Cejih Yung of CG Sports Management joins host Lawrence Peryer to share his thoughts and insight on the New Normal.
Cejih Yung of CG Sports Management joins host Lawrence Peryer to share his thoughts and insight on the New Normal.
Through his agency, CG Sports Management, CG connects his Olympic, Paralympic, and Professional athlete clients with brands, speaking opportunities, and media outlets to help them share their stories and their skills with the wider world.
CG and his team have created the CG Sports Network, which produces and airs daily streaming programming where US Olympic athlete hosts deliver a mix of special guests, prizes, and fast-paced workouts. Learn more at https://www.cgsportsmanagement.com/cgsn.
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Lawrence Peryer: How are you and yours? Are the people in your world doing okay?
Cejih Yung: Yeah, we’re doing all right. I mean obviously it’s a pretty crazy, pretty weird time, you know. But I think we’re adjusting where we’re definitely moving a little bit slower just to kind of take it day by day because you know, the environment’s pretty overwhelming, right? So, you know, trying to preserve ourselves so we can be our best is how we’re handling it.
LP: Yeah. That’s about all you can do right now. Can you give me an overview of your business?
CY: Yeah, for sure. So, we’re a sports agency. So, CG Sports Management is the company. I’m CY, and you know, we specialize actually in Olympic sports; so, this is like a really crazy time right now to be in the industry. But we represent United States Olympic athletes. We work with brands. We work with sponsors. We run events, and you know, we dabble a little bit in publishing and all sorts of stuff; but our main and core business is supporting athletes with sponsorship and endorsements and their business careers.
LP: So, when you say – I’m going to zero in for a second – when you say you run events what form does that usually take and how is that impacting you right now?
CY: Yeah, you know, I mean probably the highest volume of events that we do, I mean, are your sports clinics or camps, you know, that our Olympic athletes will run, you know, that will bring in, I mean, sometimes a few hundred young athletes. And even their parents and coaches, you know, who will want to be involved with a lot of those happening in the spring, like probably now and also in the summer and fall.
LP: What was your experience in the run up to the decision around the Olympic change, you know? I talked to a lot of other folks in the sports world who said, you know, it seemed inevitable, not only for the health reasons; but just for the inability to deal with qualifying rounds with people around. I’m wondering how far in advance did it become clear to you that it had to happen.
CY: I guess I’ll kind of run your through maybe my 30 days leading up until, you know, they officially announced that the Olympics were being postponed for a year meaning they announced the date. So, I mean in the 30 days leading up to that, we started to see competitions be cancelled, NCAAs being a huge one. Once women’s NCAAs was officially cancelled that’s when I really was like this is not going to be good, and this does not mean good things for the Olympics. I imagined that it is going to be delayed, and at that point, that was about as much as I was able to speculate.
But, you know, I think what people don’t realize is the weeks leading up to that, competitions are cancelled, qualifying opportunities were taken off the table, but then training facilities started to shut down, started to close. And I don’t think people realize what these athletes actually had to go through in the two to three weeks leading up to the IOC finally announcing that, okay, we are postponing the Olympics until the summer of 2021. I mean these athletes were nomads trying to train wherever they could because a lot of them train at high schools, they train at universities and those facilities. And so, once those started to close, I mean, they were looking at private facilities.
I mean at one point we were calling, you know, like, my team was reaching out to, you know, higher income individuals who had pools in their homes to see if our Olympic swimmers could go and train there. I mean that’s how desperate it got which is crazy. So, to go through all of that emotionally is very exhausting and then the end and that result is the Olympic games are now postponed to over a year is pretty traumatic.
LP: Yeah. What does that mean, for any individual athlete, what does that mean in terms of how their life and routine needs to change for the subsequent year but then also what does that mean for the cycle and the routine that an athlete would then embark upon if you were talking about another four-year schedule? Are there other events then that cascade that have to move, that get shifted? Like, what’s the impact on the athletics in the broader, sort of sporting world competition?
CY: Yeah. I mean I’ll answer the broader question first. So, I mean obviously events are going to have to be postponed and pushed back to accommodate for the Olympics, you know, being moved. I mean the Olympics are the largest sporting events in the world. I mean that’s no small feat. I don’t really know how much they’re going to be able to replicate it exactly. You can’t just say we’re going to move this to next year, and we’ll see you there. It doesn’t really work that way. You know, socioeconomically and competition-wise, training-wise, sponsor-wise, it doesn’t happen. So, there is going to be – I believe it is going to be a very different type of Olympics which is really unfortunate you know because Tokyo will still do a great job; but they were very prepared. We’ll see.
There’s a lot of runway left, I hope; but you know, as far as other sporting events, you know, world championships for aquatics is supposed to be the summer of 2021 in Japan. I mean so they’re talking about do we move that a few months, do we move it another six months, is it a year. I mean it’s just so much. So, the domino effect is going to go on for, you know, several years for quite some time. Okay, the summer Olympics are being pushed to the summer of 2021 so that’s July, but just remember, you know, the Winter Olympics are in, you know, February of 2022. So, that’s a very quick turnaround time, and that’s in Beijing, right? So, it’s, yeah, we will see what happens.
I mean I think as far as the athletes and their routine -- you know, I was just talking about this with another colleague in the industry, but right now, these athletes are still not able to train, you know. The world is waiting, and of course, it is for the greater good; and you know, we want to save as many lives as possible. But I mean for these athletes, they’re trying to train at home inside. They’re, you know, doing what they can. That is going to be interesting and it is going to have an effect. So, I mean I think routine-wise I’ll go ahead and say I mean their routine is completely scrambled right. So, we’ll see.
LP: Yeah, thinking about that before we spoke, it occurred to me even for the professional athletes that may have to go sort of back to work sooner seems to me that there’s going to be impact around injury, just people’s conditioning, their ability, you know. Will the gameplay suffer because people might have to be more tentative or not play with the same intensity or being athletes will they do that anyway and hurt themselves? None of the issues around the sort of shutdown and then the coming back afterwards are really on/off switches.
CY: Yeah. I think there’s two things, you know. Coming back from taking an extended period of time off. I mean I don’t think they’ll have to restart because these athletes have trained so hard and have built up, you know, such a strong foundation underneath them. But you know, who’s to say they’re going to be just as prepared 12 to 16 months from now in the exact same way mentally, physically, emotionally, you know, that they were leading up to this. And there definitely is going to be a trade-off, you know, for a lot of athletes. I don’t know that it will be a majority of them, but that’s going to be interesting to watch, you know, and you know, maybe even a little hard to see, unfortunately.
LP: Yeah. I’m curious does the delay like this impact affect the ability – do we lose athletes for socioeconomic reasons, people who can’t hold on another year, and what’s that look like?
CY: Yeah. I mean I guess the reality is that there will be athletes who this was – you know, summer of 2020, whether it’s Olympic trials or the Olympic games from many, many sports was, of course, you know, was kind of going to be their final note, right, and their swan song. And were planning on beginning jobs, school, families, life, you know, right in the fall of 2020. And so, for that to be pushed for the games and the Olympics, and Olympic trials to be pushed, I don’t know that their plans for their life change, you know, just because the games unfortunately and then very sadly were moved. So, you definitely will have some athletes who are going to have some big decisions to make and, you know, some tough and unfortunate decisions to make, like we all do. But yeah, that’s just the reality of this.
LP: And what have you been doing with the athletes you work to either keep busy, to keep active or to find opportunity during this period?
CY: Yes. It started off with just one live webinar where we took one of our Olympic athletics and, you know – and this was actually before the postponement and the announcements. We were just kind of sort of first to make it with this where we just put together one webinar, made it free, invited, you know, any one from the swimming community, sports community, who wanted to attend. And we had something like 1300 people register for this live webinar and Q&A with Elizabeth Bizzell who is a three-time Olympian. She just had a bestselling book on Amazon, and we hosted it over an hour that went really well. And then after that, we realized, well, the reality is that no one’s really going to be out there right now doing events, appearances, speaking opportunities.
You know, we have kind of a function here. Why don’t we keep this going? And so, what we did is we actually just booked a whole week of shows that would just kind of recur every single week. So, like the network television approach, and the response of the market has been great, you know. Yes, it’s been great for our audience, great for the fans of the sports, fans of the Olympics, but it has provided a nice little window for our athletes to stay out in the market, you know, stay out there. They’re actually getting a lot of views. One positive is we are able to, you know, go to our partners, whether that’s sponsors, whether it’s endorsers or you know the people who support us.
And say, hey, yes, they may not be in these competitions coming up as they’re being canceled, but we do have the attention of several hundred fans for over an hour. That is a pretty powerful statistic. We have been able to, I guess, pivot a little bit. You know, I don’t want to give any delusions of grandeur that, you know, that’s replacing our core business, right? But it has been able to be a very positive thing and it’s something that, you know, we’re pretty proud that we’re able to offer in the community right now.
LP: Yeah, that’s phenomenal. It seems like it checks a lot of boxes in terms of doing something really positive for your community that you’re part of as well as the individual constituents whether it’s keeping the athlete’s busy and engaged or bringing something back to the sponsors who I’m sure are scratching their heads on how to reach audiences.
CY: Yeah, absolutely, you know. I will say it has been a positive thing because – you kind of hit the nail on the head. Sponsors scratching their heads of, okay, well, we had all this money tied up in the 2020 cycle and, you know, do we just extend that out? How do we recover some of the lost media time or some of the lost exposure or activation? And so, we’ve been able to, you know, package this nicely into a lot of our existing sponsorship deals which really help to take the pressure off. I know that was something that our athletes were concerned about obviously, and you know, our sponsors were as well from a standpoint of we want to keep supporting these athletes, we’re behind them.
But we also need to make sure that we can adjust with the business landscape because you know, they have their own problems that they’ve got to deal with, right, with their own respective businesses. I think this is was a nice thing. I know from a lot of the sponsor calls that I have just in the past two weeks this was a very nice, positive thing that everyone was very proud of and wanted to be involved with and has definitely helped. And we’ve even been able to get some of those deals already confirmed to be extended through 2021.
LP: That’s great. Two other questions about the sports network. Where do people go to view the content?
CY: Yeah. So, they can go right to our website which is C.G. That’s with the initials of the company, CGSportsManagement.com, and it’s right there under C.G. Sports Network. They can follow us on social media and Instagram. You know, maybe that’s something we can include in the show notes or whatnot.
CY: We’ve been able to form a nice partnership with the company Crowdcast which – they are the webinar platform that we’ve chosen to use, you know, after doing some good research and reaching out to a few different companies, but really like the team there. The CEO, Sai, has – I think is brilliant. That’s actually been a nice, really new relationship that sort of formed in this market. I don’t know how many new relationships are forming these days.
LP: And is it something that you’ll keep going beyond this period? Is it a new business you’re in now?
CY: Yeah. Actually, yes, and I do want to say that we have done webinars in the past where we just kind of set them up as one-offs, you know, where we would dial in one of our Olympic athletes, whether it was to a corporate partner, you know, for like a lunch-and-learn or you know, something motivational at an event where they couldn’t physically be there. And so, we had set those up, so I guess it didn’t come completely out of the blue. I didn’t think we’d be running, you know, an entire network of weekly shows, bringing on special guests, and now we have – I mean we’re doing prize giveaways. We’ve got episodes that are sponsored. I mean, you know, maybe when advertising budgets open up eventually, we’ll be able to do some of that; but we had done a few of these in the past.
So, I knew that it could work; but the viewership, obviously because everyone’s now at home and able to tune in, has really gone up. But yeah, I do intend to keep this going. You know, one positive silver-lining is that it’s presented an interesting dynamic into how we can position and sell these athletes in the future because, you know, this does allow us to – sponsors are always trying to look at, well, how can we make the most of this partnership, how can we activate in different ways and do it in a cost-effective way that’s going to really mean a lot to our people, to our employees, that we are supporting this athlete, and you know, being a partner of the Olympic experience and with [its] movement in some way, shape or form.
LP: That’s phenomenal. What was your path into sports management?
CY: You know, so I grew up swimming. That was my, you know, my sport and was definitely a huge fan and even kind of a nerd, but I always loved the Olympics. Even from a young age, I knew that I wanted to be representing and working with athletes on the business side. I just didn’t know it would necessarily be under my own, you know, my own firm. But as I started to kind of get into the industry and, you know, learn from other professionals and kind of see how things are done, I started to put together the pieces and then finally decided okay, time to go out on my own and that’s what I did. And kind of just like out of a movie, I mean, started off with like one or two clients, you know, basically grew my business through word of mouth and you know, got to where we are now.
LP: So, how long you’ve been doing it?
CY: So, I’ve been head of CG Sports Management since end of 2015, early 2016.
LP: So, would this have been your first Olympics, or have you had athletes go through a couple of cycles already?
CY: This would be our first Olympic cycle under CG Sports Management. I mean myself professional have definitely been through, you know, an Olympic cycle before when I worked at, you know, other companies. But you know, this was kind of – yeah, I mean, I’ll just say it. This was going to be a big year for us, and I mean I was literally up until about 3 1/2 weeks ago, I mean we were cooking. You know, we still are; but it’s, yeah, I mean 2020 was going to be a very good year in sports. You know, and in the entire industry, it was really exciting. And I could really see that coming from 2019 because we had more interest in companies wanting to do deals with Olympic athletes earlier than I had ever really experienced.
So, you know, that was a great telltale sign which is, you know, why I think we have some of the partnerships that we do. You know, hopefully that will be able to continue as we go onto next summer and hopefully that will be here before we know it.
LP: What do you attribute the brand interest to or the sort of increased interest?
CY: You know, that’s a good question. I think from my point of view and from my experience I think that sponsors are starting to, and companies are starting to look for how can we integrate our brand story, you know, in a more customized way with an athlete. Or how can we do something a little more creative and who’s going to be the type of athlete that’s going to be able to be easy to work with to achieve those goals. And I think for us, we did a ton of outreach. We do some pretty aggressive outbound sales, outbound marketing to educate, you know, companies that probably were not thinking of investing in an Olympic athlete or even investing in sports for that matter.
And you know, we do set up our phone calls with them, our meetings, discovery, and we actually go through, well, here’s the benefit and value that you could get, here is how it would work. And you have this idea, and you’re looking for, you know, a representative to tie that into? Well, here’s how we would do that. Those conversations are always very eye opening. I think the sponsors, they get very excited because they didn’t realize that, wow, there’s a lot more you can do than just slapping our logo on or around that athlete’s brand. You know, they’re actually three, four dimensional.
LP: There’s a media savviness and a little bit of a marketing awareness now that has to be part of the training for an athlete. They really have to understand how to take advantage of these opportunities.
CY: Yeah. They, absolutely, they need to understand what it means to have a brand. You know, just because you are a professional athlete or an Olympic athlete, you know, yes, you have a platform; but there’s a difference between having a large following, a large audience, and actually having a true brand. And I think that’s one of the things I probably see the most of.
LP: What’s your crystal ball look like and what’s it telling you in terms of what the first steps are going to be to getting back to normal in our world and when do you think you’re going to have athletes fully able to train and ultimately complete?
CY: Yeah. LP, I’ll shoot you straight. I don’t know. [Laughs]
LP: [Laughs] Yeah. You’re not alone. You’re not alone.
CY: Yeah, I don’t know. I’m hoping for the best; and you know, a lot of it will really rely on when people and audiences and customers could start kind of returning back to their normal society and some type of normal lives. And then, you know, with that will come sports, right? I think what we kind of learned really is we consider ourselves extremely lucky that we get to work in sports, that we get to work with the athletes that we do, you know, because I think as we saw, you know, with the coronavirus the first thing to go, the first thing to get cancelled was sports because at the end of the day, the reality is it’s nice to have, you know.
It’s something that’s kind of a luxury, right, and we don’t always see it that way; but that’s really the case. And so, I think as people start to get kind of their basic needs met and those can very safely be fulfilled, we’ll start to see a return to sports. You know, if I had to put a date on it, I mean, gosh, I hope by August or September we’ll start to see some, you know, some kind of return, you know, going back in that direction. I do think it’ll take some time. I don’t think we’re going to see stadiums being packed anytime soon, to be honest. That’ll always be very sensitive.
LP: And one last quick question. For the athletes that you represent is it primarily swimmers or is it across the board?
CY: Yeah. So, we started off in swimming. Now, we, in addition to swimming, we have water polo. We have women’s softball. We actually have our first NFL player, Bennie Fowler, wide receiver. Yeah, he’s a Super Bowl champion. He actually is one of the few, maybe one of the only players to catch a touchdown pass from both Peyton Manning and Eli.
LP: [Laughs] What? That’s a great piece of trivia.
CY: Isn’t that cool, yeah? We have two amazing fencers that we work with, and then we have our [speakers bureau] as well. No, we started from humble beginnings in swimming.
LP: Well, I think the answer to that answer to what was going to be my question which was sort of how your athletes can get back to training. So, most of these are not necessarily solitary athletes. They’re playing either some type of, in a team environment or in a small group environment. So, a swimmer can, to your point earlier, can find someone with a pool and swim a little bit; but that’s just keeping conditioning up. That’s not truly competition-level training.
CY: Yeah. And you know, there’s something in the swimming market they call your feel for the water, you know. That’s probably all that’s really doing is just kind of your feel for the water, you know, and just keeping connected to it in some way. You know, I do think that a lot of these athletes are – I mean you don’t get to the Olympic level unless you have some bit of creativity and innovation in your game, you know, whether that’s your team game, whether that’s your leadership game or your personal development. And I really do believe that almost all of the Olympic athletes, you know, the ones that we represent, and even the ones that are, you know, from all over, they’re going to find a way to make this happen.
They’re going to find a way to turn a really adverse situation where it probably feels like your backs against the wall. And they’re going to find a way to turn it to a positive. We were able to do that at CG Sports just, you know, from a business standpoint; but that motivation and that inspiration comes from our client, comes from our athlete. You know, it’s kind of our founding core value. You know, as we put the athletes first and that’s everything we do, but we also listen and learn from them. Gosh, I know I’ve had times where I’ve definitely felt a little down, you know, during these past few weeks; and you know, I’ll call McKenzie who’s one of our Paralympic athletes.
And I mean, holy smoke, I mean she’ll motivate and cheer you up and get you inspired, you know, and then she’ll go and train without even a pool to do it in. Yeah, I believe that a lot of creativity will happen; and they’re going to use this time to improve on things that maybe they could not have improved on because they had to spend so much time in the pool or on the field or in the gym. And I do think it’ll come around in a very big way, you know, six months, even just a few months from now.
LP: That’s great. That’s a great note to leave it on. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective.
CY: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for the opportunity.
LP: I appreciate your time.