but they really don’t understand the other side of it. No matter how flat a pancake is it has two sides. Everything always has another side to it that you’re not thinking about. Good, bad and indifferent, just because you like something doesn’t mean you covered both sides of that pancake and you should. Whatever business I was gonna get into I wanted to change that business, I wanted that business to be better when I left it than when I found it and I wanted to be the best that there was in the industry I was in. It meant something to me. Not only to be really good at it and successful at it and make money, but I wanted to be the best at what I was doing. I always look at the people that are doing what I’m doing and make sure I’m keeping that measuring stick alive. Whatever they’re doing I want to do a little better and do a little more, I want to take it a little bit further. With that comes some sacrifices and I’m not saying that’s for everybody, there’s some risk because it doesn’t always work out but hey, I’m only here for a short time and I want to make sure I was the best at what I did and when I leave they say “whoa that guy was good, he really changed things, he was a disrupter”. It’s important to me and I’m not saying everyone should think that way, but that’s my messages to kids, if you’re going to get into something disrupt it man, lose the status quo, don’t worry about what everybody else did or is doing, look at who’s doing it and doing it the best and make sure you want to beat them and whatever it takes to beat them you’re gonna do it and you understand what’s required. Put that in whatever you’re drinking later on and drink it because it’s true. From the bottom of my heart that’s the most truth that I can give you.