How Clubs & Sports Associations Can Benefit From Their Athletes Personal Brands.
Digital and online advances in how sports content can be shared have allowed sporting Clubs, Leagues and Athletes to connect and create loyal engagement with fans at unprecedented levels. Sport is no longer limited to being only available at a specific time slot where fans had to pay for a ticket to watch teams or events or watch at home on TV filled with irrelevant advertising. The digital revolution and ongoing technological advancements now allow fans to watch their favourite sport at any time, across multiple devices from wherever they like, even allowing fans to watch a live game and stream commentary through the Clubs app, or media platform of choice.
Fans are driven to engage not only at the time of the game or event, as their loyalty is largely determined by the engagement outside of these times by the content shared by the Clubs and Athletes that provide a complete picture of the Club or Athlete. This can include Clubs sharing sponsor activations utilising their Athletes, behind the scenes of training facilities and activities, and getting to know the Club president and CEO. These are great examples of fan engagement content which allows fans to feel like they are a part of a special Club with exclusive insight into the team they are passionate about supporting. The more a fan knows, to relate and feel a part of a Club the more passionate they are as supporters, ensuring ongoing annual memberships sales, sponsorships and financial viability for a Club.
Recent US research has confirmed that fans seek to engage at a significantly higher rate with an Athlete directly before they engage with an Athletes Club or Media channels. This will only increase as technology improves and fans can feel like they are intimately involved in the game and closer than ever to the Athletes, such as through the use of VR technology, social live feeds, and Athlete driven media platforms. Fans now have real-time access to their favourite Athletes who can share post-game interviews and feelings direct to their social media, unfiltered by their Clubs media teams or edited by the media. NFL Patriots player Tom Brady is a great example of an Athlete who provides positive post-game commentary direct to his fans through his own social media platforms.
Traditionally Sporting Organisations have always been wary and concerned of an individual Athlete’s brands becoming larger than the Club, and a fear of losing control of the Athlete, and potential teammate jealousy. We are now seeing Clubs acknowledging this is not the case, and by working strategically with an Athlete to collaborate on both the Club and Athlete brands there are significant advantages and commercial opportunities to be realised. A recent example being basketballer Lebron James moving from the Cleveland Cavaliers’ to the Los Angeles Lakers and increasing their ticket prices by 400%. Similarly, when footballer Cristiano Ronaldo joined the Italian football team, Juventus, they reportedly sold $60 million worth of ‘Ronaldo’ No.7 jerseys in 24 hours. By combining the goals and brands of the Athlete and the Club the opportunity for Clubs to increase ticket sales, annual memberships, merchandise sales, and securing sponsorships can be driven to unprecedented levels with the assistance of strategic marketing plans, and superior digital execution.
As the research states with fans preferring to hear directly from the Athlete, it is critical for Clubs and Associations to embrace and support the development of their Athletes’ personal brands, and for marketing teams to see these Athletes as their sales teams. To ensure that positive opportunities be realised Athletes need to be educated on how to build and execute their personal brands. This involves more than telling an Athlete what they can and can’t post on social media. As with the execution of a corporate brand marketing campaign, you would not trust this to an Agency who weren’t brand experts, it’s the same when assisting Athletes to develop their personal brands this must be delivered by brand marketing experts who understand Athletes, how Clubs and Associations work and how what they are teaching provides value to fans, sponsors, Clubs and Leagues.
By teaching an Athlete how to build their brand they will generate their own levels of fan engagement with the same Club and League fans creating a cascade effect, the more fans that are paying attention to the Athlete will have an increased exposure to the Club and Sports Code content, and as already stated the more these Clubs and Codes will reap the benefits, such as an increase in their online following, membership, ticket sales, merchandise sales and more!
Here are four key ways that a Club and Sports Associations can invest in Athletes brands to benefit their own financial growth.
1. Brand Inclusion & Education for Athletes
How many Athletes would be familiar with the values of their Clubs brand? By sharing what a Clubs brand values and goals are this can be a simple and effective way for Clubs to build their brand identity through their Athletes, however, currently, this information only resides with Club management and marketing.
Clubs can create brand booklets or a presentation to be shared at inductions for their Athletes that breaks down the elements to the Clubs brand. All Athletes should be familiar with the brand pillars of the Club by learning about the Club’s history, what they stand for, what their community is like, and any other significant elements to their brand personality. This benefits the Club since Athletes can’t adequately advocate and strategically represent the Club if they don’t have the right information about the Club’s brand.
The documentation should leave Athletes with a thorough understanding of the Clubs brand, their strategic goals, co-branding opportunities with Athletes and how to implement these elements into their personal, team-related content. This will enable players to strategically align themselves with their teams’ brand in the most beneficial way for the Club.
2. Athlete Branded Apparel & Merchandise
Clubs & Sports Associations can leverage off strong Athlete brands by using an Athletes brand to sell team products, merchandise and apparel. Athlete branded merchandise has shown significant success for many teams and Clubs in recent years, a clear example is Juventus who sold $60 million worth of Ronaldo No.7 jerseys within 24 hours of the announcement of his move, this is half of the player's annual salary! Understandably, Cristiano is one of the biggest footballers in the world, but there is an opportunity for this impact in the Australian market on a relative scale, an example being the Western Sydney Wanderers selling fan favourite Brendon Santalab polos for the 17/18 season.
Clubs and Associations can simply add players names on jerseys, hats, backpacks, socks, any kind of merchandise or apparel! Athletes who have strong personal brands and subsequently devoted fans will easily sell branded team products. Athletes with branded products will want their products to sell and for fans to be wearing their name, therefore, advertising of their branded products will be expected across an Athletes social media channels.
3. Develop Athlete Branded Content
An effective way for Clubs and Sports Associations to build awareness, reach, and engagement through their players, is by creating Athlete branded content. This content can either be used by the Clubs on their own channels, and then shared by the Athletes to theirs, or created for the Athletes to distribute, driving engagement back to the Club channels.
Clubs and Sports Associations have many opportunities and relationships available to create real-time, “insider”, and personal Athlete content. Clubs and teammates are typically around each other more than they would be around their own friends! Fans are eager to understand who Athletes are, get to know their personality and see a glimpse into their lives. Clubs and Associations can easily begin to produce this content, especially since they will typically have production, media, and marketing experts available within the Club or their close networks as well. A challenge for Clubs in developing this content has been that they have been challenged by traditional marketing expectations that all content must be at a campaign level of execution before being shared. This is not the case, often the most engaging content on social channels is the live or unproduced authentic and genuine content, filmed simply on an iPhone.
We are starting to see some Australian Clubs and Sports Codes begin to think outside the box and develop engaging brand content utilising their Athletes for more than the basic media shots! The Big Bash League, Brisbane Heat recently took two of their Athletes to regional Queensland to play cricket with children in schools and created a great amount of content to share with their fans. Similarly, A-League’s Brisbane Roar football Club began a segment called JackTV which revolved around footballer, Jack Hingert, who interviewed different players each week in funny skit style interviews which allowed fans to get to know their new Athletes.
Haidee Birkett - Brisbane Heat WBBL
Jack Hingert & Adam Taggart - Brisbane Roar FC
Sports Codes have even more opportunity to leverage off Athletes in branded content since they have an entire Code of Athletes to choose from! They can simply engage Athletes who have the strongest personal brands, and utilise their platforms to drive mass fan engagement and capitalise on their distribution channels.
4. Provide Athletes With Training
Our final investment into Athlete branding that benefits a Club and Sports Associations is training and educational guidance. Many Athletes are only beginning to learn the basics of branding themselves. Therefore, Clubs and Associations can’t expect Athletes to adequately brand their Club or Code if they can’t for their own personal brand. Athletes need to understand how to build their own personal brand and create long-term opportunities for themselves. Every Athlete needs to understand how to commercialise their personal brand, in order to succeed in avenues outside of their sport and to assist in their post-career transition. Building a brand is a long-term, strategic process that should be done with the assistance of experienced brand marketers through collaboration with the Athletes and Clubs.
Clubs should be providing Athletes with access to education that provides the fundamental lessons on how to build and execute a brand, leverage the media and their social media to grow their profiles, manage commercial opportunities and create long-term strategic pathways for their post-career. This should then extend to public speaking courses, business courses, and more, to teach Athletes the practical skills they will need to execute their personal brand. Athletes need to have the opportunity to learn how to maximise their personal brand during their playing career, to ultimately benefit the Club and Sporting Association and the earlier they receive this education the better for all parties.
In conclusion, Athlete branding and the technology available to execute to large audiences will continue to explode in the coming years and Clubs and Associations who do not embrace this and strategise on how to execute and integrate their Athletes into their marketing plans will limit the growth opportunities of their Clubs and the Leagues. The risk is real, sports are no different to businesses and those who are surviving are the ones who are the most innovative, who have sophisticated content distribution strategies which reach mass audiences, and who recognise the potential of powerful collaborations.
Agency X has developed The Commercial Athlete program designed for professional Athletes and is the only Athlete Branding educational program in Australia which has been developed by recognised industry brand marketing experts and professional Athletes. Our first-hand experience working in sports and with large corporate brands and professional Athletes ensures our Athletes receive the most comprehensive skills and knowledge.
We are also experienced at consulting with your Clubs marketing teams to assist in developing strategies and training on how they can best engage your teams' Athletes to develop, execute and commercialise Athlete content to achieve the Clubs business goals.