The Winning Playbook: Securing Success in Sports Influencer Marketing Strategy
By Alexis Hudson
With the influencer marketing industry expected to top $21B by the end of 2023, we’re seeing more and more athletes get in on the action. In fact, the sports vertical’s presence in the influencer space has grown three times in the past year alone! AG athletes like lacrosse star Alex Aust and CrossFit powerhouse Dani Speegle are actively showing us how it's done by blending athleticism with an influencer charm that fosters relationships and captures audiences. It’s clear that at the exciting intersection of sports and influencer marketing, nailing long-term success means establishing authenticity, fostering engagement, and connecting consumers with a personal brand. As a result of these efforts, brands and athletes can unlock the full potential of sports influencer marketing strategy.
Authenticity in content creation within the sports landscape is essential to foster compelling storytelling. Athletes-turned-influencers embrace this authenticity by sharing the highs and lows of their journeys, exposing vulnerabilities, and presenting a multifaceted view of their lives that shares their unique identity. Simone Biles is an excellent example of an athlete that has shared her vulnerabilities. Biles has a huge social media platform, with 1.7M followers on Twitter alone. Over the years, she has used her platform to take a stand and enact change. In 2021, she spoke out to stop the governing body of USA Gymnastics from turning a blind eye to sexual assault allegations. Biles' courage captivated her audience and helped cultivate a lucrative brand partnership with Athleta. Her transparency illustrates the human behind the athlete—a relatable figure navigating challenges, celebrating victories, and embodying resilience.
Another athlete to utilize authenticity is Baron Davis. After a career-ending injury left him wheelchair-bound and in chronic pain, Davis decided to dress up as “Black Santa” for Halloween. Based on the reaction he received from fans, he created The Black Santa Company in 2015. His media empire has dedicated itself to celebrating diversity in storytelling content ever since. Initiatives like Davis’ show how influencer authenticity builds trust and credibility with audiences. When people feel that an influencer is genuine, they are more likely to engage with their content and see them as a reliable source.
When brands team up with athlete-influencers, they also seek authenticity in their partnerships. By investing in genuine, enduring relationships, brands bank on winning the sustained loyalty of their consumer base. Under Armour, for example, partnered long-term with Steph Curry back in 2013. Curry explained to his fans that “Under Armour bet on me, and I bet on them.” The partnership is rooted in authenticity and impact with an underlying goal to fund community initiatives that boost opportunity, access, and equity for the next generation of athletes. Brands like Under Armour that invest time and resources into nurturing these relationships often reap the rewards of consistent collaborations that evolve over time.
In a similar fashion, Nike partnered with French basketball star, Rudy Gobert. Together, they spearheaded a new basketball court in Paris Levallois-Perret and created a space that offers academic support in disciplines such as writing, music, community outreach, and athletic development. Dedicated investments like these not only ensure a steady stream of engaging content but also build a foundation for long-lasting, meaningful partnership in the ever-changing world of sports influencer marketing.
Long-term success in sports influencer marketing also thrives on cross-market diversification. Brands often choose a diversification strategy either to reach niches within their industry or to extend operations into new markets. Red Bull and GoPro employed this strategy in 2016 to diversify partnerships across a spectrum of influencers, each with their own unique reach and audience. Netting audiences in two different verticals, Red Bull and GoPro could impact both the action sports and energy drink space. This strategy not only broadens brand exposure but also taps into various niches within the sports landscape, allowing for a more comprehensive and diverse engagement with audiences.
After employing an influencer marketing strategy like diversification, it's critical to measure efficacy. Beyond social media likes and shares, analyzing metrics like engagement rates, audience demographics, sentiment, and conversion offers a comprehensive understanding of campaign impact. These metrics reveal audience response, highlighting what resonates and what doesn't. By dissecting these data points, brands learn how to better refine future campaigns and how to best select sports influencers.
Ultimately, success in sports influencer marketing is not always a clear-cut playbook. Every athlete has a unique personal brand with an audience to match, but it's the impact and authenticity of their brand partnerships that truly resonate with audiences. As the sports influencer marketing space continues to expand, we can look forward to the exciting new partnerships and figures that are sure to emerge in 2024.