Athletes as influencers
What are athletes capable of outside the world of sports?
According to The Wall Street Journal, tennis star Serena Williams and her fashion label S by Serena introduced a sequin jacket that could only be purchased through Instagram’s checkout function last month, and in the week that followed, Instagram drove more than 50% of overall S by Serena site sales.
Serena Williams is among the rising pool of sports-based influencers that are popular on the social media site, with 11.8 million followers. And Instagram, which has lately invested in its social commerce capabilities, recognizes the distinct advantages that this type of influencer can provide in terms of drawing marketers and companies to the site.
Athlete marketing is the origin of current influencer marketing in many aspects. Today, social media has broadened the reach of athletic creators to the point that even those with only 1,000 followers may have a significant effect on specialized communities.
What are athlete creators?
Athlete creators are athletes who have a strong internet presence and a large online following.
Some athlete creators are professional athletes who have millions of followers, while others are fitness professionals who have smaller, more devoted followings. Athlete creators may utilize social media to control their image, post original material, start their businesses, educate audiences, or do all of the above.
Athlete makers are known as influencers because they frequently set trends and impact consumer purchasing decisions.
Athlete creators, for the most part, honed their skills before collaborating with a brand or releasing unique material online. As part of a brand-celebrity alliance, early sports influencers appeared in audio and video advertising.
It’s impossible to say when the first athlete brand endorsement agreement took place. In the 1920s and 1930s, brands in the United States began to connect themselves with well-known baseball players.
However, the difficulty with this strategy was that most businesses did so without the celebrity’s consent. Athlete marketing did not become a mutually beneficial partnership between brands and athletes until much later.
The emergence of radio and television, where broadcasters supported their organizations via paid advertisements, fueled the growth of athlete endorsements. Collaborations between athletes and brands become a popular way to create these advertisements and capture the attention of thousands of listeners and viewers.
Michael Jordan and Nike
When Nike, a struggling company in the 1980s, persuaded a teenage Michael Jordan to promote the brand, the most famous athlete endorsement relationship was born.
Athlete sponsorships for high-end garment labels were prevalent at the time. Adidas and Converse, for example, had previously secured endorsement deals with NBA stars. However, the Jordan-Nike collaboration played a significant role in athlete marketing that had never been seen before.
In 1985, Nike released the first pair of Air Jordan sneakers. Jordan and Nike made news after he refused to take off his Air Jordans despite being fined by the NBA for failing to fulfill uniform standards. Consumers perceive the athlete-brand collaboration as a match made in heaven after forty years and billions of dollars.
Jordan appeared in some of sports marketing’s most captivating visual campaigns. He also starred in television ads, which millions of people still watch on YouTube today.
In the 1980s and 1990s, several brand endorsement partnerships attempted to replicate the level of connection exhibited by Nike and Jordan. He preferred Nike over all of his previous collaborations, and fans could see that the bond was real.
Athletes on social media
Athletes began to embrace the developing realm of social media in the mid-2000s. By 2010, the majority of sports personalities have their own Facebook or Twitter pages.
As each platform provided verified accounts, shielding high-profile users from others who would establish false profiles in athletes’ names, athlete influencer marketing on social media flourished. By 2015, most of the major platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube, had verified badges for celebrities and prominent producers.
Before quickly, sports agents were advising their clients to use social media to communicate with fans. Fans liked getting a deeper peek into their favorite sportsmen’s personal life. Athlete brand ambassadors were also given a natural platform to sell items through social media posts.
Athlete creators and the pandemic
COVID-19 forced the cancellation, lockdown, and even postponing of some of the world’s most important athletic events (March Madness, Olympics, etc.).
When conventional sporting events returned, they did so on compressed timetables and without the advantage of live spectators. Fans plugged in digitally before, during, and after events in an attempt to feel connected to their favorite teams and sportsmen.
Athletes, on the other hand, have more time to communicate digitally with fans on a personal level because of social media and easier schedules. They have influenced home workout practices to assist individuals to keep fit when they are confined to their homes.
Athlete creators at the college level
The NCAA removed its regulation on Name Image Likeness (NIL) for college players, which was one of the most significant occasions in sports influencer marketing. Before July 20, 2021, NCAA athletes were not permitted to profit from their brands.
However, once the NCAA was found to violate the law by the Supreme Court, collegiate players from all sports and divisions began to consider brand endorsement arrangements.
With the NCAA’s lifting of the NIL limitations, companies now have access to thousands of new social media sports influencers. This move also made it necessary for collegiate athletes to build an internet presence early in their careers to communicate with fans.
Using social media for social consciousness
A growing number of sportsmen have used social media to promote social justice and raise awareness for subjects they care about in recent years. As a result of these changes, businesses are under increased pressure to address the demands of their target audiences in terms of social responsibility and underserved consumer groups.
Colin Kaepernick, who refused to stand for the national anthem in silent protest of racism in the United States, is one of the most well-known sportsmen who promote racial equality. His actions prompted outrage around the NFL, especially among Caucasian fans and league officials.
Kaepernick used his Twitter account to speak out as an activist, yet his activities, according to many, had a severe influence on his sporting career.
But Kaepernick wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Hundreds of professional athletes have followed in his footsteps to raise awareness about racial inequality.
Michael Jordan, Carson Wentz, Adam Shibley, Bubba Wallace, Stephen Curry, Gareth Southgate, Braden Holtby, Tom Brady, and John Cena are among the many notable athletes who have spoken for racial equality.
When Simone Biles pulled out of the all-around competition at the Tokyo Olympics in the summer of 2021, she took the stage. She was honest about her struggles with mental health and unapologetically put her health ahead of competitiveness.
Many other athletes and celebrities have highlighted the toll that training and performing at high levels has on their mental and emotional health as a result of Biles’ bravery.
The #EqualPlayEqualPay movement is another emerging subject among athlete influencers. The battle for gender equality in sports has prompted groups to address systemic concerns at the high school and college levels, as well as to advocate for new laws to safeguard women’s rights in sports.
Serena Williams, Billie Jean King, and others are among the most well-known sports figures that advocate for gender equality.
Types of athlete creators
- Professional athletes
The majority of professional athletes are also public figures. This means that while a product endorsement may cost more, the brand exposure benefits might be enormous.
- Extreme sports athletes
Skydiving, base jumping, skateboarding, dirt bike racing, and other extreme sports are physical activities that are riskier than the usual activity. Simply by capturing their exploits and day-to-day activities, these athlete makers regularly engage with sponsors and generate amazing material.
- NCAA athletes
All NCAA players were prohibited from participating in brand endorsement arrangements before 2021. They couldn’t use their NIL to gain extra money, even though they could control their social media profiles.
In August, the NCAA eliminated the NIL prohibition, allowing college athletes to work with their preferred businesses.
- Sports entertainment athletes
Athletes who compete in televised live events, such as American Ninja Warrior, WWE, and esports, are another type of athlete. These competitors frequently collaborate with sponsors or promote businesses that reflect their views.
- Olympic athletes
Many Olympic athletes become well-known as a result of their achievements. The majority of the top champions are a global phenomenon, making them ideal partners for global companies.
- Fitness influencers
Athletes are also created by bodybuilders, personal trainers, and fitness influencers. Many of these producers have a modest following of 1,000 to 50,000 people that follow them on social media. Fitness influencers are also excellent advocates and affiliates.
Sports influencers can elicit a passionate response from followers, whether they’re pushing a product specialized in sports or creating buzz among a group that likes athletics.
Authentic ties with your athletes are crucial in any creative partnership. Their product endorsements will connect with members of their audience and drive shoppers to take action if they feel true passion for your brand.
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