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/

Thought the past year couldn’t get any crazier? Well, I hate to break it to you, but people are now buying tweets online for prices over $1 million.

Yep. You read that right. As of March 16, 2021, a tweet by SpaceX owner and Tesla CEO has been bid on to sell for over $1.1 million (CNBC). The tweet is nothing more than a basic example of a non-fungible token, colloquially known as an ‘NFT’ in today’s digital media universe.

This post will explain everything you need to know about the NFT craze that’s been dominating headlines in the sporting world and evaluate whether investing in such a craze is worth your time and energy moving forward.

What is an NFT?

Put simply, NFTs are individual pieces of digital content. They are ‘non-fungible,’ meaning they are meant to exist as unique pieces of content that cannot be copied or replaced. NFTs exist in a wide range of forms. They can be jpegs or video clips – any sort of digital asset that can be claimed in its original iteration (The Verge).

Although NFTs are the talk of the town these days, the very contents of them are not much of a novelty. Elon Musk’s NFT $1.1 million NFT is a mere two-minute tweet of a techno-music video. Check it out for yourself: https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfX0%3D&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1371549960030842893&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fandrew-stallings-sr2z.squarespace.com%2Fblogs%2Fso-you-want-to-get-involved-with-nfts&sessionId=9b4494e2e674bad1dbaa343b9464ec7c43039781&theme=light&widgetsVersion=1ead0c7%3A1617660954974&width=550px

If you’re confused as to why a silly tweet like this from Musk got sold for six figures, you’re not alone. It makes little sense as to why someone would pay that much to own a piece of content that literally anyone in the United States with an internet connection can access at any given time. That said, we should not merely pass over this trend and dismiss it as a fad that is ultimately destined to fade out. It very well might in the end, but the reality is that individuals and organizations across the world are finding huge sources of revenue off of NFTs.

Super Bowl champion Rob Gronkowski has been one of the first athletes to jump into and embrace the NFT mania. He has released his very own original set of around 350 digital Gronk trading cards, which have gone on to sell for more than $1.2 million (Yahoo!). https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-1&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfX0%3D&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1370799839613714443&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fandrew-stallings-sr2z.squarespace.com%2Fblogs%2Fso-you-want-to-get-involved-with-nfts&sessionId=9b4494e2e674bad1dbaa343b9464ec7c43039781&theme=light&widgetsVersion=1ead0c7%3A1617660954974&width=550px

Cards are not the only way athletes can get involved and cash in with NFTs. NBA players like Lebron James have started putting individual highlights on the digital market for as much as $250,000 (ESPN).

The Pros of Non-Fungible Tokens

Perhaps the biggest novelty and interest surrounding NFTs is the blockchain technology that is used to power their transactions. Blockchains, which are the same computer networks that power cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, can track any and all transfers from an item through a complex chain of digital technology (NBC News). This blog is most certainly not about cryptocurrency, and I’m not going to pretend like I even understand blockchain technology in its entirety, but it is undoubtedly an essential part of understanding how and why NFTs have gained popularity.

The immense value placed on these pieces of seemingly ordinary digital content derives from the idea of pure ownership. With blockchain technology, it is remarkably easy to trace digital exchanges safely and securely. This has paved the way for NFTs to exist given the fact that there is a digital blockchain database to track every sale or purchase of a given NFT. Whether it’s an Elon Musk tweet from 2021 or a Shaquille O’Neal dunk from 2001, NFTs carry a unique stamp of authenticity with them. Copying and counterfeiting them is virtually impossible (Sports Illustrated).

The authentic ownership aspect of purchasing an NFT gives these digital collector items the power to become a substantial player in the sports business industry for a long time. The chance to own and hold exclusive rights over a highlight or piece of digital memorabilia is something that all sports fans can get behind.

Another exciting thing to keep an eye on with regards to the development of NFTs is how it fits into the conversation of NIL (name, image, likeness) with regard to NCAA student-athletes. One of the biggest reasons NFTs have become so popular in the music and art industry is because they can give a creator total control over their own art (NBC). As the conversation evolves around collegiate athlete amateurism and NIL rights, NFTs could be a way for student-athletes to start profiting off of their college careers.

With the craze still in its early stages, the jury is still out as to whether the hype around NFTs will sustain itself long-term. The moneymaking potential of these digital assets is obviously appealing, but there are still a number of drawbacks that warrant consideration.

In some ways, the craze does seem a little too good to be true. The authentic ownership aspect of purchasing an NFT may be enticing now, but that hype could wear off once people gain a grip on the fact that anyone can just go to Google or a social media platform to access that content. Furthermore, there are concerns regarding the durability of the blockchain technology itself that powers the entire NFT operation in the first place. The safety and security of the technology remain an issue, and there are even calls to reduce the use of the blockchain computer network given its large carbon footprint (Bloomberg).

As things stand right now, it’s hard to see NFTs as anything more than an easy moneymaking opportunity for content creators. In a time where revenue streams have been brutally hard to come by for artists due to the cancellation of live events and showcase opportunities, the rise of NFTs offers a quick way to get some money back in their pockets.

Sources:

  1. https://brainworkmedia.substack.com/p/winning-with-nfts
  2. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-football-nfl-gronkowski-nft-idUSKBN2B11Y4
  3. https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/nft-boom-digital-collectibles-rcna430
  4. https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2021-03-04/the-nft-phenomenon-is-for-real
  5. https://www.theverge.com/22310188/nft-explainer-what-is-blockchain-crypto-art-faq
  6. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/16/elon-musk-is-offering-to-sell-his-tweet-as-an-nft.html

Podcasts have become a very powerful medium by which to convey information and let people get to know you. They are great ways to make a connection and cultivate a relationship with potential fans and followers. Podcasts are quickly gaining more power with increased popularity. Over 51% of U.S. consumers over 12 years old listen to podcasts regularly and this number has been growing steadily each year. Why not let the power of the podcast be powerful for you?

As of January 2020, there were 850,00 active podcasts as compared to 500,000 in February 2018 (Podcast Insight, 2020). 70% of Americans are familiar with the concept of the podcast and 43% say that they listen to a podcast monthly. Podcasts offer a way to connect on a more intimate level with your fans. Hearing you speak, rather than merely reading written text, results in a more human connection with your listeners increasing the power of your message.

Fans and followers are the fuel that ignites an athlete’s brand. Fans get to know you as an athlete physically through the performance of your sport, but the podcast is a vehicle by which fans can get to know you as a person. It is a way to convey a message, values and beliefs on a myriad of topics that appeal to you.

Because podcasts do not require a visual commitment, they are easy for people to listen to while also doing other tasks. 65% of podcast consumers say they listen on tablets or smartphones (Edison Research, 2019) and are likely to listen while driving, exercising, walking or doing chores. This makes a podcast a flexible and accessible way to gather information.

Humans have always had a curiosity and desire to learn, and a podcast is a powerful and appealing way to acquire knowledge. Your podcast may be designed to inspire or share your own opinion, but it is worth noting that about three out of four podcast consumers report that they listen intending to learn something new. As an athlete you have a great deal to teach others. Whether it is the actual mechanics of your sport, the grace of sportsmanship, the importance of tenacity, or overcoming adversity, who better than you to share knowledge and lessons?

A podcast is also a powerful marketing tool in today’s culture. You can easily tailor your topics to the interests of those you aim to reach. The podcast is an effective method of getting your identity, brand and/or product to a huge number of fans and a variety of consumers. Statistics show that 54% of podcast listeners are more likely to buy a product after hearing it advertised on a podcast that they listen to increase the power of your podcast, it is important to spend efforts promoting it. Most people are likely to listen to podcasts that they have seen on the social media sites that they visit or those they heard about from online community sources. An athlete with an active social media presence is an athlete that is more important and powerful than ever.

Like so many other areas of life, COVID-19 has affected podcasts too. The increase in time spent at home and the decreased in time spent going out has resulted in an uptick in time spent listening to podcasts. 41% of listeners report an increase in time spent listening since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This might be the right time to launch your podcast, especially since no face-to-face interaction with your audience is required.

Aside from marketing yourself as an athlete or a brand and getting yourself and message out, podcasts can be powerful income generators. Podcast advertisements are quite lucrative, with fees only expected to rise in the future. In 2018, advertisers spent $479 million on podcasts. That amount is expected to pass 1 billion dollars by the end of 2021 Some podcasters earn income by receiving a portion of the money generated by what their listeners are willing to pay for brands or services discovered through the podcast. Running paid ads are another source of profit. It is critical that the ads that you run are compatible with the vibe and message of your podcast. Additionally, your advertisers should reflect and be in line with the image that you are trying to portray. Most podcasts are available for free, but some are accessed by a subscription fee charged by the podcaster.

Podcasts are a relatively new phenomena, beginning in 2003 yet they are advancing and evolving at a rapid rate. 44% of Americans have listened to at least one podcast and this number is growing. The number of ways to access podcasts is vast. On the Apple app alone, there are 550,000 active podcasts with 18.5 episodes available. There is a podcast for any topic you can imagine. This formidable marketing tool deserves your consideration and should be embraced for the power that it packs for you as an athlete.

Sources:

  1. https://www.oberlo.com/blog/podcast-statistics
  2. https://www.wework.com/ideas/worklife/seven-reasons-why-podcasts-are-dominating-the-media-landscape
  3. https://www.listennotes.com/podcast-academy/how-do-podcasts-make-money-in-2021-here-are-8-2/
  4. https://www.listennotes.com/podcast-academy/how-do-podcasts-make-money-in-2021-here-are-8-2/

In a “pre-COVID” world, real-life conversations were perhaps one of the best aspects of life that were taken for granted. With people remaining indoors and “in-person” activities put to a halt. Online services such as gaming, video streaming, and podcasting began to gain popularity. While podcasting began to rise among various celebrities, influencers, and athletes. Many others were looking for different ways to interact with their favorite public figures. Two tech veterans, Rohan Seth and Paul Davidson created the app Clubhouse as a platform in which one could utilize it like a traditional podcast but with the option to allow their audience to speak to them in real-time. The app is now known as an app where conversations about literally anything can come to life and be discussed with like-minded individuals in real-time. With that being known, this leads me to question what this app could mean for athletes trying to build a community around their personal brand and the other possibilities that this app can offer.

Clubhouse launched back in April 2020 during the start of the pandemic. Lately, it has been taking strides to become the next big social media app. As of right now the app is only available to iPhone users but has still amassed a total of 10 million app downloads as of February 2021. What makes the app so popular is its interesting “invite-only” approach. To join the app, an existing user must invite you to join. This sense of “exclusivity” has created this frenzy for people all over the world that are just aching to get a chance to receive an invite to join the app. 

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A social media app doesn’t just gain traction without having the attention of a couple of celebrities and influencers. Initially, the app was a place for many of Silicon Valley’s techies to discuss business openly and then a community of cryptocurrency traders made their transition to the app. Yet, Clubhouse gained a big fan in Elon Musk who was interviewed on the app back in January 2021. Elon’s massive fan audience from Twitter flocked to the app to hear what the tech mogul had to say. However, this just opened the door for other influencers and big-name media personnel to join the fun. Among the celebrities to be a part of the Clubhouse user base include superstar rapper and Hip-Hop icon Drake, Off-white CEO Virgil Abloh, and even comedian/actor Kevin Hart has made an appearance on the app. The app is growing at a massive rate and is rising in popularity. 

I can name drop and talk about all of the celebrities currently on Clubhouse, but the numbers speak for themself. The app is currently valued at $1 Billion as of December 2020 and has a total of 6 million users. According to the CEO of Clubhouse, it has an average of around 2 million users per week. Two million people a week constantly engaging in conversation is a number that is almost unimaginable to me considering the quick growth of the app. The app is still very much in its “growing” phase as over 180 investors have invested in the audio-chat app.

With many celebrities and influencers beginning to find their place on the app, they also allow their fans on other apps to try and join in on the fun in Clubhouse. Now, it’s not just a giant lunchroom of popular people on the app. Athletes such as Javale Mcgee, Isaac Rochell, and Jaylon Smith are some of the first famous athletes to be part of the conversation on Clubhouse. As more and more athletes begin to join, I see this as an opportunity for them to connect with their fans from a more personal standpoint. It would be more than possible to finally get an opportunity to ask a question to one’s favorite athlete without having to win some sort of contest or be in the media room of an arena. This app is an open door for athletes to finally reach out to their fanbase and to get to know them on a more personal level.

When discussing the possibilities of athletes and Clubhouse, I see a world of opportunities that have yet to be discovered. Athletes would be able to access a new platform in which they could build and strengthen their fan bases and turn them into an actual community. Of course, I understand that many athletes already use other methods of reaching out to their fans through video/public chatting. Those examples would be moments on Instagram Live or Twitch streaming. However, what Clubhouse offers these athletes that the other platforms do not is this sense of connection. It feels more “human” to have a conversation in a room with another person knowing that they are literally on the other end of the phone waiting to respond. In a world where everything is based around relationships and connections, the Clubhouse app offers an avenue for athletes to get to know their supporters in a more individualized sense rather than just “fans”. This would create a stronger community between that athlete and their supporters, but also create a stronger communal bond within the fan base. The fans would be ecstatic that they could have an open conversation with other like-minded individuals that have a common interest in this one specific athlete. They could create themed nights around specific topics of conversation, do a rapid-fire Q&A with their closest fans, and even create a private music streaming party where their fans can listen to their pregame playlist with their favorite athlete. This sense of community is what will drive fans to follow their favorite athlete to the app.

The Clubhouse app is something we’ve never seen before. Its “invite-only” approach is like the bouncer at the club, but the real fun starts when you finally get to join in. With over 6 million active users and a plethora of A-list celebrity talent finding themselves on the app, Clubhouse is positioned to be the next big social media app. With more and more people joining every day it will not be a surprise when we see athletes such as Lebron James, Tom Brady, and Connor McGregor join in on the fun. Athletes will be able to utilize this platform to their advantage and create a stronger community fan base. Opportunities to connect with their fans and supporters on a more particular level will only help drive the attention and worth of the athlete. The possibilities for athletes on Clubhouse are endless, they just need to get an invite first.

Sources

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/20/at-home/clubhouse-app-explainer.html
  2. https://www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/celebrities/2021/02/22/clubhouse-app-explainer-celebrities-how-to-get-unfiltered-access/6780989002/
  3. https://techcrunch.com/2021/01/31/elon-musk-goes-live-on-clubhouse-but-with-the-room-full-fans-stream-audio-on-youtube/
  4. https://www.businessofapps.com/data/clubhouse-statistics/
  5. https://influencermarketinghub.com/clubhouse-stats/
  6. https://www.thecut.com/article/what-is-clubhouse-the-new-social-media-chat-app.html
  7. https://www.wsj.com/articles/inside-the-clubhouse-whats-all-the-fuss-about-silicon-valleys-exclusive-social-media-app-11594861201

Youth sport is fundamentally bound by ethical issues that are multiplied as parents become increasingly involved in the athletic lives of their kids. The cost of youth sports is continuing to rise and is compounded by a significant number of hidden costs. This includes gas money, hotel charges, and restaurant fees that parents are supposed to front as their children compete at tournaments. Additionally, the time away from work is an opportunity cost that must be weighed by parents as they push their kids through the youth sports system. Thus, parents naturally expect a return on their investment in the form of a successful athletic career by their children. What is deemed a successful athletic career could mean different things depending on the parent, but college scholarships or professional contracts are common goals for parents who have given a lot of time and money in support of their children’s athletic careers (Malina, 2010). For children who possess an affinity for a sport at a certain age, parents may push their kids to focus on that one sport in what is called early specialization (Malina, 2010). In theory, systematic training from an early age should yield the best results as the athlete will be ahead of their peers. However, there is much debate on whether or not early specialization is the best path for athletic success as it also increases the likelihood of burnout (Malina, 2010).

The most famous case of early specialization is Tiger Woods. Woods was introduced to golf at a very young age, practiced consistently and deliberately, and with the guidance of a dominating parent, he arguably became the greatest golfer of all-time (Epstein & Roberts, 2019). As the inputs by parents increase, the expected outputs of their children also increase, but of course not every child will become Tiger Woods through early specialization. Failing to meet expectations is one of the main causes of burnout along with negative performance evaluations and overtraining (Malina, 2010).

Tiger Woods (left) and Roger Federer (right) playing their respective sports as young children. Woods exclusively trained his golf skills while Federer took up other sports such as soccer. (via. Sports Illustrated)
Tiger Woods (left) and Roger Federer (right) playing their respective sports as young children. Woods exclusively trained his golf skills while Federer took up other sports such as soccer. (via. Sports Illustrated)

On overtraining, the longer athletes participate in sports, the more likely they are to have an injury, especially if they do not have adequate recovery time (Malina, 2010). According to David Epstein on the EconTalk podcast, there is a better alternative to early specialization (Epstein & Roberts, 2019). Epstein explains that children who are exposed to multiple sports and choose to specialize later in their athletic careers tend to be better off than those who specialize early (Epstein & Roberts, 2019). The athlete that Epstein cited to back up this claim was Roger Federer, whose tennis career was made better in the long run by playing many different sports as a kid (Epstein & Roberts, 2019). Parents do not like this method because their children run the risk of not being above average whereas, through early specialization, children can be programmed to be good at a specific sport (Epstein & Roberts, 2019). However, the chance of burnout and the ethical issues that come with it are undoubtedly increased through early specialization. Parents must understand that the best option for themselves and their kids is not to overmanage but to allow the motivations of the children to influence the athletic career decisions.

While the opposite of early specialization, early diversification, does have its merits, there is some evidence to support the former. The early specialization argument is posited around the belief that if a person does not start training at a young enough age, they will never be able to catch those who started training before them. A theory put forth by Herbert Simon and William Chase suggests that early training has benefits that supersede those afforded by genetics (Baker, 2003). Genetics may provide some individuals with advantages over others, but there is no evidence to suggest that there is a gene that enhances cognitive processing ability in a specific domain (i.e. boxing-specific information), which is one of the main metrics used for determining expertise (Baker, 2003). This type of learned experience can only be done through training, and Simon and Chase claim that it takes a minimum of 10 years of deliberate practice to become an expert at a single practice (Baker, 2003). For parents looking to benefit from their child’s athletic capabilities, this 10-year window forces them to have them trained at a very young age. In the United States, this is further exemplified by the onset of college recruiting during an athlete’s junior year of high school - the end of the 10-year window.

Looking forward, the rising value of sports properties and player salaries will likely lead to more occurrences of early specialization. Parents will continue to believe that if they push their kids hard enough that they can break through and secure substantial returns on their investment. Early specialization has the potential to benefit an athlete, like in the example of Tiger Woods, but the decision to dedicate one’s life to practice from such a young age should include a dialogue between both the parents and the child. In the absence of this, ethical consequences of injuries, powerlessness, chronic stress, and underdeveloped social skills may begin to take hold (Malina, 2010). These effects can be mitigated by following a path of athletic diversification rather than early specialization, which is why David Epstein argued against early specialization. Preventing early specialization may not be entirely possible, but one strategy would be to reduce the overinflated costs of youth sports so that parents no longer feel as though they are assuming risk by supporting their child’s athletic aspirations. Not only would this decrease the number of children suffering from the effects of burnout, but it also would enable willful specialization in sports by children who previously could not do so due to financial constraints. There is a place in the youth sports complex for both early specialization and diversification but both must be approached in a way that considers the goals and motivations of all parties involved.

Sources

  1. Baker, J. (2003) Early Specialization in Youth Sport: A requirement for adult expertise? High Ability Studies. DOI: 10.1080/13598130304091
  2. Epstein, D. (Guest), Roberts, R. (Host). (2019). David Epstein on Mastery, Specialization, and Range. Retrieved from: https://www.econtalk.org/david-epstein-on-mastery-specialization-and-range/
  3. Malina, R. (2010). Early Sport Specialization: Roots, Effectiveness, Risks. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 9(6), 364-371. DOI:10.1249/JSR.0b013e3181fe3166

In the middle of March, the world of sports changed. We witnessed games being canceled, seasons being postponed, and fans being told they cannot return to stadiums. Many people were worried about how sports would return and what the future holds. Sports teams make most of their profit through three ways: fan attendance (ticket sales and concessions), tv and radio broadcast deals, and sponsorship sales.

According to Statista, “the North American revenue from sports sponsorship in 2019 was $17.7 billion dollars.” (Statista) This included events in entertainment such as music festivals, art shows, and annual events, but the driving factor for this number is the 4 major sports leagues. For example, the NFL “pulled in over $3 billion dollars” (Investopedia) in sponsorship in 2018. Sponsorship opportunities are important because they allow brands to interact with their target market and create a lasting impression on an audience. When COVID-19 hit, leagues choose to continue play without fans, which forced teams to figure out a way to uphold their sponsorship agreement. In the rest of this blog, I will look at what different leagues and teams did to innovate sponsorship contracts as well as talk about where I see the future of sports sponsorship heading.

One of the first sports leagues to return to action was NASCAR, well sort of. Weeks after the world was shut down NASCAR teamed up with iRacing to “form the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series” (NASCAR.com) which would be broadcast on television channels such as Fox Sports and NBC Sports. This idea was able to provide fans the ability to watch NASCAR without having to leave the comfort of their couch. NASCAR professionals like Danny Hamlin were able to race against some of the best eSports racers in the world. Not only did this idea provide fans the opportunity to watch racing again, but it also provided race teams the opportunity to uphold contracts and hopefully keep their employees on the roster. In an interview with NBC Sports, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said, “All of the race teams are trying everything they can to keep their sponsors and keep their employees.” (NBC Sports) NASCAR teams and drivers were able to take their current contracts with brands and move them over to iRacing, so if a brand, like Turtle Wax, for example, was sponsoring the car for a driver this contract would be upheld since Turtle Wax would be on the car in iRacing. This allowed the brand to be seen by the public and pay the NASCAR team for their contract. The ability to uphold these sponsorship contracts, through the technology of iRacing, allowed these teams to keep their employees and pay them their salary.

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In October, I was able to have a conversation with a Partnership Sales Representative for the Washington Nationals. He told me that many teams in Major League Baseball took a similar approach to NASCAR by using enhancements in technology to help stay on top of sponsorship contracts, specifically using “virtual signage in the outfield.” This individual told me that “most partnership contracts included in-game promotions and activation” things that are now more difficult to do with no fans in the stands. The Partnerships team for the Nationals had to think of ways to provide value and opportunities to their clients, so they decided to use the no fans to their advantage. If you watched a Washington Nationals broadcast this season, I had to do this often since I am a Phillies fan, you would have noticed virtual signs in the outfield seats whenever a deep pop-fly or a home run was hit. In years past, no one would have seen virtual signage in the outfield since these areas were typically packed with fans. The Washington Nationals, as well as many other baseball teams, turned the initial problem of having no fans in the outfield into an opportunity to uphold current partnership agreements.

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The National Football League took somewhat of a different approach when it came to new ways to integrate sponsorship contracts. The NFL had the “luxury” of starting their season later than everyone else, so they were able to see what worked and what was not working in terms of sponsorship. The NFL Draft was a steppingstone for how the league and their teams would find ways to integrate sponsorship. According to Marketing Dive, “more than 100 brands” (Marketing Dive) paid money to sponsor this event. The league had brand interaction with companies such as Lowe’s (the Presenting Sponsor), Bud Light Seltzer, and Pizza Hut. Teams had the ability to host their own draft parties which were used for sponsorship opportunities. The New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as well as other teams, hosted thousands of virtual fans on a zoom. These gatherings of virtual people were of coursed sponsored, Verizon with the Jets and Miller Lite with the Buccaneers. The NFL also had their sponsors interact with one another. For example, “the Houston Texans bought food from Whataburger (a current sponsor) and had it delivered to Kroger’s Warehouse, another sponsor.” (Sports Business Daily) These two examples from the NFL provided value to their sponsors and have now made these sponsors more likely to renew a contract.

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The start of this year's NHL season ushered in some big changes for hockey sponsorship. The league, which makes most of its money from ticket sales, decided to put brand logos on helmets as well as sell the naming rights to their newly developed four divisions. In years past, “there used to be off-limit areas to apply sponsorship within North American sports” (KSLSports.com) but now, with the help of COVID, we have seen most leagues take every opportunity to make money. The NHL’s 4 divisions are now called “The Scotia NHL North Division, The Honda NHL West Division, The Discover NHL Central Division, and The MassMutual NHL East Division.” (LA Times) These new division sponsors, as well as the helmet sponsors, allow the league and teams to make up some of the revenue they will lose from not having fans in the stands for this year. The NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, has said that the branded divisions will be a one-year sponsorship, but we will see if that is the case.

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The world of sports sponsorship is forever changed because of COVID-19. We are going to see more leagues copy the NHL in selling naming rights for their divisions because this is an easy way to make a lot of sponsorship dollars. This idea fits the NCAA and March Madness well. The tournament has an East, West, North, and South division which would be easy to sell naming rights for. We will see leagues continue to develop and find ways to use technology to drive sponsorships. Leagues will continue to use virtual signage in broadcasts as we saw with the MLB. In terms of other technology, keep an eye out for virtual and augmented reality. These two ideas will give teams and brands the chance to interact with fans even when they are not at the stadium. Teams like the Philadelphia Phillies have done scannable QR codes which cause a virtual bobblehead to pop up on people’s phones. This new enhancement in technology will allow leagues, teams, and brands to interact with fans on a whole new level.

Sources

  1. Gough, C. (n.d.). Topic: Sports sponsorship. Retrieved February 04, 2021, from https://www.statista.com/topics/1382/sports-sponsorship/
  2. Eckstein, J. (2021, January 27). How the Nfl makes Money: TV is King, streaming and gambling on horizon. Retrieved February 04, 2021, from https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/062515/how-nfl-makes-money.asp
  3. Release, O. (2020, March 19). NASCAR, iRacing introduce iracing Pro INVITATIONAL SERIES: NASCAR. Retrieved February 04, 2021, from https://www.nascar.com/news-media/2020/03/17/nascar-iracing-introduce-enascar-iracing-pro-invitational-series/
  4. Long, D. (2020, April 07). Virtual racing or REAL, sponsorships matter, Dale JR. says - NBC Sports. Retrieved February 04, 2021, from https://nascar.nbcsports.com/2020/04/07/dale-jr-bubba-wallace-nascar-iracing-bristol-motor-speedway-sponsorships/
  5. Williams, R. (2020, April 23). NFL draft draws 100 brands for 3-DAY broadcast. Retrieved February 04, 2021, from https://www.marketingdive.com/news/nfl-draft-draws-100-brands-for-3-day-broadcast/576593/#:~:text=This%20year's%20advertisers%20include%20Lowe's,key%20moments%20during%20the%20telecasts.
  6. Pokrywczynski, J., & Wednesday, J. (2020, October 06). Sports sponsorship in the COVID-19 world: Impact, strategies and tactics. Retrieved February 04, 2021, from https://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/SB-Blogs/COVID19-OpEds/2020/06/10.aspx
  7. NHL sells naming rights to its four divisions to corporate sponsors. (2021, January 05). Retrieved February 04, 2021, from https://www.latimes.com/sports/hockey/story/2021-01-05/nhl-sells-naming-rights-corporate-sponsors

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