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May 20, 2019

How to Incorporate Professional Athletes in your Marketing Efforts

Athletes are usually placed in the same bucket as Celebrity influencers, but the fact that they build their audiences differently is why they need to be in their own subset. There are so many careless brands that put the responsibility of establishing brand clout on the athlete whereas the brands that are seeing the most success are curating an experience for their customers where the athletes are creating amazing ROIs for their brands.

This article is going to show you exactly what to avoid and how to create a winning strategy. Let’s start with the absolute worst way to work with Athletes:

Force an athlete to endorse a product that they would never use IRL (in real life) or doesn’t fit in their digital persona. 

Your consumers are educated and can tell when an Athlete is not being authentic. More importantly, you are definitely going to hurt your chances on winning over a customer if they think the endorsement doesn’t make rational sense… You don’t ask Michael Phelps to endorse running cleats and it’s pretty obvious that you can’t ask Lebron James to post a picture of his favorite sunscreen lotion. Their respective fans don’t look to them for these types of endorsements so don’t waste your money!

Ask an athlete to publicly promote a product that their sport organization would not approve. 

The examples here are easy… You can’t sell anything using the name and/or likeness of a professional NBA player if the NBA has a ban on the ingredients in your product. Professional athletes have the opportunity to use their platform to make their voices heard and they’re not going to risk losing that platform over your product or service.

Place the burden of creating the content on the Athlete’s personal team. 

Some brands simply don’t have a good content creation team – sooo, you should bring in external help. Don’t be a brand that carelessly creates content with an Athlete and then ask “why isn’t this athlete creating any sales for us?”

Ready to learn about winning strategies?

Think of Athletes as people first. Increased access to every part of an athlete’s life has led to consumers needing a much deeper understanding of why the athlete is endorsing your product. Your campaign has to feel natural and you have to build a story behind how the athlete discovered your product and why they’re championing the brand publicly. If you’re looking for inspiration, look to Nike’s latest commercials and campaigns – they know how to evoke emotion by using the right music/lyrics and imagery in their campaigns to get a consumer’s buy-in.

Create customized products, packaging, or a user-experience based around the Athlete. Something as simple as using the athlete’s team colors in the packaging or UI/UX makes a huge difference to their fans. If you look at Connor McGregor’s role in Ryse Supplements, you’ll see that they completely customize the user experience around the vibe and feel of what Connor represents. This concept is commonly referred to as Athlete Branding.

Include unique value-add propositions based on the Athlete’s name and likeness. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling, but you managed to get the attention of a consumer because an Athlete endorsed you – so make sure you’re giving them something in addition to the purchase/service that they can only get because the athlete is partnered with you such as a signed poster. At the end of the day whether you’re looking at apparel & accessory brands or, if you’re looking at grocery brands, you’re going to see the brands taking advantage of these opportunities.

Have the right pre, during, and post sales funnel to execute. Factors like having the right budget, marketing goals, brand messaging, PPC campaigns, and hype can craft and shape a campaign for maximized success. So many brands focus on just securing an athlete that they forget they need to have an entire business model built around the athlete to maximize conversions.

Most brands do not even know how to negotiate with an Athlete or their management team. These athletes are role models, trend setters, tastemakers, and players on the field so it’s not a surprise that most of them come with a massive ticket price. You can get lucky and find athletes who are willing to give you a break in price because they believe in your brand or they’re open to hybrid endorsements that provide equity and cash. Don’t give an athlete the keys to the castle unless its performance based or vested over years (even sports teams do this with their contracts) and definitely consult an attorney before closing the deal.

My magic formula has been to aim to get a 5x return on the Athlete’s endorsement rate/package because you’re going to need to incorporate your cost of goods, content creation, sales funnel, and operations overhead into the formula of these new sales created in that 5x multiple minus the overall cost of operating to yield your profit. If you do it right you’ll end up with 10-20% profitability on an extremely massive scale.


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Ankur is a serial problem solver, graphic designer, writer, brand strategist, and the creator of the #INTHELAB mindset from #AKGCreative.

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