On August 8, 2021, the 2020 Summer Olympics closed in a relatively empty Japan National Stadium, under the theme of Moving Forward. While the events of that evening focused on moving toward the 2024 Summer Olympics in France, for the international sporting community the move forward was much closer, immediately shifting focus to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.
Now less than half a year later, still mired in the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian athletes are preparing to compete on the world’s grandest stage once again. While the eyes of the sporting world have moved on to the winter games, summer athletes in Canada are still looking to ride the Olympic wave to well-needed corporate partnerships. That’s where Ottawa Redblacks wide receiver Nate Behar comes in.
The Carleton alumnus has been busy during the pandemic, writing and speaking out on important topics of race and understanding, continuing his CFL career and, most recently, launching a new business aimed at bringing value-based partnerships to brands and athletes. In the rapidly shifting landscape of the 24-hour news cycle Behar is committed to giving athletes, like him, the tools they need to stand out.
After being approached not once but three times by friends looking to tap into Behar’s CFL and NFL connections he quickly realized there was a need for a system that bridged the gap and helped businesses and athletes create partnerships. “You hear it once you say ‘yes.’ You hear it twice and you say ‘Okay,’ you hear it a third time and you say ‘Wait, what’s going on here?’” Identifying a need in the market Behar quickly got to work investigating how he might be able to bridge the partnership gap.
In no time, it seemed that the project had taken off like an avalanche, picking up steam as the minutes passed. “I started picking around and just googling some stuff and noticed there would be some legs here.” As Behar spent more time looking into his options, he realized that the tool he was building was not only practical but was in high demand. In no time, FireWork was born.
Originally named ATNMY, for the athlete’s ability to find their partnerships and deals autonomously, FireWork strives to put the power of partnerships back in the hands of the athlete, letting athletes identify like-minded connections that help both parties strive.
“It’s been a great response,” said Behar. “One thing with athletes is that they're busy, so it hasn’t been a straight line by any stretch, but the general support, belief and desire to be a part of this has been tremendous and overwhelming and that is what’s continued to spur this along.” To help typically underserved athletes, Behar recently signed a two-year partnership with AthletesCAN, the association of Canada’s national team athletes.
The partnership aims not only to connect Canadian national team athletes with partners but also to provide key educational resources to help them develop important skills for effective pricing, pitching and negotiating. In addition to focusing on partnerships, FireWork will also be providing AthletesCAN athletes with two workshops a year in the areas of self-funding, personal branding and marketing, and athlete commercial rights.
In a statement, AthletesCAN shared their enthusiasm for the partnership. “We are excited to form this innovative relationship with Nate, as part of AthletesCAN’s new strategy.”
AthletesCAN would go on to add “FireWork’s promotional platform provides the opportunity to our 6,000-plus membership base to create innovative digital content to help grow their personal brands and ultimately land prospective partners. Together, we will elevate the profile and awareness of Canadian athletes, while prioritizing a safe and inclusive athlete-centred Canadian sport system coming off back-to-back Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo and Beijing.”
The partnership will help FireWork reach more athletes and businesses faster. The rapid growth isn’t lost on Behar either. Reflecting on those early days, Behar admits sitting in coffee shops working on a small passion project was eye-opening. “I was realizing I had no idea how much I didn’t know,” he said, adding, “we’re much further along than I ever thought we’d be and that’s an awesome feeling.”
Though FireWork has grown quickly, there’s much left to do, especially as the second Olympiad in only six months gets set to begin in a matter of days.
“There’s been no time like the present for brands to work with athletes and Olympic athletes. The athletes themselves know it too. They know there’s no time like the present to put their name out there, to monetize and build their brand.”
At its core, FireWork is an opportunity for athletes at all levels to focus on developing their brand. From the OUA standout to the gold medalist, there is intentionally something for everyone within the platform. For Behar, the true value of FireWork is not necessarily the help it can provide to the household name but the impact it can have on the lives of athletes grinding day in and day out to make a living at their sport.
“Equitable growth is core to everything that we do. That is the value of this platform. This wasn’t designed for Lebron James, it was designed for everybody else to get a shake, and that counts for male, female, Olympian, Paralympian, the CFL athletes, the CEBL, the athletes that haven’t gotten the chance but still have all that value - this is who FireWork is really for.”
With growth comes questions of goals, something Behar doesn’t shy away from talking about. While he admits uptake is the priority, he quickly adds that success needs to be measured by more than the number of users or a dollar figure. “Once there is that groundswell and the growth of users and brands, one of the best markers of success will be a big brand giving the opportunity to work with small athletes. That will be one of those examples, you know a household sports brand working with more regional athletes because of what FireWork allows them to do.”
However, helping big brands identify local collaborators isn’t the only goal. Always the entrepreneur Behar admits he’s dreamt of following the trajectory as an upstart brand partnering with an up-and-comer. “Of course, there is the dream of a young brand partnering with a young athlete and they stay together through the draft as both explode into the stratosphere.”
As the cauldron is lit to start the Winter Olympics, Behar is hopeful that the games won’t be the one-time millions of Canadians hear the names and stories of our homegrown talent. If the young entrepreneur has anything to say about it, the games will just be the spark.