“Million Dollar Arm” Sports Agent J.B. Bernstein Addresses Convo

Oct 23, 2014

by Cary McMullen | Publications editor

When he was at a crossroad in his career, J.B. Bernstein came up with a novel idea to get it going again. The problem was that everyone told him it was crazy.

Bernstein, CEO of Access Group, a marketing and sports management firm, is the creator of Million Dollar Arm, a reality TV show in India designed to find potential Major League Baseball players. His story was recently portrayed in a movie, with Bernstein played by actor Jon Hamm.

Bernstein was the guest speaker at Convocation on Oct. 22, and he told the FSC student body that although he has built a successful career as a marketing and sports agent, representing some of the most elite professional athletes in the world, it took his most persistent salesmanship to finally convince an investor that Million Dollar Arm would succeed.

“Everybody told me it was the worst idea they’d ever heard. Even my father said it was the worst idea he’d ever heard,” he said.

The idea behind Million Dollar Arm was to reach an untapped and potentially huge market, Bernstein said. He did produce Million Dollar Arm, and out of 38,000 contestants, two players were chosen. They came to the United States, were given tryouts and signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Bernstein, who holds an MBA from the London School of Economics, started his career as a marketing executive with Proctor & Gamble, then became a founding partner of the sports trading card company Upper Deck. He went on to found Access Group when athletes asked him to represent them. His clients include baseball player Barry Bonds and football players Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders.

Bernstein, who gives numerous motivational speeches on college campuses, called his professional journey “a microcosm of how to do business.” He gave the students five principles on how to succeed: creativity, passion, overcoming adversity, planning, and ethics.

“Regret has nothing to do with failure or success. It has to do with the only two things you can control, preparation and execution. If you don’t do everything you can to prepare for an opportunity, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life,” he said.

He concluded with a proverb he found in a fortune cookie when he was a kid. “It said, ‘The greatest pleasure in life is doing something people say can’t be done,’” he said.

In addition to his speech at Convocation, Bernstein spoke to a small group of athletes and sports management students in the McKay Archives Building in the afternoon. He told the students that sales is “the hardest job on the planet” but that “anything you do is sales,” including selling one’s self.

He related several pointers and techniques for marketing, such as creating common ground with the buyer and discovering the buyer’s motivation. He also encouraged the students to be daring in pursuit of their careers.

“Don’t settle for anything in life,” he said. “If you’re going to spend your career running, you might as well be chasing your dreams.”