In the world of social media, a majority of athletes have built an organic following made up of fans that support their career, sport, team, or lifestyle. Athletes have taken over the social media space allowing them to create business opportunities outside of athletics. Most find themselves in high demand when it comes to brand ambassador partnerships and sponsorships alike. These business ventures are not only useful to athletes but the companies as well who benefit in multiple different sectors. Not only can a business gain exposure through athlete partnerships but they can leverage them to increase SEO. 

The simplest way for a business to analyze success from an athlete partnership is by tracking web traffic and sales each time they are highlighted via the athletes’ social channels. What factor aids this increase in organic traffic, lead conversions, and eventually SEO rank? The answer is content!

Search Engine Optimization improves website traffic by making your site more visible, which in turn increases sales. When improving SEO, the first step is to begin building a strong link profile. This is achieved by creating internal links and backlinks. When working with athletes, they will often create content that links back to the brand’s site generating multiple high-quality backlinks. Their content establishes an extensive link profile while also increasing organic search traffic.

For a business to reap the full effects of athlete partnerships, it must examine both the company and the athletes’ audience. The most effective way for a company to drive SEO via athletes is by choosing those who have a complementary brand yet a unique audience. If a business can broaden its reach within a target audience, there will be a natural increase in brand engagement.

Many companies have used influencer and athlete marketing to expedite their audience exposure, SEO, and eventually sales. 

The watch company MVMT, has risen in the SEO ranks by working with small and large influencers and athletes. By marketing almost solely on social media, MVMT now competes as one of the most visible watch brands online today. 

Leading cooler and drinkware company, YETI, has also used athlete ambassadors to increase their SEO rank further. Although YETI did not begin their SEO development with athletes and influencers like MVMT, they have still been able to capitalize on similar partnerships. The company started off in the ranch and rodeo industry and has expanded its reach by working with athletes like rock climber Beth Rodden and waterwoman Lauren Spalding.

Fitness drink company, Celsius has combined working with athletes and influencers to take over the industry. They’ve partnered with influencers like Chantel Jeffries and athletes such as Alexa Score, Zane Schweitzer, and Paddy Mack. By utilizing such relationships, Celsius has assembled a powerful social media presence and SEO strategy. 

Just as a business can use athlete partnerships to improve its SEO, athletes should be looking to do the same. But why is it important for athletes to focus on SEO rank? 

A strong SEO strategy can help build long-term success. If athletes spend time building an SEO campaign, they can help ensure future audience growth without investing in paid advertising. 

Not only does SEO help in the long run, but it aids present endeavors. A main aspect of SEO is establishing credibility. If athletes can build site credibility, they will also present their brand in a more professional manner. 

SEO directly affects engagement as well. When an athlete shows professionalism and long-term growth, their engagement will also spike. High engagement will attract brands to athletes since many use the numbers to prospect and measure campaign success. 

All in all, athletes can help businesses build their link profile, create unique content, and increase engagement which directly drives a brand’s SEO rank. Likewise, brand partnerships can also help athletes improve their personal rank in order to increase professionalism, engagement, and future audience growth.

Sources

  1. https://www.convinceandconvert.com/influencer-marketing/influencer-marketing-impacts-seo/
  2. https://creatitive.com/seo-campaign-athletes/
  3. https://athelogroup.com/uncategorized/the-new-way-of-partnerships/

It’s been nearly two weeks since the fateful day when college athletics turned the page to a new chapter: the NIL era. On June 30th, an interim rule change adopted by the NCAA allowed all student-athletes to capitalize on their name, image, and likeness beginning July 1st. Some players, like Auburn QB Bo Nix and University of Miami QB D’Eriq King, signed deals with local companies like Milo’s Sweet Tea and Murphy Auto Group, respectively. Others, like Clemson WR Justyn Ross and Villanova Guard Collin Gillespie, paired up with The Player’s Trunk to sell customized merchandise. There’s been no shortage of creative ways for student-athletes to monetize their assets and build their own personal brand. So, given this new freedom, who has or will become the true winners of the NIL era of college athletics?

The answer may surprise you. It’s no secret that the highest revenue-generating sports – Football and Men’s Basketball -- cashed in easily and will continue to prosper under new NIL rules. However, the true winners who will undoubtedly benefit the most are the women college athletes, and here is why.

Flashback to March Madness 2021 and the catastrophe that was the conspicuous discrepancies between the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. While gender inequity in sport is not a new problem by any means, the evidence from the women’s tournament spoke volumes and shook the NCAA to its core. Outrage on social media sparked a movement to push the governing body of college athletics to start treating all athletes with the respect they deserve. And while this nightmare unraveled, the two-headed monster reeled its other head and #NotNCAAProperty was seen on millions of screens across the country. While Stanford and Baylor made history on the court, the history of the NCAA was already being rewritten. 

Fast forward now to June 30th, 2021, and the storm of new sponsorships and endorsements that came as the clock struck midnight. Perhaps the first women college athletes to make headlines were Fresno State Women’s Basketball players Haley and Hanna Cavinder who signed endorsements with Boost Mobile and Six Star Pro Nutrition. The twins, who have over 3 million followers on TikTok, are estimated to make hundreds of thousands of dollars per year based on their NIL and social media following (Robert Kuwada, The Fresno Bee). Nebraska Volleyball player Lexi Sun came out with her own clothing line based on her name. Jacksonville State University volleyball player Adelaide Halverson became the first “Barstool Athlete” to sign, followed by thousands of other athletes from all kinds of sports. 

What do these examples shed light on? Another aspect of the tremendous growth that is already underway for women’s sports. TV ratings for women’s sports are up significantly, most recently demonstrated by the record-setting Women’s College World Series where average viewership for the three final games eclipsed 1.84 million, an increase of 15% over 2019. The ratings for the Women’s Gymnastics on ABC skyrocketed to 808,000 viewers, up 510% over 2019 (Cliff Brunt, ABC News). Outside of the college landscape, almost every male professional league struggled to retain their audience while the WNBA and National Women’s Soccer League saw an increase in viewers (Ben Strauss & Molly Hensley-Clancy, Washington Post). The positive trend for women’s sports is showing no signs of slowing down either, as infrastructure for women’s sports visibility continues to progress.

The women student-athletes of today are in the most advantageous position as there ever has been. Not only are women's sports visibility and engagement trending upwards, but female college athletes have been given the tools to become powerful influencers for brands willing to accept the changing of the guard. Brands can now position themselves to “get in on the ground floor before college athletes head to the big leagues” (Kimeko Mccoy & Seb Joseph, Digiday). Or, at worse, collaborate with the student-athletes who will not turn pro but are currently resonating with the Gen Z audience on the top social media platforms. It’s a far more cost-effective strategy to reach a valuable target market through NIL than signing with professionals. Additionally, technology is constantly improving and offering new avenues for creativity. How much could an NFT of Sedona Prince’s video of the weight room at the women’s March Madness facility be worth 30, 40 years from now? Who will be the first female athlete to be paid in cryptocurrency?

It still remains to be seen what specific kinds of endorsements student-athletes can pursue with the NCAA tightening up their rules and regulations in the future. But for the time being, the greatest potential for college athletes to grow their brand and cash in lies within women’s college athletes. 

Sources

  1. https://www.fresnobee.com/article252490978.html
  2. https://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/wireStory/womens-college-sports-boost-tv-ratings-visibility-78373009
  3. https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2021/04/01/womens-sports-growth-ratings-business/
  4. https://digiday.com/marketing/as-nil-era-arrives-marketers-find-an-influencer-playbook/

The current eSports revenue model is completely dominated by partnership dollars. At $636.9 million, sponsorship revenue contributes more to the eSports ecosystem than media rights, ticket sales, publisher fees, streaming revenue, and other digital income sources combined. This puts a tremendous strain on eSports organizations to develop partnerships and activate them in ways that will keep brands in eSports in the long term. However, with a unique blend of loyal sponsors and digital assets, eSports is in a great position to offer partners an alternative to working with traditional sports organizations.

The eSports partnership market can be split up into two main categories: endemic partnerships and non-endemic partnerships. Endemic brands are those that offer products or services that complement or are used in the production or playing of eSports. This can range from large peripheral companies such as HyperX or Logitech to energy drink companies like Monster or Red Bull. eSports organizations have built up incredible loyalty with endemic partners as these brands look to use eSports, which had roughly 500 million viewers in 2020, to reach the larger gaming audience of around 2.69 billion people worldwide. However, a case can be made that eSports is over-reliant on endemic sponsors. Of the top 20 eSports teams in the world by prize money won and the 19 largest eSports events by viewership and sponsorship money, 88% of all team partnerships and 65% of event partnerships are with endemic brands. HyperX alone is partnered with over 20 organizations and is the principal sponsor of the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) and Dreamhack tournaments. With the money spread so thinly across what is a heavily fragmented eSports market, there need to be other sources of sponsorship revenue coming in — there are only so many keyboards and mice that these companies can sell, after all. This is where non-endemic brands come into the picture.

Non-endemic brands are those that sell products and services that are not integral to eSports and gaming in general. A great example of a non-endemic partnership deal occurred in 2019 when Team Liquid collaborated with Marvel Entertainment. The partnership, which was primarily activated through apparel lines that mimicked Marvel superheroes like Iron Man and Captain America, was so successful that it was renewed until 2022. Both organizations have benefited from the natural crossover between gaming enthusiasts and comic book fans, but it took great creative vision to properly activate the partnership. eSports companies will need to continue to find and develop relationships with non-endemic partners like Marvel if the current revenue model of the industry stays in place going forward. If not, these organizations run the risk of seeing their growth stagnate as they wait for the media rights and fan monetization revenue streams to reach the level of current sponsorship revenue amounts.

The partnership landscapes of the sport and eSports industries share many similarities but have several key differences that separate the two markets. Common partnership categories that are shared by both industries include jersey patches, in-stadium ad spaces, and naming rights. There are also individual player sponsorships and affiliate marketing deals with streamers that are similar to what is seen in the sports industry. It is not uncommon for eSports brands and sports teams to share the same partners as well. For example, the cryptocurrency platform FTX recently inked a $210 million naming rights deal with Esports organization Team SoloMid (TSM) as part of a global expansion and talent development strategy. FTX then followed that up with another partnership — this time with the MLB to become a professional American sports league’s first cryptocurrency partner. Collaborating with brands that also operate within traditional sports markets is a fantastic tactic that eSports organizations can employ as they seek to grow their non-endemic partnership revenue streams. With many similar partnership categories, selling asset packages to these brands should run smoothly due to the familiarity they already have from their experience in traditional sports.

The partnership landscapes of the sport and eSports industries share many similarities but have several key differences that separate the two markets. Common partnership categories that are shared by both industries include jersey patches, in-stadium ad spaces, and naming rights. There are also individual player sponsorships and affiliate marketing deals with streamers that are similar to what is seen in the sports industry. It is not uncommon for eSports brands and sports teams to share the same partners as well. For example, the cryptocurrency platform FTX recently inked a $210 million naming rights deal with Esports organization Team SoloMid (TSM) as part of a global expansion and talent development strategy. FTX then followed that up with another partnership — this time with the MLB to become a professional American sports league’s first cryptocurrency partner. Collaborating with brands that also operate within traditional sports markets is a fantastic tactic that eSports organizations can employ as they seek to grow their non-endemic partnership revenue streams. With many similar partnership categories, selling asset packages to these brands should run smoothly due to the familiarity they already have from their experience in traditional sports.

The most significant differences between sports and eSports partnerships can be found within digital and broadcast ad spaces. For almost the entire history of eSports, the primary method for viewing content was through streaming platforms like Twitch or YouTube. Television networks will occasionally pick up the odd eSports tournament or finals, but even then, the bulk of the audience will view from streaming platforms. Tournament organizers capitalize on this by selling against overlay and banner ad spaces to go along with traditional commercial breaks in between matches. Unlike traditional sports, there is a primary broadcaster that holds a virtual monopoly over content distribution: Twitch. With almost 92% of the eSports viewership market share, Twitch is able to set the price they are willing to pay tournament organizers which significantly drives the cost down. This contributes to the eSports industry’s reliance on partnership revenue. On the other side, traditional sports organizers are only just starting to broadcast their games on streaming platforms. Deals have been brokered between the likes of Amazon and the NFL as well as YouTube and the NBA, but it remains to be seen whether streaming can become as dominant in traditional sports as it has been in eSports. For now, it appears that the television media rights and the partnership categories that spawn from them will continue to dominate the revenue model of traditional sports.

Sources:

  1. https://newzoo.com/insights/articles/newzoo-esports-sponsorship-alone-will-generate-revenues-of-more-than-600-million-this-year/
  2. https://esportsinsider.com/2020/10/team-liquid-renews-partnership-with-marvel-entertainment/
  3. https://www.mlb.com/news/mlb-ftx-cryptocurrency-exchange-partnership
  4. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/e-sports-and-the-next-frontier-of-brand-sponsorships
  5. https://www.roundhillinvestments.com/research/esports/esports-viewership-vs-sports
  6. https://sponsorship.org/endemics-vs-non-endemics-esports-expanding-its-sponsorship-horizons/

During a time when one’s personalized Instagram feed no longer displays the images of close friends and family. The social media audience craves to understand what is going on in the lives of people that interest them the most. Instead, we open the app only to be forced to observe the millions of targeted brand advertisements, pages we’ve never interacted with before, and of course the influencers… The realm of social media influencers has taken over all social media platforms and has become a sort of normalcy in contemporary society. Whether it be presenting a product or a service, these so-called “influencers” are given an incentive to “influence” the people who follow them in order to create a pipeline from the fan to the consumer. With this being understood, I think it’s important to define what makes an influencer successful.

Before we dive in, we must first ask “What is an influencer?” According to Influencermarketinghub.com, they state that an influencer is someone who has, “the power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of his or her authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with his or her audience.” Knowing this, every self-proclaimed influencer could range from someone who has 1,000+ followers to a notable public figure such as Kim Kardashian who boasts an impressive 229 million followers on Instagram. The power of an influencer lies in the loyalty of their audience. If an influencer has a large number of followers, but a low engagement rate they aren’t technically an influencer and rather just someone with a lot of eyes on them or someone with fake followers. Influencers are often broken up into categories based on their follower count. These categories are listed as Mega-Influencers, Macro-Influencers, Micro-Influencers, and Nano-Influencers. Brands will often target a certain type of influencer depending on the project or campaign that they are planning to run for marketing purposes. The thought behind the process is absurdly fundamental at its core. The more people that see a product/service being used by an influencer they follow will translate to those same people hopefully wanting to try that same product because one of their public idols influenced them to do so. This process is called Influencer Marketing.

Influencer Marketing has been around for a while now. Dating back to when bloggers and celebrities were the main focus of pop culture media. Now, as social media began to skyrocket and become more popular among groups of all ages, influencer marketing kicked into another gear. According to Sproutsocial.com, they explain influencer marketing, “At a fundamental level, influencer marketing is a type of social media marketing that uses endorsements and product mentions from influencers–individuals who have a dedicated social following and are viewed as experts within their niche. Influencer marketing works because of the high amount of trust that social influencers have built up with their following, and recommendations from them serve as a form of social proof to your brand’s potential customers.” Knowing how influencers are utilized as types of “brand ambassadors” for differing companies it shows how clout/attention has become sort of a social currency today. The interesting thing about influencer marketing is that it has proved itself to be an effective tool for marketing and branding. In an article by Bigcommerce.com they mention, “65% of influencer marketing budgets will increase in 2020. Nearly two-thirds of marketers will increase their spending on influencer marketing this year.” With more companies spending money on influencer marketing, this proves that the power of influencers is something that businesses find value in.

As mentioned before, influencers are broken into categories that are specified by the number of followers that they have. Yet, there are different types of influencers. Individuals ranging from attractive people in a popular city, food vloggers, celebrities, artists, world travelers, and athletes. These individuals cater to a certain niche in a societal culture that allows them to gain more authority than others which makes them an influencer. Depending on the area of attention, these people can create a sense of trust or interest in a brand that they choose to work for. Due to this occurrence, people tend to follow the lead of their favorite social media personalities as a way to almost mimic their lifestyle and appearance. Those with the largest communities supporting them often become the more “successful” influencers.

Identifying what makes an influencer “successful” is completely subjective and can differ from case to case depending on what success is defined as to that individual. However, an effective influencer can be more easily described as someone who covers the most important bases of social media marketing. Business coach and thought leader Jonathan Farrington wrote this article for allbusiness.com mentioning the characteristics of what makes an effective influencer. One of the characteristics he mentions is listed as, “Base the success of their communication on the response it produces in others. If other people don’t respond in the way that the influencer was wanting, they accept responsibility and change their communication until they do achieve their desired outcome.” The list goes on as he continues to mention other attributes that make influencers effective. However, this one point, in particular, can encompass one of the most important attributes an influencer can possess, that being communication. If an influencer cannot properly communicate with their followers to create some sort of impact on them, then they have ultimately failed to influence their crowd. With that being said, most influencers find success in creating compelling content and interacting with the people that choose to follow them. There is no proper way to gauge how successful an influencer is, rather measuring the amount of influence they have on their niche and community around them.

As new features and content creator tools continue to roll out for social media, the presence of social media influencers will continue to rise. The decision to appear authentic lies in their hands. Whether they learn to become more genuine as people or fall into the trap of robotic engagement, only time will tell how effective influencers will become in the future. Yet, understanding what this means for the marketing/branding space. This can only lead to further marketing innovations and create new opportunities for promotions/sponsorships regardless of the brand. Becoming an influencer isn’t the difficult part of the journey, it’s understanding how to leverage their followers to create new business for others.

Over the past couple of weeks, people had the opportunity to watch motorsports races such as F1 Series in Monaco, the Indianapolis 500, and NASCAR’s Sonoma 350. Watching drivers like Conor Daly, who led the most laps in the Indy500, and Corey LaJoie, who was in the top 5 with 25 laps remaining at the Sonoma 350, had me thinking about the strategy that comes into every race. For most other team sports, the strategy comes before the game based on the opposing team’s players as well as a couple of adjustments throughout the game. However, there is a lot of strategy and in-race adjustments that go into the success of a NASCAR race. Tire pressure, pole position, mileage of the track, gas mileage, and in-season position are some factors that impact weekly strategy. Also, NASCAR strategy is important because the season is short and the position after every race can determine the success and value of a team and impact the different partners that a team can bring in. This blog post will talk all about strategies in motorsports specifically looking at different factors, types, and the impact a strategy can have on a driver’s season.

Two important factors in strategy that are mentioned throughout racing broadcasts are tire pressure and the amount of fuel remaining. These two factors will determine when a driver should pit so that way they can swap in new tires and increase the amount of fuel. Motorsports tires are not like your typical car tires, they are actually called “slicks.” They are called this because “they are smooth and are a softer” (HowStuffWorks) than regular tires. The high speeds and miles are driven which causes these tires to wear out, and when these tires wear out, they cause the car to lose grip which becomes unsafe for the driver. So, these drivers need to pit every so often so that way they do not lose grip on their car. When a team decides to replace their tires, they typically replace either two of the tires or all four tires at once. “Replacing two tires typically takes 6.5–8 seconds while replacing all 4 tires takes roughly 14 seconds.” (Rookie Road) The advantage of only changing two tires is to spend less time on the racetrack while also regaining some of the grip, but this means that the driver would have to come back in to get the other two tires changed out. The advantage to changing all 4 tires is that you regain all possible grip on the car while also being able to spend more time out on the track, but this means you are spending more time in the pit where you could get lapped by other cars. If a car is towards the top of the pack, they may want to only replace two tires at a time so that way they can keep up with the rest of the leaders, while a car in the back may want to change all 4 so that way, they can make up ground by being able to stay out on the track longer.

The amount of fuel remaining is also a determining factor in strategy. This means that a driver must take into account how long each lap is and how fast they would like to go per lap. For example, the Indy500 is a 2.5 miles track where each driver must complete 200 laps (so 500 miles in total). At this past 500, the average speed was 190 mph, so each driver drove between 27–40 laps before needing to enter pit road. The average time it takes to fill the car halfway full of gas is roughly 7 seconds while it takes 14 seconds to fill the car all the way up with gas. A driver could decide to push his fuel closer to the 40-lap mark so that way other drivers pit and they can take a lead, but this means that they will have to pit eventually and move behind everyone else. This would be an advantageous move earlier on in the race when the driver knows that there will be more pit stops. Another strategy, similar to what “Ed Carpenter did in this year’s Indy 500” (NBC Sports), is pit before everyone else. If you are positioned in the middle of the pack, you can pit before everyone else which means you will have more fuel and move to the back of the pack, but everyone will eventually need to pit which will put you into the front of the race. This strategy can be beneficial towards the end of a race if the drive is confident that he can conserve enough fuel to get him to the finish. Strategies change based on other factors such as cautions and how other drivers are competing.

Another factor in determining a strategy for a race is based on the drivers qualifying pole position. Pole position is where each driver will start when the green flag is dropped for a race. A driver in Pole position 1 will have a different strategy than a driver who has pole position 25; however, the knowledge of where the driver will be starting can allow the team to plan their race and how they want to execute it. For example, a driver at the start of the pack can determine that they want to set the pace for the race by starting out fast or slow. A driver that is typically in the back of the pack can try and use the “caution strategy.” “This is when a driver, in position 15–30, takes his last pit before everyone else.” (Malzahn Strategic) They hope that the caution flag comes out after they pit so that way a lot of other driver’s pit, and they can move to the front of the pack without having to pass other cars. This then gives that driver a chance to win with only a few laps remaining. This strategy has worked from time to time, but I personally do not find it to be the most effective strategy because you are hoping that someone else in front of your screws up, and that might not always happen.

As you can see, a driver and his or her team need to think about a lot of different factors when determining a strategy for race day, and honestly most of these strategies change frequently while the race is going on. However, there is more than just winning that comes from having a productive strategy. Having a good strategy can also impact partnerships and the future of a driver. For example, if a driver uses the “caution strategy” and finishes towards the bottom of every race but happens to finish 5th in one race different brands are going to notice that this strategy is not effective and may decide not to partner or sponsor this driver. While another driver might determine that they cannot win every race, so they decide to position themselves within the top 15–20 instead of swinging for the fences. This shows different brands that they have found an effective strategy of placing high in races and are looking to improve every week. This makes the brand more inclined to partner with them. Also, if a driver can not find a good strategy, then their race team is more likely to release them as a driver the following year. Winning is important in motorsports, but I would argue that making money in partnerships is equally as important.

Sources

  1. Indy 500: How often do you pit? GTPlanet. (n.d.). https://www.gtplanet.net/forum/threads/indy-500-how-often-do-you-pit.160004/.
  2. Rookie Road. (2021, April 11). NASCAR Laps. Rookie Road. https://www.rookieroad.com/nascar/what-is-a-lap-in-a-nascar-race/.
    Nice, K. (2001, March 21). How NASCAR Race Cars Work.
  3. HowStuffWorks. https://auto.howstuffworks.com/auto-racing/nascar/nascar-basics/nascar5.htm.
    Gmueconsociety. (2019, March 15). The Game Theory of NASCAR Pit Stops, Part 1. George Mason Economics Society. https://gmueconsociety.wordpress.com/2019/03/08/the-game-theory-of-nascar-pit-stops-part-1/.
  4. Smith, D. (2021, June 7). Different pit strategies on tap for maximizing Sonoma race — NBC Sports. NASCAR Talk | NBC Sports. https://nascar.nbcsports.com/2021/06/06/martin-truex-james-small-what-matters-at-sonoma-different-pit-strategies-on-tap-for-maximizing-day/
  5. Malzahn, M. (2020, August 31). NASCAR Racing and Strategic Planning — What it Takes to Win the Race! Malzahn Strategic. https://malzahnstrategic.com/nascar-racing-and-strategic-planning-what-it-takes-to-win-the-race/.
2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup

There’s nearly a 50/50 gender split when it comes to sports participation, but only 4% of coverage is dedicated to women’s sports.

The audience for women’s sports is massive and continues to grow, despite the lack of investment in consistent and high-quality coverage. A Nielsen study found that 84% of general sports enthusiasts of all genders are interested in women’s sport. In this same study it was found that if more women’s sports were available to watch, 46% of fans indicated they’d tune in.

For women’s sports to take the next step, games need to be more accessible for the general public and there needs to be more content around the games. This includes news, highlights, analysis, and storytelling.

What happens when you give sports fans what they want?

As you can see, women’s viewership increases tremendously when given access to high-quality coverage.

“Focusing on broadcast deals is incredibly important because accessibility to the games is a vital component to the growth of the game,” said Alyse LaHue, general manager of NJ/NY Gotham FC. “The more matches you’re able to have access to as a consumer, the more interest there’s going to be for potential sponsors coming into the league to work into the market.”

Despite the increasing popularity of women’s sports, a revenue disparity persists. Deloitte has said it expects TV rights and sponsorship revenue for women’s sports to hit over $1 billion globally. The company declared that it “will be well under a billion dollars — a fraction of the global value of all sports, which in 2018 reached $481 billion, an increase of 45% over 2011.”

Women’s sports turn to social media as a tool to increase awareness. Directing energy towards social campaigns equals dollars benefiting sponsors, league operations, and player salaries, proving to publishers why more games should be shown.

TOGETHXR, a lifestyle and sports media brand co-founded by Alex Morgan, Chloe Kim, Simone Manuel, and Sue Bird.

Athlete-run media companies continue to grow with an emphasis on highlighting women’s sports and social justice issues.

Despite improved social media coverage and engagement, brands miss out on the idea of intentional sponsorship with female athletes and leagues. In fact, less than 1% of sponsorship money goes into women’s sports.

Women are doing more with less. They’re finding innovative solutions during these most challenging times. They’re seizing the moment and exceeding expectations.

Lastly, I believe this year’s Tokyo Olympics will provide an opportunity for more media coverage of women’s sports, and bring a “heightened awareness” to successful female athletes. What we could see coming out of this year is more interest and commitment” from those supporting women’s sports coverage.

If I asked you to think of a popular racquet sport, tennis is almost certainly the first thing that would come to mind. For some of us, maybe squash or racquetball rings a bell, but tennis is by far the most popular racquet sport of our generation. After all, nearly 18 million play tennis in the United States, and that number is just a fraction of total participation in the sport across the world.

But what if I told you that there is a new racquet sport rising the ranks of the industry. It’s called pickleball. This sport, perhaps most recognized for its funky game, has experienced a rapid acceleration and growth in popularity in the past 5–10 years. As an outdoor sport that is easy to play and pick up, pickleball is a game that has actually taken off due to the pandemic. New pickleball courts and players are popping up all over the place, and I’m here to tell you why this sport is something you must keep an eye on moving forward.

The history of pickleball is new and unique. What started as a silly little idea for a vacation sport in Seattle, Washington has now transformed into one of America’s favorite pandemic hobbies. The sport started from humble beginnings in 1965 and has gradually gotten to the high point of popularity that is today. 4.1 million people currently play pickleball in the United States. That number has grown steadily over the past decade, as the total number of players in the country was at just 2.81 million in 2014. Most notably, the sport saw a 21.3% growth in participation in 2020 alone, which is a sign of how the pandemic has helped catalyze the sport’s rise.

The demographics of pickleball players present an interesting paradox. While the sport is considered incredibly new and credited with recently bursting onto the scene, the majority of its players actually stem from an older demographic. The table below provides a comprehensive look at the ages of people that play pickleball in America.

As you can see, the highest percentage of core players in this country come from the 65+ age demographic. The next highest? The 55–64 age range coming in at 21.3%. If you combine those two highest age groups, we are looking at a reality where nearly 60% of core pickleball players are 55 or older.

With the onset of the sport being so new, it is hard to jump to any large conclusions yet about pickleball’s player base and what it means for the sport moving forward. That being said, we must note and become acutely aware of what the current market for the sport looks like. Beyond getting into the specific demographics of who plays, it is critical to recognize that the sport has risen in popularity as a whole. That is what matters most.

This rise in casual pickleball participation has also been complemented by professional growth in the sport. There are two current professional pickleball tours, the PPA and the APP, both of which just launched operations as recently as 2020. Casual participants in the sport now have a market to make a full-time career out of what was once a hobby, and it will be exciting to see how this trend develops as the sport continues to grow in popularity. The USA Pickleball National Championships have been held at the esteemed Indians Wells Tennis Garden in California since 2018 — a big milestone for pickleball’s legitimacy and reputation in the greater racket sports community.

Pickleball is also a sport with Olympic aspirations on the international stage. The International Pickleball Federation currently has 37 members, which is a total membership that has more than double since there were just 18 member countries in 2019. The current threshold for Olympic consideration requires 70 member countries. That may be a lofty goal, but it is certainly attainable in the next 5–10 years if the sport continues to surge at its current rate.

The most exciting thing about the pickleball market in 2021 is the immense potential for growth. As fun as it has been to see the sport grow over the last 5–10 years, the ceiling is nowhere close to being reached. With the pickleball, national championships, and tours now having broadcast deals with the likes of ESPN streaming services, the notoriety of the sport will only continue to grow. More notoriety will bring the opportunity for more sponsorship possibilities, and the marketplace for pickleball gear and accessory brands is poised to take off. There is no specific way to exactly calculate how casual participation in the sport will breed interest in the game professionally, but I think that we can safely predict the two will go hand-in-hand at least to some extent.

The impact of the Coronavirus and pandemic cancelled sports for a long time, including the 2020 Summer Olympics. With the rebrand to the 2021 Summer Olympics, the games will finally be played, and everyone will be able to watch some of the best athletes in the world compete against each other for a gold medal. On top of the athletes returning, we are also going to have the return of sponsorship activations and commercials. This will cause people to talk about Rule 40, the new amendments, and how the different committees might be able to track the different athletes. The rest of this post will talk about the background of Rule 40, how it will be governed for the Tokyo Games, and the impact it has on the event as well as the athletes.

For starters, The Olympics, specifically the IOC, has always charged a lot of money for brands to become Official Olympic Partners. This has always been the case since this is an international event that is viewed by millions of people globally. Since these companies are paying so much money in partnerships fees, the “International Olympic Committee has been very strict about what athletes can do with their personal partners.” (SportsPro) The IOC has tried to prevent as much ambush marketing as possible to protect their partners. “Ambush Marketing is when a company advertises around an event without specifically mentioning the event or paying for a partnership activation.” (Law In Sport) For example, a company might produce a commercial talking about the “big tournament” in reference to March Madness, but they do not pay the millions of dollars that come with being an official sponsor.

The IOC created Rule 40 to prevent nonofficial partners the opportunity to promote their brand or products. This rule created a “Blackout Period” 1 week before the beginning ceremonies of the Olympics and 3 days after closing ceremonies. “Any personal sponsors that we not official Olympic sponsors could not mention their athletes and the athletes could not mention their partners.” (Law In Sport). At the 2012 Olympics, athletes protested Rule 40 by helping their personal brands in different ambush marketing strategies. They also used their social media platforms to promote their partnerships and thank them for their success in the Games. This forced the hands of the IOC to relax Rule 40 for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The IOC’s compromise was to allow non-official partners to affiliate with their athletes as long as they were not compromising or using any Olympic names, symbols, or affiliated language. However, these athletes had to “submit paperwork long before they were invited to their national team,” so a lot of these athletes were still unable to promote their personal partners (Lexology).

In 2019, the German Cartel Office, which oversees the German Olympic team, “decided that their athletes would no longer follow the IOC ruling and that they could promote their personal partners.” (Reuters) This forced the IOC to revise Rule 40 for the 2020, now 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. The IOC made a third amendment that states “Competitors, Team officials, and other team personnel who participate in the Olympic Games may allow their person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games as long as they are in accordance with the IOC rules.” (Lexology) This will allow athletes to interact with non-official sponsors while at the Olympics.

The amendment states that these athletes may post one “Thank You” message per non-official partner and the brands may send one “Good Luck” message to the athlete before or event they compete in their event. However, these messages can not contain “any Olympic Properties, images or videos from Olympic venues or medal ceremonies, feature the athletes official Olympic team uniform, include any endorsement of a specific product or service, or suggest that a product or service helped their performance.” (Athlete365) The company also has to alert the NOC of the athlete of any advertising promotions before May 15th.

I personally think that there are pros and cons to the revisal of Rule 40. The biggest pro is that this will help these athletes market themselves and make more money. These Olympians do not make any of the sponsorship money that the International Olympic Committee makes when selling international partnership deals. Since they are now allowing athletes to promote their own personal sponsors this will give the athlete and their agent more leverage when approaching a brand about a potential partnership. The athlete can use the promotion through the Olympics as an advantage to make more money from a partnership. These brands also win because they have the opportunity to grow their image through this athlete and their current fans as well as any fans the athlete might obtain through the Olympic process.

There are still a lot of problems and areas of improvement that the Olympics and the IOC could do to help out their athletes. I believe that the next problem that could arise from Rule 40 is that the NOC’s are still in charge of the athletes’ decisions. The NOC is the National Olympic Committee, and each participating country has one. Each individual NOC is allowed to determine if their athletes can post these “thank you” messages and interact with the personal partners. The NOC makes sure that the country’s partners are being interacted with and they ultimately determine the fate for their athletes’ personal partners. Countries such as the United States, Germany, and England are allowing their athletes to interact with Rule 40, but some of the smaller countries have not made their decision or are not allowing their athletes to interact with their personal partners. This is unfair to these athletes because they are underrepresented in a smaller country and do not get the recognition that these larger countries and athletes may get. I can see the International Olympic Committee bring Rule 40 more into their jurisdiction so that way they can govern over it more and allow every athlete to get an equal opportunity at making money and promoting their partners.

In conclusion, I think the amendments and adaptations to Rule 40 are beneficial for the Olympics, the IOC, and the athletes. This act shows that the IOC cares about the athletes and wants them to make money wherever possible. I also think this will help with the ambush marketing because it will force these brands to partner with athletes instead of spending money and effort in figuring out different ways for the brand to infiltrate the Olympics without paying for an international partnership. Finally, it is good for the athletes because it allows them to go out and make money as well as competing on a global stage.

Sources:

  1. Yi, P., & Borowick, J. (2019, December 5). Rule 40 Changes Create New Olympic Opportunities, Challenges. Lexology. https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=006a3827-cdf3-4d5e-9f92-62f313527c8e.
  2. US Olympians able to promote personal sponsors as Rule 40 is relaxed. SportsPro. (n.d.). https://www.sportspromedia.com/news/team-usa-usopc-olympics-rule-40-athletes-sponsorship-tokyo-2020-ioc.
  3. LawInSport. (n.d.). Navigating Olympic advertising: Rule 40 — a global perspective. LawInSport. https://www.lawinsport.com/topics/features/item/navigating-olympic-advertising-rule-40-a-global-perspective#:~:text=%E2%80%9CRule%2040%E2%80%9D%20is%20the%20somewhat,the%20permission%20of%20the%20IOC.
  4. Thomson Reuters. (2019, February 27). Olympics: German athletes score advertising win over IOC for Games. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-olympics-germany-idUSKCN1QG16V.
  5. Athlete365. (2020, February). Commercial Opportunities for Athletes. Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. https://d2g8uwgn11fzhj.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/06100605/Athlete365_Commercial_Opportunities.pdf.
  6. Jones, J. L. (n.d.). International Olympic Committee Rule 40: Reasonable Protection for the IOC or Unfair Restriction to the Athletes? DigitalCommons@Kennesaw State University. https://digitalcommons.kennesaw.edu/amj/vol8/iss1/7/.

As the world returns to normalcy following perhaps one of the most impactful events in recent history, we begin to see kids returning to sports and fans rushing back to stadiums. Sports are one of the most constructive outlets for any child growing up. It teaches valuable life lessons such as skill-building, teamwork, and humility. Those that are blessed with an outstanding ability to play will continue their athletic careers down the road to possibly play for some of the top educational institutions and maybe professionally. Yet, to get to that benchmark of playing collegiately or even professionally. One must have the best talent, the proper resources, genuine exposure, and the right support system surrounding the athlete. For many young athletes that live in the inner city and other underserved communities, this concept of using sports as their avenue for a better life is a common dream. However, without access to beneficial resources and athletic opportunities, this idea of playing professional sports will simply remain a dream for most of these kids.

Growing up in any suburb, kids are expected to participate in extracurricular activities. Whether it’s music, dance, theater, or sports many find their passions for one of these activities one way or another. Sports is a privilege that many can say has had an impact on their childhood. Now, what about those in underprivileged communities? Some find their way to get their children involved in youth sports at a young age, but some families in those communities are not always able to let their children experience it. The reason is not that their children are not skilled or prepared enough to play. It is simply because the financial barriers of the athletic equipment required to play prohibit them from participating.

According to the Aspen Institute Project Play Report, “ Sports participation rates among youth living in households with the lowest incomes ($25,000 or less) are about half that of youth from wealthier homes ($100,000+) — 16 percent vs. 30 percent.” Understanding the barriers that are put in place for these kids to participate in youth sports, puts into perspective the realistic chances of them making it collegiately or professionally are incredibly slim. When these students are given the same opportunities as those with access to the proper resources, many of them find benefits that help them in their future. Benefits such as valuable team skills, positive impacts on health, and abilities revolving around social interaction. For parents of low-income kids, this does not just mean they are not able to chase their dreams. It means that they are robbed of an experience that may help them develop the proper abilities to succeed later in life. Derek Thompson, a writer for The Atlantic, said it best when he mentioned, “Institutions that were meant to be opportunity-equalizers for the rich, poor, and everybody in between — community youth sports leagues, public high schools, the American college system — are being stealthily hijacked to serve the primary goal of so many high-income parents, which is to replicate their advantages in their children’s generation.” Sports represent so much more than just a pastime. In contemporary society, sports are the open doors used by all families to help their children succeed and improve their overall status in life. It goes without saying that many in low-income families do not get the same opportunities as those with more favorable resources.

Those in underserved communities that excel in sports well throughout high school will get the opportunity to earn a scholarship that allows them to attend a flagship university. How often do students with lower-class backgrounds get to play at the Division 1 level? According to ESPN Reporter Tom Farrey, he states, “Fewer than 1 in 5 students playing Division 1 hoops, and 1 in 7 in all Division 1 sports, come from families in which neither parent went to college. And their numbers are declining.” Only 14% of all athletes in Division 1 sports come from parents who have never attended any form of higher education beyond high school. This stat alone should put into perspective how difficult it truly is to not just compete but to have the opportunity to participate in Division 1 sports. The bright light at the end of the tunnel is that those who are the best of the best in terms of talent will eventually get to live out their dream of playing professionally.

One of the most important things for young athletes to understand that to achieve their goals, they need to be realistic. According to a study conducted by the NCAA, it explains, “Sadly though, it comes as a rude surprise to many athletes yearning for a professional sports career to learn that the odds against success are astronomically high. Approximately 1 percent of NCAA men’s basketball players and 2 percent of NCAA football players are drafted by NBA or NFL teams — and just being drafted is no assurance of a successful professional career. “Student-athletes” whose sole and now failed objective was to make the pros suddenly find themselves in a world that demands skills their universities did not require them to learn.” Due to this common occurrence, many from low-income families may resort to working a job they weren’t prepared for coming out of college. It should be noted that this is a reality for many who are products of low-income households after realizing their athletic career is over. With this being understood, it is important to know which programs would be helpful to combat these limitations to sports for these communities.

Organizations like Every Kid Sports are a proudly recognized entity that helps qualifying families let their children experience the participation of sports. Their program pays for the registration fees required in youth sports and provides access to everyone an opportunity to play. Their overall goal is to help 100,000 kids from low-income families play youth sports. Another amazing organization is All Kids Play. A non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to families and communities that lack the essential resources to participate in youth sports. They also aim to provide education on safe and healthy sports-related play. Programs put in place such as these two will help close the unfair gap to access youth sports in these communities.

Analyzing all the factors that not only go into playing sports professionally but just playing sports as a child. There is a multitude of obstacles for children in underserved communities to participate in sports. However, understanding that there is a possibility to help solve this inequality in society. It is important to know that sports will continue to be a privilege until the majority realizes that it’s vital for these kids to have access to play sports.

Sources:

  1. https://ligtt.org/using-sports-combat-poverty/
  2. https://www.aspeninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Aspen-Institute-Project-Play-Report.pdf
  3. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/08/meritocracy-killing-high-school-sports/597121/
  4. https://www.forbes.com/sites/bobcook/2017/03/25/using-sports-to-get-out-of-poverty-doesnt-work-when-you-have-to-be-rich-to-play/?sh=547ccdce6f79
  5. https://www.norwichcsd.org/Downloads/ProSportsOdds.doc
  6. https://www.smartcoachingblog.com/addressing-the-youth-sports-industrial-complex/
  7. https://changingthegameproject.com/about/

Athletes are influencers of societal and cultural issues and have a unique power to enact change. Whether it be a specific cause, current issue, or culture in general, the opportunity to create a transformation and “do good” and in turn “look good” is tremendous. The public regards their favorite athletes as role models and looks at their philanthropic undertakings and sponsorship choices as examples to be emulated. Ultimately, the causes one supports and philanthropic endeavors in which one engages help to develop the athlete’s brand.

Many high school and college coaches require their athletes to volunteer their time, talents, and persona within their community. Athletes quickly learn the value of philanthropy as a means of giving back as well as a way of defining their identity.

The relationship between the athlete and philanthropy has gained traction in the twenty-first century yet is well-rooted in the past. Babe Ruth, prior to his death established a foundation to benefit underprivileged children leaving a large bulk of his estate to the cause. Similarly, Ty Cobb donated $100,000 to establish a hospital in his hometown in his parents’ name. Although not college-educated, Cobb placed great value on education establishing the Ty Cobb Educational Foundation. To date, over $17 million in academic scholarships have been distributed to those in need in Georgia.

The three biggest leagues in the United States give back to communities in a tremendous way. The NFL, through the “NFL Foundation”, has committed more than $350 million to charitable and philanthropic causes that benefit communities in crises and hardships being faced. The NBA through the “NBA Cares” and the MLB through the “MLB Community” try to address important social issues in the United States and abroad. All three leagues encourage players to give of their time and effort to supplement the capital the leagues give.

Not all have the resources to fund a million-dollar foundation yet nonetheless there is still a critical role to be played. Athletes have a platform that can be used to inspire social change and in turn, build their brand. Lending their name and or sweat to a societal issue or working directly with the local community is a gratifying way to make an impact. Athletes are role models with the power to reach and motivate many.

Millennials and Gen Zers are accustomed to being “do-gooders” even more than being financial donators. Consumers under the age of 40 report that they prefer to give back though to their community in the form of an action rather than a financial contribution and look to their role models to do the same.

If you are committed to making a real change in the world, it is important that know what it is you value and stand for. Think about how you see your legacy. Research to identify the cause or issue that you feel passionate about and respect. Learn as much as you can about it so you can share your passion with others. Determine how you feel best comfortable using your knowledge, influence, contacts, and skills and then truly embody the cause. Engage with your fans and followers to spread the message and raise awareness on as many platforms and opportunities as possible. A commitment to giving back to a cause or an issue that you truly believe in and relate to will spark your fan base to act.

Athletes are more than just players on a field. They are role models, trendsetters, and social influencers. Rebecca Evans, an expert in marketing, sponsorship, and communications states that associating yourself with a cause does not simply benefit your personal brand; it adds purpose to it so that you stand for something more than just yourself. Fans want more than a superficial connection with sports professionals; they look for an emotional connection. It is not just about personal success; it’s about making your mark in making a change.

Ashley Horner, a fitness model, hybrid athlete, and trainer is a perfect example of this. Her influence and reach are global and her philanthropic efforts are many. She set out to row 25 hours on the Concept 2 Machine for Spike’s K9 Foundation, a nonprofit in her hometown of Virginia Beach. Additionally, she has completed a 280-mile run from Virginia Beach to North Carolina for the Unbroken Foundation and cycled 1,350 miles to benefit St. Jude’s Cancer research. Her most recent philanthropic effort was accomplished this fast fall when she ran 40 hours to assist the Maison Fortune Orphanage in Haiti.

Zane Kekoa Schweitzer, ocean enthusiast, and 2x Ultimate Waterman Champion uses his influence to share his passion while supporting underprivileged children in Hawaii. He aims to introduce the ocean and stewardship to children and encourage a respectful relationship with the environment.

The Sports Philanthropy Project emphasized that given the relatively recent emergence of sports philanthropy, many athletes may not be aware of the value — to both their communities and their brand — of exercising philanthropy through carefully and strategically structured foundations and programs.

The positive or negative ramifications of an athlete’s “nonsporting” pursuits build their identity and the value of their brand. A genuine belief in the cause or issue you support is paramount. Athletes are in a unique position to call others to action by the pursuits in which they engage. You are a winner on the field, be a winner off the field too.

Sources:

  1. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-athletes-make-great-brand-ambassadors-rebecca-evans/
  2. http://sportsconflict.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Athlete-Philanthropy-II-Final.pdf
  3. https://moneysmartathlete.com/2018/12/26/sports-professionals-serving-as-charity-ambassadors/
  4. https://histphil.org/2019/04/03/giving-athletes-why-sports-philanthropy-deserves-our-attention/
  5. https://moneysmartathlete.com/2018/12/12/organized-philanthropy-in-sports/
  6. https://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2019/06/10/why-giving-back-increases-brand-loyalty/?sh=11f7d4da70d2

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