Friday, June 19, 2009

What is Access Athletes?? Matt Allinson Interview

Below is an iterview by Susan Zaro with Matt Allinson, CEO of AccessAthletes.

Interview with Matthew Allinson-Founder and

Access Athletes is a social and professional platform for athletes and the sports community.
Access Athletes offers its members - athletes, (high school, college, and professional) sports professionals, the media, business, and sports fans - valuable tools, information and networking opportunities. Most notably, Access Athletes features "The Real Athlete Blog," which is an exclusive informational source dedicated to athletes. "The Real Athlete Blog" provides articles from qualified sports industry professionals about an athlete's performance, everyday life, and post-athletic career.

SZ: Matthew your academic history includes, Penn State U. with a double major in Labor Studies and Industrial Relations and Psychology; a Fulbright Scholarship in Jamaica; and Ohio State U., Moritz College of Law where you obtained your J.D. with a concentration in Labor, Intellectual Property and Sports Entertainment Law. Where along the line were you inspired to create Access Athletes and what was your inspiration?

Matt: Since middle school, I had aspired to become a sports agent. When I was growing up, my Dad and I would discuss all the latest news from the sports section of The Baltimore Sun. Often the conversation would center on the legal woes and poor decisions made by many athletes. I could never understand how someone who had everything going for them could throw it all away in a heartbeat. As a competitive athlete, I not only wanted to start helping athletes, but also felt that I had a duty to do so. So, I came up with a plan to attend law school and eventually become a sports agent. This way, I would have the necessary background to counsel athletes on how to avoid certain pitfalls and assist them in developing successful careers.

Along the way, I worked for the NFL Players Association and a few well-known sports agents. It seems as though I was on the fast-track to becoming an agent until my last year of law school. In the spring of 2007, I was at the gym working out with a buddy and the idea to create a website for athletes came to me. After collaborating with my business partner at the time, we decided to file for an LLC and then launch a website, The website was developed while I was studying for the bar exam that summer. I would not recommend that anyone undertake such an ambitious endeavor (especially since my girlfriend almost broke up with me). Looking back, it was definitely not a well-planned decision on my part, but I have no regrets and I'm thankful for my naivety at the time and the ability to bear down to get the job done.

In the fall of 2007, Access Athletes was officially launched. I ended up putting my goal of becoming an agent on hold to pursue my new venture, as well as gain invaluable experience working as a full-time labor attorney with a major entertainment union in Washington, D.C.

Access Athletes has afforded me the opportunity to establish my own niche in the sports industry as a trusted athlete educator. Every day, I am able to live out my dream of assisting athletes with their athletic careers, whether it involves the college recruiting process, referring them to sports professionals and specialists, or simply helping them navigate through personal matters. It is a very fulfilling experience, especially since I am doing what I love to do. This is my passion and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

SZ: In what unique ways is your audience able to utilize and benefit from the social/professional platform that is provided on this website?

Matt: As it stands right now, Access Athletes is unique in that it caters to athletes of all levels-high school, college, and professional-and provides them with access to top-notch educational resources and all the major players in the sports industry that they need to interact with to forge a balanced career.

The existing networking framework allows our members to create a profile that displays their vital information and establish relationships with various individuals in the sports industry to advance their careers. Our featured members must go through a verification process to validate their identities before they are given access to the community. This way, our members can be assured that they will have a legitimate networking experience with credible individuals. The networking platform was also designed to be NCAA-compliant and afford all the high school and collegiate athlete members who use our service a safe networking experience.

As a complement to the social and professional networking platform, "The Real Athlete Blog" (Real Content for Real Athletes), serves as the website's exclusive educational resource. The blog was created to assist athletes by providing them guidance, information, and access to services to improve their athletic performances and lives. One way we accomplish this is by doing the "Athlete Chat" series," in which we conduct interviews with a wide-range of athletes and ask them questions that shed light on an athlete's career. We utilize the insight of athletes and their experiences to educate other athletes on topics that are relevant to having a successful career, anything from being recruited to moving overseas to play professional ball. We have several other popular columns that cater to athletes, including, The Athlete Weekly Rundown, Sports Business Review, and Trusted Athlete Educator. We also cover sports professionals in our Interview with a Sports Professional series. At the end of the day, we live up to our mantra of "Access is Key" and offer exclusive content from top athletes and qualified sports professionals that you can't find anywhere else on the web.

* Note: Access Athletes provided an exclusive interview with Calvin Borel, the Kentucky Derby winning jockey, days after his victory ride on Mine That Bird.

SZ: Are athletes, coaches etc. able to request specific topical information? If so, are you finding surprises as to the topics that are being requested? What are some of the unique topics asked about? Not "x" but pg." :-)

Matt: It's funny that you asked this question. I usually receive questions from athletes and sports professionals via e-mail on a whole host of topics. We just recently launched two new features on "The Real Athlete Blog" that allow people to request information in a more organized fashion. The first one-"Ask Access Athletes" - allows a blog visitor to pose any question that they would like answered about the sports industry. When we receive an inquiry, we will research it and get back to you as soon as we can.

The second feature is called, "Ask the Expert." I'm very excited about this new program. It will feature qualified experts from the sports industry who will answer questions from our readers. All the reader needs to do is to submit a question in the form provided on the "Ask the Expert" section whenever an expert is on the "hot seat" fielding questions. At the end of the week, we will post the questions and answers in the "Ask the Expert" column. This feature will further solidify the educational focus of the site and offer athletes and other readers a chance to pick the brains of the experts.

To answer your question though, I wouldn't say I'm ever surprised about the topics that are requested. They really run the gamut from information about camps, to NCAA eligibility and compliance, to assistance with the agent selection process. There is no rhyme or reason. I have received a myriad of questions from athletes at all different levels pertaining to both on and off-the-field topics.

Recently, one former professional athlete asked me questions pertaining to producing a documentary, generating buzz, and securing a distribution deal. I also had a top prep athlete ask me to help him with his search to transfer to another prep school. Admittedly, this request has taken a great deal of research and our main interest is assisting the athlete in finding a school where he can thrive both academically and athletically.

SZ: How do you envision Access Athletes expanding its offerings in the future?

Matt: In the near future, we will be launching a community application that will take the social networking platform to the next level. This application will be the crux of our business model and will lay the foundation for the website to eventually become a full-service platform. We will also be opening an educational arm of the website that will offer athletes abundant resources, seminars, and other career-enriching opportunities. This will further reinforce our role as the trusted athlete educator, building upon the tremendous success we have experienced with "The Real Athlete Blog" as an educational tool. Without giving away too much more, we will also launch a consulting wing that will specialize in assisting athletes and other members of the sports industry with their business ventures. Stay tuned for some hot new features and applications just around the corner!

SZ: What are the fun, frivolous elements for your audience interacting through Access Athletes?

Matt: Networking with individuals who share similar interests is naturally a fun activity, especially when they can help contribute to advancing your career. In terms of specific features, the frivolous elements include messaging other members, creating discussions by commenting on the blogs, or just showcasing your accomplishments for more exposure with the major players in the sports industry, whether it is other athletes or sports professionals.

SZ: Do you have any favorite motivational stories, tips or quotes that guide you?

Matt: I have always read a ton of motivational books and compiled new inspirational quotes to keep me heading in a positive direction as I make my ascent to the top of the sports industry.

There is one particular story that stands out as my most motivational moment to date. During my freshman year at Penn State, I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear the legendary Joe Paterno speak and meet him afterward. I was so inspired by his speech that I wrote down a list of quotes from the speech when I got home, making sure that I reproduced them verbatim. Since JoePa's speech, I have always kept this list of memorable quotes up on my wall and it has served as extra motivation to keep pushing myself to new levels. I will leave you with my favorite quote uttered by JoePa that night. It embodies the spirit of Access Athletes and everything I have accomplished up until this point and plan to accomplish in the near future. "If you never have the courage to try, you won't succeed. You have to have confidence. 'I will do this.'

Matt- thank you for taking the time for this interview. You are well on your way to creating a significant niche in the sports world!

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