Meet the Brothers Helping Athletes like Travis Kelce Succeed Outside the Arena
Two brothers are celebrating 10 years as the owners of their Cleveland-based sports and entertainment agency, A&A Management Group.
Aaron and André Eanes have a roster of football players that includes Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl Champion tight end, Travis Kelce; Cleveland Browns All-Pro cornerback, Denzel Ward; Cleveland Browns wide receiver, Donovan Peoples-Jones; and 2022 Rising All-Star and Second Team All-Rookie NBA breakout, Bones Hyland, to name a few.
The agency finds deals for its clients and helps them build their legacies in and out of the arena. Tailoring their clients’ individual goals, the brothers also help athletes take advantage of their name, image, and likeness (NIL).
BLACK ENTERPRISE spoke to the Eanes brothers about why they feel that sponsorships, endorsements, and brand partnerships should be a source of income for athletes, how they set clients up for the right deals, and why some athletes go broke after their playing careers end.
What inspired you to start A&A Management Group, and what overall goals do you have for the company?
André: Growing up, I loved the game of basketball. I always wanted to be in the NBA. When I got to high school, I stopped growing and everyone that I was used to playing with grew to be 6 feet or taller while I remained 5’10. I went from being one of the top players in the state to quickly being barely average. But I was a worker and did what needed to be done to help my team win. That is what ultimately led me to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life. One thing I learned from basketball was that my true passions are working in a team atmosphere, connecting with people, and doing whatever I can to add value to a team.
Aaron and I started A&A Management Group during our junior year of college and [I] graduated with a degree in Sports Administration from the University of Cincinnati.
One of the main goals I have for A&A Management Group is to build brand awareness. We are doing some great things for our clients — not only for their brands but for their communities as well. We have spent the past 10 years establishing all the right relationships and building out all the right infrastructure to ensure that we can manage our clients in the most effective way possible. My goal is to continue to show that not only to our [current] clients but also to potential clients down the road; and really change the landscape when it comes to full-service management in sports.
Aaron: The desire to help athletes avoid running out of money after they retire was a big inspiration for me starting A&A Management Group. In 2011, there were not any independent sports management firms for athletes — to my knowledge. The concept of a manager in sports was not as common as it was in music. Athletes were losing opportunities by not having a company exclusively focused on their brands, communicating their brands to a broader market, and positioning them for future opportunities. Our overall goal is to ensure financial security for our clients so that they can sustain the lifestyle they were able to create for themselves as pro athletes, even after they retire.
How do you obtain deals, sponsorships, and collaborations for your clients? How do you decide which companies would be an excellent fit for your roster of athletes?
André: To obtain deals for our clients we like to meet them where they are at. Meaning the first thing we like to do is understand what [our] clients are passionate about. We do not take a cookie-cutter approach to managing our clients. Every client is different, and our job is to take their passions and turn them into real, tangible things.
There are several factors to look at when considering which companies to partner with. One of the most important of those is brand alignment. It is extremely important to make sure that the brands and companies our clients partner with are on brand for the message they are trying to send and the story they are trying to tell.
Aaron: Everything we do centers around the passions and interests of the client. Once we understand our client’s interests, we find brands that align with them. Besides communicating to the broader public more about our clients, brand partnerships can also show off our clients’ passions. Customers are savvy and can tell if brand alignment is not there with sponsorships, so finding the right fit is important to keep the brand deals authentic.
Why do you feel that sponsorships, endorsement deals, and brand partnerships should be a major source of income for athletes?
André: During your playing years, it is most important to build the life that you want to have after you are done playing. A big part of that is off-setting your expenses with off-field sponsorships, endorsements, and brand partnerships. Being able to generate income off the field and invest/save your contract money is a huge benefit in the long run and gives you the ability to plan for life after sports.
Remember, a lot of athletes can generate more money off the field/court in one year than a person can make in their entire working career. It all comes down to having a plan and a strategy and making moves during your playing career to reach that end goal.
Aaron: I do not fully agree with that statement. I would rephrase it to sponsorships, endorsement deals, and brand partnerships should be a significant source of an athlete’s income if they want it to be
Today, unlike 10 years ago, athletes have many ways to monetize their platforms. You see great examples of athletes who are not as successful on the playing field but are highly successful in media or digital platforms as influencers. Some elite athletes do not necessarily care about doing the work required to secure endorsement deals because of the level of wealth they can create [just] from being an elite athlete.
The NBA is a prime example. Most guys in the NBA do not have a lot of endorsement deals because there just are not enough brands that can pay the money required to make most of the guys excited to partner with them. In the NFL, you see a lot more players doing deals simply because their contracts are not as high, especially when they are on their rookie deals. It ultimately depends on the athlete, but the ones willing to put in the work can surpass their on-field earnings and set themselves up for long-term financial success.
A lot of athletes go into bankruptcy after their playing careers are over. Why do you think this is, and how can they avoid that pitfall?
André: I think it has something to do with the amount of money that professional athletes make in such a short amount of time. In a normal job, typically, your pay increases as your career builds, and those careers can last for almost 30 years if not more. As an athlete, you are playing for a decade if you are lucky. So going from making $10 million per year to $100,000 in retirement is a very hard change to make if you do not plan for it. We work with our clients closely to ensure that the plan we have for them to make money outside of sports is on par with the long-term investment strategy that they have for the money that they are making while they are playing.
To avoid any pitfalls, build a strong team around you that you can trust and that helps you understand the “why.” You must know and understand everything that is going on in your orbit to achieve maximum success. I use sports as an example. No matter what position you play, there is a playbook that teams stand by. To win, you must not only understand your responsibility for any given play, but you must also understand where your teammates will be on that play as well. It is no different building your business outside of sports.
Aaron: I have thought a lot about this question. It is actually what made me want to start the business. I would say the first thing is that most people ask that question dumbfoundedly. Like OMG [oh my gosh], IDK [I do not know], how could they go broke? But, if you look at most lottery winners, they also lose the money they made in a short period. The biggest reason athletes go broke, and I believe this is changing for several reasons; still, the few reasons are because financial literacy is not taught at all in most schools, athletes are considered institutional investors in business transactions based on their net worth, so they can sign documents that waive all the financial protections the average investor has, divorce, child support, supporting family and friends, and ultimately not believing they could go broke until it is too late.
As an entrepreneur, what would you tell someone who wants to turn their passion into a career?
André: My advice would be to be patient, stay humble, and stay focused on your goals. Patience is key. I believe when we are patient, we make the best decisions possible. Understand that building a successful business has several stages. Stage one typically is not a stage anyone wants to be in, but it is critical to building the foundation of your business. Understand you may not be doing everything you want in this stage, but also be cognizant that what you are doing will benefit you and your professional growth in the long run.
Aaron: I would suggest being patient. Being an entrepreneur, unlike an employee, is a 24/7 thing. You cannot leave the office and be done with work. However, if you are genuinely passionate about what you are doing and continue to learn and work on your unique ability, you will eventually find success. Still, it most likely will not happen overnight.