Aaron and André Eanes have gained a well-earned reputation as movers and shakers in the sports and entertainment industry. In 2012, the brothers founded A&A Management Group, their Cleveland, Ohio-based talent management company that provides "brand, image, business and personal management services" to help expand their clients' value on-and-off the field. To accomplish their vision, they deploy several strategies such as content production, marketing, brand partnerships, equity investment strategies and community involvement to assist athletes in building their brands outside of their sport. Running their business as equal partners, each brings their own expertise to the table. Aaron handles marketing and branding while Andre focuses on business development and wealth management
Currently, their roster of clients includes Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl Champion TE Travis Kelce; Cleveland Browns All-Pro CB Denzel Ward; WR Donovan Peoples-Jones; NBA Guard Bones Hyland; and All-Pro CB Joe Haden.
EBONY caught up with the Eanes brothers and spoke to them about navigating the challenges of building a successful business and the importance of athletes building brands outside of their sports.
EBONY: In today's sports climate, why is it important for athletes to focus on branding and developing other revenue streams outside of their particular sport?
André Eanes: I think it's important because when athletes are done playing, they’ll have something to stand on versus saying, "I'm not a football player anymore." When you find the right partners, they can put you into things that can make your career last longer after your playing days are over.
Aaron Eanes: It's very important to build a brand because, at the end of the day, you have the ability to define who you are and what you care about. You're then able to bring in partners that align with who you are and what you care about as well. In the past, an athlete could just get endorsement opportunities because they were an athlete. Back then, they would get a car endorsement deal or a shoe deal because they were a former pro athlete. I think now brands want people to embody their values. So if you build a personal brand as an athlete and show what you care about off the field, and what you care about in the community, you can build success in many new ways.
What do you look for in an ideal client?
Aaron: We look for someone who wants to be collaborative and who wants to take real feedback. Ultimately, we want to work with people who understand the platform they have and how we can help them accomplish their goals. There will always be those who want to do what they do and enjoy their family. Then there are going to be those who want to do more. When you look at the NFL, NBA, or any athlete, you have an opportunity to be introduced to a national audience on a consistent basis.
André: They have to understand this is a process. They have to understand that Rome wasn't built in a day. Well, the last client we signed, we were able to get them a deal within a week. But in the past, it's always been about let's build up your brand, build up your social media, then we can turn it into something. As Aaron mentioned, they have to meet us where we are; they have to be willing to put in the work and understand that it's a business that we're running. We just don't bring in deals for fun. There's always a strategy behind it.
Your client Travis Kelce hosted Saturday Night Live a while back and he was hilarious! That must have been a major milestone for his brand and your business relationship as well. When did you first meet Travis and what makes him so special to work with?
Aaron: We met Travis while he was at the University of Cincinnati and we were just launching our management company. We have a connection with all of us being from Ohio and our partnership continues to thrive. Seeing him on SNL was amazing because that’s something that he always wanted to do. He loves the show. He grew up watching Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, and so many more, which made this a big moment for him.
André: What’s great about working with Travis is that he’s not afraid to try new things which is critical for success in any enterprise. From his podcast New Heights with Jason and Travis Kelce to his clothing line Tru Kolors, he’s not afraid of new ideas and to learn what works.
As Black men in an industry that is predominately occupied by white males, what are some challenges that you had to overcome?
André: I think it's just that we've had to work 10 times harder to do things. If we were partnered with a big agency, we wouldn't be questioned, and we'd probably sign a lot more clients. We had to get over a lot more hurdles. If we had a white base behind us, all the services that we provide and have been providing for years, we would definitely have a lot more clients. To your point, we would sit down, and meet with players and their families would love us. They'll tell us that we were in their top five and that they'll make their final decision after meeting with everyone. Then, we never hear back from them. Some don't believe that we can deliver because we're not a big conglomerate. We're just two Black guys. So it's been weird because our biggest client happens to be white and is the best player that ever played his position.
Lastly, what advice would you offer to up-and-coming entrepreneurs who want to get into the sports and entertainment industry?
Aaron: I would say just be patient and curious. If you think of all the changes that will happen in any business—if you're patient and curious—you can navigate a changing industry and you can figure out where you are, where your place is and where you can have success in it.