Being in the locker room of the storied Rose Bowl last week was not just a professional obligation for David Meltzer, but the personal embodiment of the point he was trying to make as he spoke.
The ultra-successful sports marketer and motivational speaker delivered the keynote address on April 13 for the inaugural Rose Bowl Speaker Series, which also brought together a number of high-profile members of sports-related media and research to discuss the future of their industries. Several hundred guests filled the locker room for the event.
Meltzer, who was born in the same Akron, Ohio, hospital that brought LeBron James and Steph Curry into the world (“I’m going to be NBA commissioner one day,” he quipped), opened by recalling his family relocating to San Diego when he was young and soon after attending their first Rose Parade.
The then-aspiring footballer had other things on his mind, he said.
“All I could think of driving up was, ‘I don’t want to go to the parade. I want to go to the game,’” Meltzer explained. “I wanted to suit up in this locker room and perform in front of family and friends.”
Ultimately, after working and playing his way through nearby Occidental College, Meltzer came to terms with the fact his stature did not translate into NFL quarterbacking success. He turned his attention to becoming a doctor, “like every other nice Jewish boy who wants to make his mom proud.”
He later realized that he didn’t care for being in hospitals and a brother told him he needed to be “more interested than interesting,” leading him to another “like every other nice Jewish boy” career path: law school.
“I stuck through that one,” he said, eliciting laughter.
Meltzer’s journey has propelled him from helping to launch the world’s first smartphone to being named a Forbes Top 10 keynote speaker (he commands a $25,000 fee, according to his website). He now sits on the Rose Bowl Foundation board, among several others. He and NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon in 2010 cofounded Sports 1 Marketing, the firm that sponsored this speaker series.
The partnership with Moon may seem a bit on the nose.
Being an Ohio State Buckeyes fan meant his second favorite team at any given moment was whoever was playing the Michigan Wolverines. In 1978, Moon, as quarterback of the Washington Huskies, led a nationally televised upset against Michigan — at Meltzer’s first Rose Bowl game.
Now, the two work together (with Moon as “quarterback of the business,” Meltzer said) to develop new ways of marketing sports to consumers and getting them more immersed into the game they love.
“There are a million great ideas out there,” Meltzer said. “The guys out there who can take an idea to market and monetize it, those are the great entrepreneurs and innovators.”
The panel following Meltzer’s keynote touched on a new innovation in sports: virtual reality.
Before such technology, Moon said he would mentally put himself through plays to prepare for games without risking injury by spending additional time on the practice field (a tactic he credited for his unusually long football career).
“That’s basically what virtual reality is now,” he said.
The premium on readied quarterbacks nowadays can conflict with NFL labor restrictions and backup players often find themselves wanting for more practice.
“They can’t get enough reps in practice, but virtual reality gives them the opportunity to get more reps,” he said. “Whatever it might be, virtual reality is going to give you an opportunity to get life-like reps to get ready.”
Josh Booty, a former NFL and MLB player who works extensively in sports media now, added that virtual reality could have a business perspective, too, by offering it as a service for fans.
“I think that really appeals to the fans,” he said. “If you can be Tom Brady and see the game through his lens, I think that’s what the NFL wants.”
Other speakers included business executive Jeremy Barnett, who talked about using data to help innovate and market products, and Dr. Hasan Badday, who talked about new developments in sports medicine. Los Angeles Times NFL writer Sam Farmer moderated the panel.
Success, Meltzer said, comes down to learning how to position yourself to take advantage of your strengths and find ways to compensate for your weak points. With regard to that, people are just as much the catalyst as they are the inhibition for success.
“The minute you think about what you want, it becomes a possibility,” he said. “There’s only one thing that stands in the way of making that possibility a probability: you.
“Make all of your possibilities probabilities and then take action to make it a reality,” Meltzer added.