by Darren Heitner, Contributor
Forbes September 2013
The Los Angeles Lakers organization is not fond of advising players to take specific nutritional supplements, so when Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Tim DiFrancesco actually suggested a supplement line to his players, the Lakers listened. It was not easy for DiFrancesco and the Lakers, but they have finally found a supplement company they are comfortable using: BioSteel Sports Supplements, Inc.
“If on paper, the ingredient quality of a certain product isn’t where I want it to be, it’s over for me,” DiFrancesco said to FORBES. ”Secondly, ‘Do I like the taste of it? Would I use it myself?’ Then, do the players like it? If they don’t like it, then it’s out the window.” DiFrancesco approves of the ingredients used by BioSteel and has no gripes with the taste of the products provided.
And it is not just the Lakers consuming BioSteel supplements. Take a quick glance at the Toronto-based company’s portfolio and you will notice that 23 NHL franchises pay for BioSteel product, along with 14 NBA organizations and 18 MLB teams. Additionally, 30 of the world’s top 50 golfers receive BioSteel delivered to their stall every week.
Up-and-coming PGA golfer Jordan Spieth, Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin and Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson are just a few of the young athletes who are part of Team BioSteel. PGA Tour golfer and BioSteel endorser Hunter Mahan boasted, “It has been spreading like wildfire among sports teams and organizations.”
Yet, as BioSteel President John Celenza explained to FORBES, his company’s market penetration did not happen overnight. In 2005, the NHL — the league that BioSteel first cracked — implemented league-wide drug testing with its new collective bargaining agreement. According to Celenza, “Before that, guys were taking everything under the sun.”
At that time, Matt Nichol was the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs and basically the point of contact for anyone in the NHL looking for advice on nutrition.
“Following the new CBA, Matt then calls all the supplemental nutrition companies that are supplying the Leafs and says, ‘We have drug testing now. Not only do I need your drug testing documentation but proof that what is on your label is in your product,’” Celenza recalled. “Not one company could get back to him with any documentation. He said, ‘My players’ reputation is on the line. My reputation is on the line. What do I do?’”
The Maple Leafs then suggested Nichol create his own product — and he did just that. Over the years, Nichol tweaked the product based on responses from some of his athletes. Together, Nichol and Celenza co-founded BioSteel, with Nichol and a team of scientists ultimately forming a safe supplement for professional and Olympic athletes.
Fast-forward to 2009, and a childhood buddy of Celenza’s — current Calgary Flames forward and alternate captain, Michael Cammalleri — began training with Nichol. After numerous workout sessions that also involved consuming BioSteel product, Cammalleri was sold. Much of the NHL followed thereafter. Cammalleri finally found a steady and consistent source of energy in BioSteel, which includes no sugar, artificial flavors or preservatives in its products.
“As a pro athlete, you want to be told, ‘This is 100% safe to consume’. You want to then be told that it has the highest quality ingredients. You want to be able to have a set schedule for easily consuming the product. BioSteel provided me that,” said Cammalleri, who has a “vested interest” in the company, according to Celenza.
With NHL training camps set to begin in the next few days, players across the league will consume all three of BioSteel’s products on a daily basis. It is the company’s high performance sports drink — which is commonly referred to as #DrinkThePink — that is the most popular among athletes. ”I started using it and it seemed like I woke up the next day and half the NHL is drinking it,” Cammalleri said. ”It is that good of a product. BioSteel provides athletes with a healthier alternative.”
Throughout the past couple of years the company has cemented itself as an industry leader in Canada, with product available at mainstream grocery stores, sporting goods stores and GNC Canada. Additionally, it has expanded globally into markets in Russia, Asia, Slovenia and Denmark. Even with its global expansion, the company is still focused on gaining more traction within the United States.
The recent addition of Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant as an official endorser has Celenza optimistic about the company’s outlook in the U.S., especially in making headway with NFL franchises and other marketable athletes. ”I really feel as though he’s cleaned up his image,” Celenza said of Bryant. ”He just signed on with Jumpman 23. To me, he has that same pop culture appeal like 50 Cent did with Vitamin Water. He is a marketable guy. If he really gets it going, I think he could have a ‘Terrell Owens effect’ in Dallas.”
Darren Heitner is a Partner at Wolfe Law Miami, P.A. in Miami, Florida, Founder of Sports Agent Blog, and Professor of Sport Agency Management at Indiana University. Learn more about him at http://www.darrenheitner.com.
This article included contributions by Mark J. Burns.