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Sports Business Industry Veteran Walker Looks To Shape Up The National Fitness Foundation

clay walkerThere are certainly a great deal of challenges when negotiating the worlds of sports and government, and this week a sports business executive with a load of business building experience signed on for a task to try and meld those worlds closer together.

The National Fitness Foundation, the official nonprofit of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition, has announced Clay Walker as its new Executive Director.

For those who don’t know, the National Fitness Foundation was congressionally chartered in 2010 to support and strengthen the mission of the President’s Council by generating private sector investments and partnerships to help all Americans live active, healthy lives. The Foundation leads the Presidential Youth Fitness Program, the national model for fitness assessment and education in schools. Through the provision of grant opportunities and training resources, the program has reached more than 20 million students nationwide.

Walker joins the Foundation after serving as the Chief Operating Officer of PrestoSports, the largest independent collegiate athletics software provider in the U.S. Prior to PrestoSports, he led fundraising initiatives as the Chief Executive Officer of BigTeams software platform and served as the Vice President of Business Development at USA TODAY Sports. Clay’s leadership experience also includes a 13-year tenure as the Senior Vice President of the NFL Players Association’s licensing and marketing division. In 2005, he made the Sports Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 list of most influential people in sports business.

With that wealth of experience behind him, we wanted to ask Clay more about the challenges that lie ahead

SportsMedia Report: What’s the biggest aspect of all your other stops that will help you in the new job?

Clay Walker: Fundraising experience. The Foundation needs to develop a comprehensive, multi-faceted development plan. I’ve done that at many different levels of sport, and in totally different circumstances. I believe that diverse experience will serve the Foundation well.

SMR: In looking at this, where do you think the biggest opportunity lies?

CW: That’s the $64,000 question. It’s possible that the foundation will be able to develop recurring revenue partnerships with sports wagering enterprises or state lotteries. Those opportunities might end up being enduring and lasting legacies of our efforts.

Additionally, retail/cause marketing programs that allocate a percentage of sales or include voluntary contributions have great promise.

Turning traditional PSAs with no specific call to action, into PSAs with specific calls to action — here’s how you can help. Donate here — may also become reliable funding sources.

Finally, establishing the foundation as an efficient and focused means to reach into local communities and impact youth sports participation is critical to securing traditional corporate, charitable and foundation contributions and grants.

NFF logoSMR: How important are brand partnerships to the Foundation, and what are the value adds that the Foundation can bring to brands?

CW: Brand partnerships will be an important aspect of the Foundation’s fundraising efforts. Not only do they provide important financial resources, but they have the ability to drive awareness for the overall message — increasing youth sports participation.

Because of its congressional charter, the foundation has the unique ability to convene federal, state and local government resources and combine these efforts with private resources. That enables the foundation to develop authentic brand partnerships that address our mission and also provide tax, marketing and community goodwill benefits for brands.

Childhood obesity is a growing issue still, and the fears that complacent activities like esports will add to the issue vs. Help solve it is a problem. How can the foundation embrace what’s hot with youth and still message properly to meet their goals of active young people?

The Foundation has already begun speaking with youth sports technology providers to develop more youth-friendly and family friendly messages and content that appeals to younger audiences. Parents want functionality in these types of software programs. Kids want connectivity. Combining both is key.

SMR: How important will elite athletes be in the program? What have the conversations been like since coming on board?

CW: The Foundation fully supports the USOC’s efforts to develop elite U.S. athletes, and the two organizations have had a relationship since the foundation was launched in late 2010. Moving forward, we would like to have greater coordination between the efforts of the USOC and the Foundation, as the larger the funnel is that we can create, the better it is for the USOC.

SMR: Can you explain how the Foundation fits into the structure of government: is there a tie and if so, how does that hurt or help the mission?

CW: The foundation is a congressionally chartered non-profit organization, but is not part of the federal government and does not receive any governmental funds. The foundation’s board members are appointed by the secretary of HHS and members of the Senate and House of Representatives on a completely bipartisan manner. As we often say, this isn’t a red state issue or a blue state issue, but rather a red, white and blue issue.

In any event, because of the foundation’s congressional ties, it is in a position to convene stakeholders at the federal, state and local level in a way that other similar charities focused on this space are not. Key will be moving beyond convening and into action.

SMR: Whats the short term goal for you in the next year?

CW: Find long-term funding for the foundation’s signature program — the presidential youth fitness program. In addition, the foundation needs to become more visible in order for it to get in front of prospective partners. Once PYFP is fully funded and there’s momentum and awareness supporting our mission, we will start to build an endowment.

About Jerry Milani

Jerry Milani is a freelance writer and public relations executive living in Bloomfield, N.J. He has worked in P.R. for more than 25 years in college and conference sports media relations, two agencies and for the International Fight League, a team-based mixed martial arts league, and now is the PR manager for Wizard World, which runs pop culture and celebrity conventions across North America. Milani is also the play-by-play announcer for Caldwell University football and basketball broadcasts. He is a proud graduate of Fordham University and when not attending a Yankees, Rams or Cougars game can be reached at Jerry (at) JerryMilani (dot) com.

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