Alumni Spotlight: Brandon Rhodes
Interview conducted by Ethan Hill
March 27, 2023
In 2013, Brandon Rhodes graduated from the University of Michigan with Bachelor’s Degrees in Sport Management and Marketing. During his time at UM, he was a SBA member and co-founded the Michigan Sport Business Conference. After graduating, he began his journey in the sport industry, working for PepsiCo and Gatorade for five years. After moving to Overtime in 2018, he’s recently become the general manager of OTX, Overtime’s new boxing property set to debut this summer.
Which steps in the earlier stages of your career were most beneficial towards your later endeavors?
There are a handful of elements that I would attribute my career to. I always knew I wanted to be in sports and originally I wanted to be a sports agent. That's what drew me to the University of Michigan, as I knew about the Sport Management program. Attending UM completely changed my life overall and when I was a student there, I started to learn more about the industry and the marketing side of sports both through internships and classes.
As a member of SBA, it became very clear to me that networking and internships were two vital pillars for establishing a career in the industry. Those realizations led to me co-founding the Michigan Sport Business Conference, which became the most impactful accomplishment for my career at that time. Establishing the conference entailed pitching the concept to the Dean, athletic department, sponsors, and eventually speakers. Gaining enough sponsorship to make the tickets successful to students, selling out the auditorium in the business school, and being able to speak to the obstacles we had to overcome taught me a ton of lessons. I carried those learnings with me through everything else that I've done in my career.
I earned an internship at Gatorade during the summer of my Junior year. I was able to obtain that position through the PepsiCo interview process at the business school. While interviewing, I described connections made through MSBC and emphasized the story about starting MSBC. Having that experience played a crucial role in securing that internship, which ultimately led to a full-time job at Gatorade. Starting MSBC and my Gatorade internship experience are the two biggest things that I would attribute my later accomplishments to.
What did you learn over the course of your experience at PepsiCo (Gatorade)?
The number one thing that comes to mind is empathy for the consumer. For example, at Gatorade we were targeting teenage competitive athletes and of course, most people who were working there were athletes. But at the end of the day, none of us were the teen competitive athlete we were marketing towards.
It was very easy to fall into the trick of assuming our target audience’s interests, but it was necessary to put ourselves in the shoes of the average teen athlete. This included working with the insights team, talking to athletes, going into locker rooms, and truly understanding the media consumption habits of our target audience. These inquiries allowed us to create things that genuinely resonated with teenage athletes. Truly knowing and understanding the customer was the number one concern being at a brand oriented business.
What factors led to you joining Overtime and how was the transition from PepsiCo to Overtime?
I’ve always had an undying entrepreneurial spirit. I had a hunger for experiences like starting MSBC and embracing the challenge of building from the ground up. I was doing very well at PepsiCo and Gatorade. I loved it there and I loved all the people I was working with. Despite this, I knew that I had to scratch the entrepreneurial itch or I’d regret it down the line.
At that stage of my career, I'd learned a lot at PepsiCo and I felt that I could bring value to an early stage company. When Overtime surfaced, it was perfect timing. At the time, I was working on a project with Twitter, where we were creating a broadcast for high school basketball games. The goal was to broadcast highly anticipated matchups featuring popular high school players, and I brought on Overtime as a small additional piece to that deal with Twitter. That's when I realized their social voice was incredible and their engagement was off the charts. That gave me a sense of the passion behind the Overtime brand. More specifically, the passion from the community that followed them.
I met Zack Weiner and Dan Porter, the co-founders of Overtime. They were very ambitious and I could tell they were moving at a different speed. I had my final interview with Dan and Zack and realized that the vision was much bigger than simply becoming a media company. It was a much broader brand vision that has now extended to apparel, a variety of sports events, verticals expanding internationally, and leagues for young talent. I left that final interview feeling very inspired. I felt that I had to join Overtime because it was an opportunity to do something completely different and utilize my entrepreneurial skill set.
The biggest difference I noticed at first was how scrappy you need to be. We had less than 20 people working. Of course, at Gatorade, any project that you lead or work on has a cross-functional team. It has experts on that team that you can lean on or agencies that support you. You’re the orchestrator of the project. At Overtime, when I was leading a project or working on something our small internal team had to do it all. Of course you have the content team and the sales team, but every small element in detail, someone has to do it. There's no agency you can pass it off to. That was the biggest difference in the beginning and I believe I'm a better business person because of it. It was a deeper level of integration and learning that I had to have.
The platform’s demand is what the audience demands. The internet never stops. Currently we're posting 10 to 15 times every day, per social media platform. On TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and even YouTube shorts. It's a lot of content.
Very recently, OTX was unveiled as Overtime’s boxing property for young prospects of the sport. What will OTX entail and how did it come to fruition?
OTX is a boxing property that will focus on the up-and-coming pro fighter space and give prospects an opportunity for storytelling and content on a daily basis. OTX will also provide these young stars with big stage fights in OTE Arena, a massive upgrade from the type of locations that these young fighters would normally fight in. We're thrilled about empowering these young boxers and the content opportunities, not just for the fighters we work with, but all of boxing in general. The main goal of OTX is not to compete or take over, but to be additive to the sport.
When we Launched OTE (Overtime’s basketball league), we saw some early successes that encouraged us to venture into other sports. As we began searching for other opportunities, there were plenty of hints. We launched OT7 football and then as the pandemic hit, boxing started to become a very popular sport amongst Gen Z.
We started seeing the trend that boxing content was performing well on our channels. Additionally, some internal and external data said that boxing had climbed to Gen Z's fourth most popular sport behind football, basketball, and soccer. We found that more than eight out of ten Overtime fans are boxing fans, which was very staggering.
As we started to map the industry and learn more from the fighters, the managers, and the promoters themselves, we found an opportunity to empower young boxers. I constantly heard that young fighters are having to finance their career. Many young prospects need to get second jobs, fly to different countries to build their records, or even pay promoters for spots on fight cards. We decided to challenge that narrative, just like we had previously in basketball, football, and other sports. We wanted to give these young fighters a platform to shine from a content perspective, while empowering them economically.
As a talented amateur boxer in your own right, what have you learned about the sport and yourself since indulging in competitive bouts and training at a professional standard?
My presence in the boxing gym for hundreds and hundreds of hours over the past couple years has formed a lot of the strategy for OTX because it directly correlates with young teenagers who are aspiring professionals. I gained a lot of knowledge even through sparring with young pros and exploring what they endure on their boxing journey. There's nothing like boxing. It's very serious training. A common term that you hear in the gym is “you don’t play boxing.” You play football, you play basketball, but you don't play boxing.
For me, it's just added to my overall discipline and my approach to business in terms of having an intensive regiment that I follow. It's also allowed me to be more efficient in my daily life and helped me to stay focused on my goals. Boxing is certainly giving me more opportunities to overcome and achieve.
Lastly, there is nothing like getting a black eye every now and then.