Two-Brain Radio: Matt O'Keefe

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Sean: 00:00 – Hi everybody and welcome to another edition of Two-Brain Radio with Sean Woodland. Today I speak with president of Loud and Live sports, Matt O’Keefe. But first, are you a stressed business owner who’s working too much and still struggling to make a profit? Do you want to grow your venture and reach the next level? Two-Brain Business is here to help with a free 60-minute call. This is not a sales pitch; just an opportunity for you to get real, actionable advice from an expert who’s built a successful business. For one-on-one guidance on how to take your business to the next level, book your Free Help call today at twobrainbusiness.com. Matt O’Keefe has really made a name for himself on the business side of the CrossFit Games and not only is he Mat Fraser’s manager, but he also helps run one of the most high-profile Sanctional events of the Games season, Wodapalooza. Matt and I talk about how he got involved in the business of the CrossFit Games, why Loud and Live decided to expand from one to five sanctioned events in 2020 and what needs to happen moving forward for the CrossFit Games season to not only be successful but to also grow. Thanks for listening everyone.

Sean: 01:13 – Matt, thanks so much for joining me today. I know you are super busy there in Miami. How are you doing?

Matt: 01:18 – I’m great, Sean. Thanks for having me. Obviously it’s great to spend some time talking with you, but things are good. A little hectic coming off the Games, but you know, we’re into the preparation for the Sanctional season.

Sean: 01:32 – Yeah, we’re going to get into that in a second. But I know your name is, I think familiar to a lot of people. They might not just know exactly who you are, but let’s go back a little bit. How did you find CrossFit?

Matt: 01:42 – Yeah, it’s a great question. You know, I played some sports in college, you know, looked to stay fit after and was rolling around in the yoga, TRX, and you know, boot camp world and got bored and a coworker of mine when I was in the insurance industry said they found this cool thing called CrossFit, I should try it. And I stumbled to gym with him back in 2013 in Danvers Mass, which is just north of Boston, which funny enough, ended up being one of the original affiliates in the world, North Shore CrossFit. And I started my journey there and like most completely fell in love and wanted more. And you know, that sort of has brought me to today. You know, I had a really a life-changing event in there. You know, and I think obviously most of us with the whole community idea, you know, I just was hanging around working out with like-minded people that loved CrossFit and, you know, doing it together and people who suffer together stay together. And, you know, I loved it and you know, really wanted to get more involved with it and on the business side. And you know, dove in in 2014, you know, when we started a company called Red Line.

Sean: 03:06 – Yeah. I want to ask you about that. What was your first foray into the business side of things, because that’s how most people know you.

Matt: 03:14 – Yeah, you know, again, I started and loved it and was bored with my job. It was like perfect storm at that point and I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and never really stepped outside of that, you know, cookie-cutter corporate structure and I, you know, loved it and it was time for me to really try something on my own. And I started a clothing company, Red Line Gear back in 2014. And that was, you know, sort of my first sort of delve into the business side of things in the CrossFit World.

Sean: 03:47 – That then leads you to becoming Mat Fraser’s manager. How did that whole process unfold?

Matt: 03:52 – Yeah, that was, you know, Red Line introduced me to Mat. I worked out with a very close friend of Mat, who lifted with him in the national lifting program at the Olympic Training Center. And she, you know, went to watch Mat compete one weekend at what was the ECC prior to the ECC we even knew it. And I met Mat, I was starting a business and wanted to sponsor a or some athletes. He didn’t really have a whole lot going on at the time, so I asked him if he wanted to be sponsored by Red Line. So when I met Mat, really the start of that was, you know, on the sponsorship side and you know, quickly blossomed into more, you know, he was getting a lot of attention from brands. You know, I always had an attraction to the management, marketing side of sports and you know, I asked if I could help him a little bit and just sort of, you know, almost watch over him, and that quickly kind of moved to him getting very busy. And I urged him to, you know, think about an agent and, you know, he asked me to do it. And that really is how I started as a agent management space was, you know, he really, you know, had the trust in me from the personal level, didn’t necessarily want to hire somebody that was, you know, maybe formal in that side of things. And, so that, you know, that started our relationship as agent/manager and that, you know, sort of blossomed from there. You know, a lot of people asked him who was doing that for him and you know, quickly we managed, you know, 15 to 20 athletes within the next couple of years.

Sean: 05:36 – Obviously Mat is in great demand given all of his accomplishments and his fame. What’s it like helping him navigate his way through all that?

Matt: 05:45 – Man, it’s amazing. It’s, you know, I’m so proud of him. I think, you know, whether I was involved or not Mat was going to be successful because of the way he’s wired and how hard he works. You know, it’s been so fun to be a part of that. And, you know, be allowed to be a sort of keeper of his business and, you know, sort of how he is marketed. It’s fascinating, you know, he’s always stayed very true to who he is, you know, no matter what and never really—one of the things I learned a lot through Mat is that, you know, I guess the best way to put it is like he’s never forced marketing. It’s never been about being a marketable product. You know, he’s done it organically and stayed very true to himself and true to his values and who he is as a person. And that’s boded very well for him from a marketing perspective and it’s been very, very fun to be a part of that. He offered me opportunities that I would have never been given in the sports marketing world. So I’m very fortunate to have the experience with him, but it’s a lot of fun. He’s a super smart, shrewd businessman. And I’ve been able to learn a lot with and through and for him.

Sean: 07:12 – People may have heard the name Loud and Live Sports because of the involvement that that organization and your organization has with Wodapalooza. But before we get any deeper, what exactly is Loud and Live Entertainment?

Matt: 07:24 – Yeah, so Loud and Live, before the sports division was born about 18 months ago, Loud and Live is an entertainment and marketing agency. So they do very similar to what we do on the sports side we do. Loud and Live owns, operates, promotes events, which are music events. So we are promoting concerts. We operate music festivals. We manage talent, so we have music talent, very Latin-focused that we manage. And we provide marketing services for brands. You know, my partners, Nelson and Marco, we’re part of a festival venture prior that was acquired. And it was a very heavy marketing-services business. So we do a lot of work with a lot of the big brands in the world. Walmart, Dr. Pepper Snapple, McDonald’s, like they’ve done a lot of marketing work for brands like that in the past. So that’s sort of the structure of the agency from the Loud and Live Entertainment side. So we’re very, you know, cookie-a cutter agency. We have marketing, manage talent and we promoted events.

Sean: 08:37 – How did you get involved with Loud and Live Sports?

Matt: 08:41 – Yeah, it was really a funny sort of scenario that played out. I think Nelson and Marco prior to me even being involved attended an event in Miami called Wodapalooza. They’ve always been event promoters. They’ve, you know, and they immediately fell in love with the culture and the action that Wodapalooza provided and wanted to be a bigger part of it. They have done a lot of business in the Miami market. And they were introduced to the founders, Steve and Guido, and they wanted to get involved and felt that they could enhance it. And Steve and Guido at the time were looking for partners to help take the events to the next level. So Marco and Nelson, Loud and Live, bought a stake in Wodapalooza about three years ago now. And they operated that for about a year with the founders. And I got asked to consult on the business. They were looking to get more involved with athletes and brands and they were introduced to me by the founders as someone that was very connected to that world. So I met those guys in January of 18 on a consulting agreement. And, you know, it just kind of went from there. I fell in love with those guys and what they were doing. You know, we wanted to get better on the management side and they provided an awesome platform and opportunity to really do a better job for our clients, the athletes. And you know, we had made a decision to merge forces shortly after this 18 Wodapalooza event. And you know, a part of that you know, was going to be, you know, launching a sports division that would operate fitness events and Wodapalooza was the start to that for me.

Sean: 10:27 – And even before it became the sanctioned event that we know now, Wodapalooza was always viewed as one of the best competitions out there out of the season. How were you guys able to build that up to the event that we now know today?

Matt: 10:40 – Yeah, I think, you know, and a lot of that has nothing to do with me really. You know, I feel a high sense of responsibility to continue what a lot of other people have built. Wodapalooza was a phenomenal event when I arrived. We’ve worked really hard to make it, you know, better and enhance what has already been built. But you know, prior to sanctioning, prior to Matt O’Keefe, prior to Loud and Live, you know, Wodapalooza was, you know, what I always marked on the calendar as really the off-season event that I wanted to be at and athletes wanted to be at. It was this phenomenal, annual touchpoint for the masses to come and party and express their fitness in Miami annually. You know, we feel very honored and privileged to be a part of now the season, but I think, you know, it’s really important that Wodapalooza is obviously a lot more than just that. You know, there’s 2,000-some athletes that compete at Wodapalooza annually. It’s really analogous to the 5k in marathon crowd that would run or triathlon. This is a point on the calendar every year that the everyday man, like you and I, Sean, might train to be a part of expressing our fitness. So it’s an unbelievable event. It’s an unbelievable community in its own right. You know, people love—whether they spectate, they volunteer or they compete, there’s a group of people that identify heavily with the Wodapalooza event and brand. And you know, it’s really taken on a life of its own. And again, it’s very important to point out that, you know, we’re facilitating that and we’re, you know, now a part of that. But that’s something that was born a lot longer before we ever arrived.

Sean: 12:33 – You’re going from one sanctioned event in 2019 and I believe it’s five that you’re going to be running, coming up here for the 2020 season. Why did you guys make the decision to sort of expand that quickly?

Matt: 12:45 – Yeah, I think we looked at immediately when I arrived at, you know, how do we expand the Wodapalooza brand, you know, is there opportunity to do that? Which I still think there probably is, you know, in key markets, but we love the sport. We love being a part of that, you know, creating platforms for people to express their fitness and also really love the elite side of the sport. We’re heavily invested with athletes, with sanctioning coming and the reality of this being more of a tour-type style season, we wanted to be more involved, and you know, we jumped at any opportunity that came our way. We strategically placed ourselves in some markets that we have a lot of involvement in like Mexico and Spain. We had, you know, prior to even me, looked at possibly doing an event in California with the Wodapalooza brands. So that West Coast event made a lot of sense for us because I believe and we will see that this year as it plays out, that market really needs and wants something big from a festival component with functional fitness. You know, the answer overall to that is we love CrossFit. We love the sport of fitness. We wanted to be more involved and we want to be even more involved passed where we are now. So, we’re excited where we’re at. We have a big year, a lot of work to do. We obviously just acquired Granite Games, which is another amazing event that, again was born with, a whole other group that we now feel a huge sense of responsibility to facilitate and grow and add value to. But yeah, we love this sport and wanted to be a big part of it and wanted to do more.

Sean: 14:37 – How do you duplicate the success that you’ve had with Wodapalooza with these other sanctioned events while helping them sort of keep their individual identities that they’ve been able to build like the Granite Games?

Matt: 14:48 – Yeah, I think that’s exactly it. What you just said is that they’re, you know, they all have to have their own identity, right? I think that, you know, what we do know is that we want them all to have a very, key community component. We want those local communities to participate in those events, and we want to give access to those local communities. So I think it’s really important that those events are culturally sound and contribute to the local community. So, you know, we’re looking to just honestly facilitate that. I think the success of each of those events is that they have their own identity. You know, Wodapalooza is its own thing and West Coast Classic can’t and shouldn’t be that. That is an event that the California and West Coast community—we want them to wrap themselves around, invest in and be a part of and we want it to be very targeted to how they feel that event should look and feel and run. And the same goes for any of those events, you know, in Spain and Mexico and Granite Games. Those events need to be, you know, about those local communities. You know, I think it’s easy to get wrapped in the sanctioned piece and being these global properties that, you know, attract the superstars, which I think there will always be a component of. But I think the real lifeblood of those events has to be the local community, the local gym that helped either grow the ones that are already established or will help grow the ones that we are now establishing.

Sean: 16:27 – We’ll be right back with more from Matt O’Keefe after this.

Chris: 16:31 – Hello my friends. It is Chris Cooper here. Since 2009 I have been writing daily blog posts, producing podcasts, videos, all kinds of stuff on social media with one mission in mind: to make gyms profitable. I came to that mission because I was an unprofitable gym owner. It almost ruined my finances and almost ruined my career, my marriage, everything. And since that day, since I made my recovery, I have wanted to help other gym owners become profitable, too. It’s part of my mission to the world because if you’re profitable, you’ll be here changing lives of thousands of your clients for the next 30 years. I think together we can have a tremendous impact. When we started mentorship, I did every single call myself. I was doing up to a thousand free calls a year and I was doing 10 calls with people who signed up for our early mentorship program, but the Incubator has been updated and improved a dozen times since then. Now the Incubator is really the sum of all of our experiences with over 800 gyms worldwide. In the Two-Brain mentorship program, we can now learn from everybody. We can collate data, we can see what’s working where and when and what the new gold standards are as they emerge. When somebody has a great idea, we can test it objectively and say, “Will this work for everyone or will it work for people on the West Coast or on the East Coast?” We can do that with little things like Facebook ads. We can also do that with operations and opening times and playbooks. All the questions that you have about the gym, we can answer them with data and with proof now. That’s the Incubator. It’s more than what I wrote about. It’s more than my experience. It is the best standard in the fitness industry, period. And I hope to see you in there.

Sean: 18:13 – You’re going to have five of, I think, what are nearly 30 sanctioned events next year. How is there enough bandwidth or how are there enough eyeballs or fan interest for all of these events to succeed?

Matt: 18:29 – Yeah, that’s a great question and I think, you know, a lot of that will play out. I think what we do know is that the global community wants this, right? Like the competitive side of CrossFit, the participation side of CrossFit and functional fitness is real. You know, people want to get out, they want to volunteer, they want to spectate it, they want to see Mat Fraser on the floor, Katrin Davidsdottir, Tia-Clair Toomey. They want to interact with that crowd, but they also want to move barbells and do gymnastics on the same floor that they’re doing. And I think, you know, the nice part, the cool part, which I’ve been able to see even with the 15 this year is it looks different and it feels different and it’s expressed in different ways in different communities. And I think that that’s really what the life of this thing is, is that, you know, Egypt will express this in a certain manner that a lot of people will be attracted to and that community we are super proud of and I think the global community will wrap themselves around. And I think, you know, it’s the same for all of these events. I think that on paper it looks like a lot of events, but you know, we see it annually through the Open, right? There’s so much participation globally and there’s so many people that want to compete. You know, I think there’s some sort of number, that like there’s 5,000 CrossFit-style events that happen annually around the world, you know, and these are just 30 that are being propped up to be a little more significant in that realm. And I think that you know, it’ll be interesting to see from a sanctioning perspective how that all plays out, what the participation is. You know, are the athletes gonna run around the world or are they going to stick to some key events, you know, that have more prize money. I don’t know sort of how that will play out, but I do know that the world wants more access to this. The world wants to participate in this and spectate this, and you know, I have high expectations for how this plays out over the next year.

Sean: 20:42 – Along those lines, and this may be getting too much into the weeds, so I apologize if it is, but in order for these events to be successful, like they got to find a way to make money. How do events like this make a profit?

Matt: 20:55 – Yeah, it’s a great question. I think that, you know, for us, I can only really speak to kind of how we operate. I think it’s a great question and it’s obviously something that I think everybody in the market is concerned with is the sustainability of an event. Events are really hard, you know, it’s a tough business model and I think the idea around that is value. I think there are so many components to it. There’s volunteers. There’s athletes, there’s brands and there’s consumers and you have to provide a really quality experience to all of those components to be successful. And you know, there has to be a return for each of them. A volunteer has to have a very good experience. There are very big components to operating an event like these and you know, the same goes for all the other pillars, you know, the athletes have to have a phenomenal experience. I think that you have to build those things from the ground up and you have to be very cognizant of creating an awesome opportunity experience for all of those components in order to be successful. I think the long-term value for all of this as an event organizer is, you know, people watching, right? In the end, if people want to watch this, if you’re putting a good product on the floor that eyeballs are on, then that’s the ability to sustain yourself in the long-term, through either media or on-site participation.

Sean: 22:27 – What, if anything, are you going to be doing differently with not only just Wodapalooza but your events in general this season that maybe you didn’t do last season?

Matt: 22:36 – Yeah, I think that’s an awesome question. Like, I think we’re always looking to get better. People will look at Wodapalooza and think like, you know, we grew so much last year, so many people came down and participated, watched, you know, we’re tweaking that, you know, we’re launching three new properties. We have a new property we acquired that we’re gonna move to a new venue to hopefully, you know, give more access, better access to people that want to come and participate in it. I think, you know, each of them has, you know, sort of key goals that we need to accomplish for each. But, you know, yeah, I mean, Wodapalooza, we’re adding a stage. The biggest criticism we get is access. Right? You know, it looks like the most accessible event in the world, but it’s honestly the least accessible because, you know, people get told “No.” When people do the Open, they’re doing it for fun and their gym. When people do our online qualifier for Wodapalooza they want to go there, right? So we’re trying to find ways to put more people on the floor because, you know, we have tens of thousands of people that want to participate in it. So we’re working on that. You know, when it comes to the other properties, we’re trying to make them different, right? Like, we want to, you know, like Madrid for instance, we’re going to try to really focus on the elite side with making that the world’s biggest opportunity for teams to participate in, from a prize-money perspective. So we’ll try to attract the super teams in Madrid and, you know, put huge money up on that side. So guys like Mat and Tia put a team together and Pat and his Deca team come and want to participate in. It’s not necessarily a opportunity for them to qualify for the Games, but they’re looking at that as an opportunity to just do something fun and maybe make some money.

Matt: 24:25 – You know, we’re looking in Madrid at making something fun on a beach. We’re looking to diversify those events and opportunities and you know, and then the current events, we’re looking to get better. Granite Games, I mentioned a move, you know, we’re gonna move to a major city with Granite Games. It’s in St. Cloud, Minnesota, now, we’re gonna try to move to either Minneapolis or Chicago. And you know, again, that’s another event. Try to give more access to it. There’s people that get told “no” by that event. So how do we build more opportunities for people to get on the floor? In the end, the overarching theme for us is how do we give as many people access to the floor as we possibly can. That the biggest opportunity for the community in general. People want to compete, right? We’ve got to build, you know, the ability for people to get on the floor. It’s hard because you can’t take 10,000 athletes at Wodapalooza or Granite Games. But we’re trying very hard to build more and more opportunity for people to go on the floor.

Sean: 25:37 – You mentioned the Wodapalooza online qualifier, you are currently working on the international online qualifier. What exactly is that?

Matt: 25:46 – Yeah, it’s an exciting, you know, test really. As people who are, you know, super invested in the sport side, the elite component, we’ve identified that there’s a lot going on with, you know, the qualifying world. You know, if there’s 30 events, there’s 30 people that are asking for an athlete to qualify through a different component, you know, and as sanctioned owners, we’ve talked a lot about, you know, that being a really painful barrier of entry. And so what we’ve tried to do is test this year with four events, you know, ours, South Fit, Filthy 150 and Atlas Games, what it looks like for people to do one qualifier and have access to multiple events. And I think, you know, we’ve already had a ton of success and great feedback from the market. And I think, you know, what we would love to do is see how that works moving forward. Is it all people doing one? Is there multiple touch points on the calendar that athletes qualify through for sanctioned events? You know, and by the way, I will always say this and I’ve said it in prior interviews, like we love the Open and believe in the Open and we’re having certain events qualify through that as well. I think that we’re all ready to work together as the answer to that. This is the first expression of that to try and solve the problem of, you know, athletes doing 10 qualifiers for 10 events. You know, and I think this is the test for it. I think I would say I’d give it like a B+ right now in execution. I think we’ll get better with it. And I think, you know, we’ve been able to talk to a lot of other sanctioned owners about it and I think, you know, you’ll see in the years to come that a lot of us will try to work together so that we can solve that problem.

Sean: 27:36 – Looking forward to 2020, what do you think absolutely needs to happen for the CrossFit Games and the surrounding season and the sanctioned events to not only be successful but to also grow?

Matt: 27:48 – I think that we need to work together. Like I think that that’s, you know, we all love this, the sport, we love the CrossFit Games, you know, it’s the pinnacle of our season. We have a really cool group of sanctioned owners that have that mindset of togetherness, community. We want to provide awesome platforms for people to express their fitness, whether it’s elite or not. I think that we just need to stick together, continue to work together. You know, nobody’s arrived. We’ve got the opportunities to facilitate something great. Like CrossFit has gotten over a million humps from becoming this like mainstay sport, and there’s still work to be done. But people love this. People love to watch this whether they’re in a CrossFit gym or not. And we all need to work together to you know, continue to grow. I think that’s it in the end. I think, you know, the Games made a huge change this year to how it functions and I think it’s on the right track. I think that, you know, even they’ll make some changes to that. Again, I don’t know what those will be and how they will come to the market. But you know, I think that allowing more access to the globe is a great opportunity for the sport in general to globalize, not only through sanctioning but at the actual Games. We all just need to work together and I think we all have that mindset and we all feel a huge sense of responsibility to see this thing through. I just always think personally, and I know a lot of people in the sport do, even down from CrossFit HQ that if we continue to think what this looks like 50 years from now, I think we’ll be OK. I think if we keep that as our responsibility as you know, as sort of what our role is in this, I think that how we change and how we move forward and the opportunities that we create for the community and the environment will reflect that.

Sean: 29:52 – You mentioned globalization. One thing that Loud and Live was able to do is that you are able to do the first Spanish language broadcast of the CrossFit Games. How did that go for you?

Matt: 30:02 – Oh man, I’m so proud of that. I’m an Irish kid from Boston that doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish so it’s interesting for me, but it’s such a big part of Loud and Live. A lot of my partners are Cuban and El Salvadorian. We have a lot of involvement in LatAm and Spain. To bring that to the world and be the first to do that was a huge sense of pride for us. And the results were phenomenal. It speaks to the community and how strong that side of it is. Our numbers were staggering and we got a lot of feedback. We need to get better. But I’ll tell you that to me was fascinating, not just in Spanish and French and Portuguese and Russian, no matter what it was, the fact, the numbers that were put out and the involvement and the engagement on that. I mean, more people watched the CrossFit Games this year than ever in history. And I think, you know, we were really honored to be a small part of that.

Sean: 31:04 – What do now the sort of next couple of weeks, couple months look like for you and what you’re putting together here?

Matt: 31:12 – Busy. The Sunday of the CrossFit Games is, you know, a celebration. It’s exciting. You know, we have so many athletes that we celebrate with because of our involvement on that side. It also marks the transition into our time of the year. Wodapalooza is always, you know, on our shoulder, looking at us, telling us it’s time, right. But this is really time, right? We’re in deep in the planning phase of that. We have four other events. We’re just getting really organized to operate February through July for our five events. You know, we have the Open upon us, you know, which is new this year in October. We have our online challenge. We’re just gearing up and getting ready to execute and make sure that we really bring something the community is proud of in each of those communities right now.

Sean: 32:07 – Matt, I really appreciate you taking the time to do this, man. I know you are super busy and I know I speak for a lot of people when I say we cannot wait to see what you guys have to bring with your events in 2020.

Matt: 32:18 – Well, I appreciate that. Thanks for taking the time and we’re proud of all the stuff you guys are doing. I think just to echo what I was saying before, like we all keep working together and keep loving this thing and what we’re doing and I think the results will be phenomenal.

Sean: 32:34 – All right, Matt. Thank you so much again. I really appreciate it.

Matt: 32:36 – Thanks, Sean.

Sean: 32:38 – Big thanks to Matt O’Keefe who is seriously one of the busiest men in CrossFit, not only right now but always. You can follow him on Instagram. He’s @okeefmr. That’s O K E E F M R. For more information on Loud and Live, you can head to loudlive.com or follow them on Instagram @loudlivesports. Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or a seasoned business owner, “Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief” by Chris Cooper will show you what to do and how to avoid mistakes that can sink a business. Reader and gym owner Brendon Collins says, quote, “If you’re a business owner in the service industry, you must read this book,” end quote. Get your copy of the bestseller “Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief” on Amazon today. Thanks for joining us everyone. We’ll see you next time.

Thanks for listening!

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