Since you’re checking out this guide, we’re guessing you’re interested in how to add athletes to your marketing mix. But, as is natural before any new venture, you have questions. How do I find athletes that make sense for my brand? Will I have to deal with agents? What is the difference between pro athletes & influencers? What should I ask the athlete to do for me to guarantee the best results?
Why Athlete Marketing?
The answer to the question of “Why Athlete Marketing” is one that we’ve been analyzing every day. Partnering with professional athletes will help you build trust with consumers, target hyper-local audiences, and generate incredibly valuable content to reuse in other marketing channels. We know that was a lot for one sentence, so let’s dive into more below.
Build Trust With Consumers
Trust is the glue that binds together any relationship. When consumers trust your brand, they will feel more confident in your products and services. One of the best ways to build trust with consumers is through familiarity. Unless you’re Pepsi, Anheuser-Busch, or another huge multinational corporation, the chances that ALL of your target consumers know who you are (or that you even exist) is close to zero. If someone doesn’t know you, how can they trust you?
Now let’s say you partner with one of the thousands of active and/or retired NFL athletes. While it is difficult to determine the exact amount of NFL fans worldwide, about half of all Americans, which is about 160 million people, say that they are fans of professional football. Partnering with an NFL athlete will help new customers not only find you, but trust you more as you are now associated with a league that they are familiar with. We’ll cover ways to maximize your alignment with professional leagues in the section, “How can I make sure these deals work?”
Reach A Hyper-Local Audience
If you type “crazy sports fan” into Google, you’ll find some pretty… well… interesting pictures. Whether it’s getting crazy tattoos, “forgetting” to wear a shirt in freezing cold weather or naming your baby after a favorite athlete, sports has an effect on its fans that is difficult to put into words.
Every team has its own city where they play half of their games and nearly all of a team’s fans are from that city (with the exception of Miami Heat fans). Because of this, sports bring cities closer together, creating a common bond that can be shared amongst diverse communities. Green Bay, WI, Lincoln, NE, and Philadelphia, PA are three of the craziest sports towns in America, but these cities don’t seem to get a lot of love when marketers spend money on targeted Facebook ads. People in these cities, and great sports cities all over the world, obsess over their hometown team. Partnering with an athlete who can have up to 20% of his social media following from a city like Philly (home of the Eagles) can be incredibly valuable to target a local community.
Get High Quality User-Generated Content
Everyone has seen those Shaquille O’Neal/Icy-Hot commercials, but’s let’s imagine Icy Hot never partnered with the Hall-of-Famer. What type of engaging content can they create to engage millions of potential customers? How “sexy” can a marketer make content around a Lidocaine cream or patch? Frankly, their product is not that enticing in a marketing sense. Solution? Icy Hot closes one deal with Shaq and immediately made their content something that sports fans around the world could relate to and recognize.
The best part for you is that they didn’t need to work with a star like Shaq either! Many brands have seen success working with smaller pro athletes to create content and boost the success of brand ambassador pages, Facebook ads, website testimonials and more. Taking advantage of and promoting your athlete ambassador’s league is key here — a “Team USA Olympian” or “Professional UFC Fighter” might be more impactful than the athlete’s name on its own. Greensplus is one brand that has specialized in working with micro-influencers to increase time spent on their website and boost conversions because of the reviews they advertise from trustworthy athletes.
How Can I Find The Right Athlete For My Brand?
With over 5,000 professional athletes in the major four US sports (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL) and thousands more in less popular sports like UFC, Lacrosse or any Olympic sport, how can you make sure to work with the “right” athlete for your brand? You need to ask yourself just two questions, “Would this athlete really use my product and benefit from it?“ and “Would this athlete’s following really use my product and benefit from it?” Let’s analyze the partnership between former NFL Wide Receiver Eric Decker and Smucker’s to walk through these questions.
Would this athlete really use my product and benefit from it?
Smucker’s Instagram bio starts off with “Delighting families by making life more fruitful”. With this one sentence, you can tell that Smucker’s focuses their marketing on consumers who spend a lot of time with their families. You can imagine that Smucker’s focuses their attention on parents as most of its products are for kids. Taking one scroll through Eric Decker’s Instagram, you’ll see that nearly all his posts are about his wife and/or kids.
Decker is the parent of three young kids who are the perfect consumers of Smucker’s brands. Since most 7-year old kids do not go grocery shopping (surprise, surprise…), Smucker’s is forced to target the parents of these children. And a cherry on top for why Eric is the perfect fit for Smucker’s? An average post that includes Eric’s children gets 90,000 likes while an average post including just Eric gets only a third of that (around 30,000). Smucker’s wanted to make sure Eric included his children in the advertisement, to guarantee the highest chance of engagement on the post, so Eric included his son to deliver the best results
Would this athlete's followers really use my product and benefit from it?
Since Eric Decker played in the NFL for nine years, you would imagine most of his followers are males who love football, right? Actually, 78% of Eric Decker’s 1.2 million followers on Instagram are female. This is most likely due to his famous wife (Jessie James Decker, 3.2million IG followers) and his appearance on the show “Eric & Jessie: Game On” on E! Networks.
If 78% of Eric’s following is female and 64% of his total following is between ages 25-54 (quite old for NFL players), is this still a good fit for Smucker’s? Actually, yes! Traditionally, women do more of the grocery shopping, so working with an athlete like Eric is still a perfect sponsorship deal for Smucker’s. Yes, the demographics of the athlete you’re working with matter, but what is most important is the demographics of those who are actually following that athlete. These are the people who are going to be influenced to buy your product.
Who Do I Work With And How Much Do I Pay?
You will be working with one of two people on athlete marketing deals — the athlete or the marketing agent for the athlete. There isn’t a preferred option on whom you will want to work with, as each has its pros & cons, let’s dive into both below.
If you are working with an athlete directly on any marketing deal, the chances that you’re working with a micro-influencer (less than 50k followers) is quite high. The more followers/fame an athlete has, the more likely the athlete will have an agent to represent them. While you may be paying less money to athletes without agents (because most agents get paid on commission on top of what athletes get paid), this doesn’t mean you should look to take advantage of this athlete and pay them less than what they are worth Remember, this is an investment. If you pay less money on any other type of advertising, you are going to get worse results.
For many (mostly false) reasons, some brands do not like the idea of working with sports agents. Hopefully, after you read this, you will not be one of those brands. There are a lot of positives to working with a sports agent. Fast communication (remember, it’s their job to close marketing deals for their clients), expertise in the industry (chances are they have closed deals with similar brands), and working with a large pool of clients they represent should all be positives that brands can take advantage of.
Most agents will try to negotiate a higher price for their clients. However, this should not scare or intimidate you. All agents have a cost in mind for their clients when going into a negotiation, and nearly all will begin negotiations at a higher number than they would ultimately accept. Like any negotiation, stay calm, know what number you want to pay, and make sure you always keep focus on the outcome of the deal, not just the money you are paying to make it happen.
How Much Do I Pay An Athlete?
Unfortunately, there is no “right” answer when asking yourself this question. There are many articles on the topic of “how much does social media influencer marketing cost”, so I’d recommend doing your research before agreeing to any amount of money.
Luckily, we here at MarketPryce have built our own “DealScore” technology that allows brands to understand and compare different athlete costs with one easy-to-read number. Once you post a Campaign on MarketPryce, you will be able to see athletes applying at all different prices. Don’t get overwhelmed, as you will easily be able to separate the good deals from the not-so-good ones using our DealScore.
How Can I Make Sure Athlete Marketing Works?
Like most things in life, preparation is key when closing marketing deals with athletes. If you do not properly prepare by setting goals, your success rate will be close to zero. What goals should you be setting? Take a look at three of our favorite goals to set before working with an athlete below.
Increase Brand Awareness
Increasing brand awareness is one of the more difficult to measure goals you can have in an athlete marketing partnership, but is still very important & cannot be ignored. Brand awareness can be measured in many ways including but not limited to:
- Increase in social media following
- Increase in social media engagement
- Increase in website traffic/blog views
Who wouldn’t want any of the above bullet points for their businesses? However, like we mentioned, tracking brand awareness is difficult for most brands because it doesn’t lead to a direct return on your investment (ROI). If I spend $1,000 working with an athlete to post about my product on social media, how many followers do I need to gain to make this deal worth it? Just because you are spending more money than you are making in the short term, doesn’t mean these campaigns are a failure. As it’s far-reaching to see an increase in sales after brand awareness campaigns, you need to make sure you are crystal clear on what you should be tracking outside of direct sales heading into your campaign.
Before working with an athlete, make sure you fully understand how many followers your own social media accounts have and how much engagement they typically get on posts. Have a good feel for how much website traffic you get on a normal day, so you can understand if the athlete you worked with led to any more visitors (better yet any new visitors) coming to your website. At first, you are going to want to track any change no matter the size. If you increase your website traffic by 5% or increase your Twitter following by 10% within 48 hours of an athlete posting about your product, that’s great! Now keep working with more athletes and compare the results they all led to individually in order to understand what separates a “good” deal from a “not so good” one. Once you have a good feel for what delivers the best results, it’s time to scale those efforts.
Some of the best campaigns to increase brand awareness are:
- Product giveaways to increase social media followers + engagement
- Ask your followers a question to get a response (works best on Twitter)
The best campaign you can run with a professional athlete with a strong local presence would be to host an event where the athlete can attend and support your brand in person. This type of deal should include any (and ideally all) of the deliverables below:
- 1-3 social media posts before the event. Ideal timing would be a post two weeks before, a post one week before and a post the day before to make sure their followers do not miss the opportunity to meet them in person.
- What will the athlete do during the event? This seems simple, but you need to prepare to make the most out of it if you are going to pay an athlete to come to your retail store location. Will the athlete sign autographs if a fan comes with a jersey or ball they would like signed? Will the athlete be wearing a t-shirt that represents your brand? How long will the athlete be staying and will they be coming with any guests or agents? Will the athlete be making a speech? These are all questions that need to be discussed prior to the event and will most likely be taken into account when discussing a final cost for the athlete to appear. The fewer surprises you can have on the day of the event, the better.
- Find an athlete who wants to be there. It’s hard to believe, but even celebrity professional athletes can be shy too. Meeting hundreds or even thousands of fans can be overwhelming, so you need to do your research before choosing the right athlete. Is this athlete a rookie (19-21 years old) that will be more nervous than an older athlete who’s been to events like this in the past? Is this athlete who is charismatic on social media? You’ll want to make sure you find an athlete who is genuinely excited to meet fans and can use this event to do just that.
- One post after the event. This is not as necessary as the first three, but it shows that the athlete was authentically interested in the business and had a lot of fun showing up. You want to make sure your followers and the athlete’s followers believe the athlete wanted to be at your event and wasn’t forced to as he/she was paid for it. The more authentic this deal can look, the better.
The holy grail of any marketing campaign is making more money than you are spending. Unless you are the best marketer who has ever lived, it will be tough to run campaigns that drive a clear ROI right off the bat with no prior brand awareness. With that being said, once your customers already know about you, it’s time to get them to buy your stuff!
Some of the best campaigns to run to increase sales are:
- Product giveaways (yes, again). Giveaways, where the consumers need to purchase a product, download an app, or even comment on a post, can be extremely valuable, especially when the athlete is auctioning off a piece of memorabilia.
- Instagram story with a swipe up. Possibly the most frustrating part of Instagram is the fact that you can not include links in captions for posts. With the rise in popularity of Instagram stories, smart brands are having athletes ditch the in-feed post altogether for story posts. Not only post for Instagram stories more affordable than posts in the feed, but followers are able to “swipe up” on stories that can lead to a specific landing page for the consumer to purchase the product.
- Instagram shopping. In 2018, Instagram introduced a shopping feature that allows you to tag items in pictures as products, and then customers can check out from there. This is an organic method to encourage purchases that fit easily into your feed.
Increase Paid Ad Performance
The best ways to use athletes to increase paid ad performance are through reusing content in your ads and boosting your athlete ambassador’s post. Let’s take a look at both in more detail.
Reusing Content in Your Ads
Let’s not forget that preparation and setting goals are crucial when partnering with a professional athlete ambassador, especially for this paid ads section. The best way to do this is to get familiar with A/B testing. Let’s say you want to test reusing athlete content on Instagram. You will need to make sure that the only thing that is different between your two tests is the content (picture/video/caption) that you are using. If you are using the same target demographic, the same date & time you will run the ads, putting the same amount of money behind the ads, you will easily be able to see which ad performs better.
Boosting Sponsored Posts
While reusing content in your ads can be incredibly beneficial, boosting an already-sponsored post can drive even more business for you. I mean, would you rather get an ad from Calm App or Lebron James? Most athletes should have a Business account on Instagram (instead of a Personal account) so they can better service their brand partners in a multitude of ways – one example is allowing the athlete to run their own ads. Having an athlete put ad dollars behind their own post is not something you can get done very easily, but it is not impossible. Of course, you need to discuss this activity with the athlete/agent prior to any deal. They will most likely want more money or a percentage of the ad dollars you are sending them to share in the added benefits this will drive for your brand.
Thank you for reading! We really appreciate you taking the time to go over our Ultimate Guide to Athlete Marketing.
One reason we built MarketPryce, our two-sided marketplace that helps connect athletes and brands, was to make this process easier. If you work in marketing and you’re looking to work with athletes, or if you’re an athlete or agent who wants to find a brand, our platform is a great place to make that happen.
A big part of marketing, and athlete marketing especially, is being able to adapt to changes in the industry. Click here if you want to download the full guide.