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Sporting life

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 8:46 a.m. January 17, 2013
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
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When German sporting goods giant Adidas sought to reinvigorate its U.S. brand in 1993, Soosie Lazenby was one of the first marketing executives it hired.

A Clearwater native, Lazenby was working at IMG Academy, the Bradenton-based sports behemoth. She traveled the country, from Chicago to Charlotte, putting on tennis tournaments. Adidas, though, was the sports business opportunity of a lifetime.

Lazenby spent six years with Adidas. Sales at the company soared during that time, from $150 million in 1993 to $1.7 billion in 1999. The company gave all the executives special champagne bottles to commemorate the day it surpassed $1 billion.

Her next goal is to build a large-scale event branding and invitation design studio. She plans to get there through Urbancoast, a Belleair Bluffs-based business she founded in 2008. The three-employee company, with less than $1 million in annual revenues, has posted at least 20% sales growth every year since it opened.

“Our business just all of a sudden exploded,” says Lazenby. “(But) I went into this with a long-term vision. I don't want to be just a Tampa Bay business. I want to create a place where people can get everything for events.”

Lazenby took a big step in that direction in 2012, when she acquired St. Petersburg-based Not From a Box to help boost e-commerce for her business. The 10-year-old business, says Lazenby, is a custom invitation design studio with a significant online presence.

Lazenby, 46, hopes acquisitions like that, combined with her unique career background, will turn Urbancoast into a printed materials branding conglomerate. Here's a glance at some of Lazenby's career highlights:

Sports passion: Lazenby played tennis competitively growing up, including a stint at IMG's famed Bollettieri Tennis Academy. She attended Tulane University, and initially wanted to pursue a career in sports broadcasting. Not fond of writing, however, she instead went after a job with IMG in event planning.

Just do it: IMG assigned Lazenby to plan her first tennis tournament, in Charlotte, when she was 25. She showed up in the city for a three-month stint with nothing — no contacts, no car, no furniture. She quickly discovered the benefits of the barter system, which is how she found a couch and many other necessities. Says Lazenby: “They threw me into the fire and said figure it out.”

Many hats: Lazenby's last job at Adidas, director of brand asset marketing, was to coordinate worldwide branding between the firm's top clients and promotional stars, from the New York Yankees to Kobe Bryant. It was one part event planning, one part strategy, and one part making sure the Adidas brand was protected. “It was so much fun to be part of the growth,” Lazenby says. “It was amazing. It was one of the best experiences I ever had.”

Friendly faces: Lazenby, through her work at Adidas and IMG, befriended many prominent professional athletes. The list includes basketball star Charles Barkley, Nomar Garciaparra in baseball and tennis player Anna Kournikova. Tracy McGrady, then a budding NBA star, once helped her unpack after a move. Former NBA player and coach Kurt Rambis, when he played for the Charlotte Hornets, invited Lazenby to his family's home for dinner.

Stretch the dollars: Lazenby's Adidas success drew the attention of officials with the Massachusetts Sports Partnership, a public-private group that recruits sporting events to the state. She recalls the partnership's budget was so thin when she arrived in the late 1990s that three employees shared one ethernet cord for Internet access. “I had to figure out how to generate some money, otherwise I wouldn't get a paycheck or make payroll,” says Lazenby. “And that was scary.”

Play ball: Lazenby used her growing connections in the sports world to help raise money and draw interest to her group. The work paid off. Events she helped bring to the state include the Major League All-Star game in 1999 at Fenway Park and several World Cup soccer events and Davis Cup tennis tournaments.

Learn a lot: The sports partnership post, says Lazenby, taught her how to multitask and juggle, get a lot done with limited resources and take risks. Says Lazenby: “I would never have had the confidence to run my own business if I didn't run the sports commission.”

Romney calls: Just like the partnership noticed Lazenby's work with Adidas, then Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney noticed her work with the sports organization. Romney appointed Lazenby to head the state's Physical Fitness & Sports Committee, a group that worked with more than 12,000 children. Lazenby says Romney worked hard and was sincere. “Mitt was always very authentic,” says Lazenby. “He was genuinely engaged and interested.”

A new field: Lazenby says the toughest challenge for her with both roles in Massachusetts was working within the world of politics. In sports, she says, it was easier to set up a strategy and have players execute in a team-oriented way. Government, though, was like moving herds. People didn't want to listen to other opinions. “I didn't know how to deal with politicians,” she says. “I didn't come from that background.”

Moving on: Lazenby moved back to Florida in 2008 with her husband. That's when she launched Urbancoast, a move out of her comfort zone. “I didn't know anything about retail,” Lazenby says. The early days there is when she discovered the “smart thing people do in business is to know their weaknesses and hire accordingly.” Looking back, she holds no regrets over her sports career — save for one. “I had accomplished everything I wanted to do in sports marketing,” says Lazenby. “Everything except being named to 40 under 40 in the SportsBusiness Journal.”


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