How To Score Big With Athlete Marketing

The field of athlete marketing is equal parts exciting and intimidating. Partnering with professional athletes will help you build trust with consumers, target hyper-local audiences, and generate incredibly valuable content to reuse in other marketing channels, but athletes are often difficult to get in touch and negotiate a deal with. That’s why my team and I created MarketPryce, a two-sided marketplace for athletes and brands to find each other, connect, and close deals. 

We want to make the athlete marketing world accessible to everyone, and this piece will outline some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned from my time in the industry, both on the brand and athlete representation sides. 

How can I find the “right” athlete for my brand?

With over 5,000 professional athletes in the major four US sports (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL) and thousands more in less popular sports like UFC, Lacrosse, or any Olympic sport, how can you make sure to work with the “right” athlete for your brand? You need to ask yourself just 2 questions, “Would this athlete really use my product and benefit from it?” and “Would this athlete’s followers really use my product and benefit from it?” Let’s analyze the partnership between former NFL Wide Receiver Eric Decker and Smucker’s to walk through these questions. 

Smucker’s Instagram bio starts off with “Delighting families by making life more fruitful”. With this one sentence, you can tell that Smucker’s focuses their marketing on consumers who spend a lot of time with their families. You can imagine that Smucker’s focuses their attention on parents as most of its products are for kids. Taking one scroll through Eric Decker’s Instagram, you’ll see that nearly all his posts are about his wife and/or kids.

Decker is the parent of three young kids who are the perfect consumers of Smucker’s brands. Since most 7-year old kids do not go grocery shopping (surprise, surprise…), Smucker’s is forced to target the parents of these children. And a cherry on top for why Eric is the perfect fit for Smucker’s? An average post that includes Eric’s children gets 90,000 likes while an average post including just Eric gets only a third of that (around 30,000). Smucker’s wanted to make sure Eric included his children in the advertisement, to guarantee the highest chance of engagement on the post, so Eric included his son to deliver the best results.

Since Eric Decker played in the NFL for nine years, you would imagine most of his followers are males who love football, right? Actually, 78% of Eric Decker’s 1.2 million followers on Instagram are female. This is most likely due to his famous wife (Jessie James Decker, 3.2million IG followers) and his appearance on the show “Eric & Jessie: Game On” on E! Networks.

If 78% of Eric’s following is female and 64% of his total following is between ages 25-54 (quite old for NFL players’ followings), is this still a good fit for Smucker’s? Actually, yes! Traditionally, women do more of the grocery shopping, so working with an athlete like Eric is still a perfect sponsorship deal for Smucker’s. Yes, the demographics of the athlete you’re working with matter, but what is most important is the demographics of those who are actually following that athlete. These are the people who are going to be influenced to buy your product.

Keep in mind that athletes are looking for a similarly good fit in a marketing partner, so you’re not alone in seeking them out. In the past few years, the athlete empowerment movement has grown significantly, with athletes taking on more responsibility for managing their own finances and sponsorships. Recently, I got connected with LaVonne Idlette, an Olympic hurdler, who was interested in our site. Within four minutes, LaVonne had signed up for MarketPryce, created a profile, and applied to seven Brand Campaigns from brands she specifically wanted to work with. This kind of enthusiasm was a reminder for me of how athletes would jump at the opportunity to work with brands, given they have the right technology that allows them to do so. 

How much should I pay and who will I work with?

If you are working with an athlete directly on any marketing deal (without an agent involved), the chances that you’re working with a micro-influencer (less than 50k followers) is quite high. The more followers/fame an athlete has, the more likely the athlete will have an agent to represent them. While you may be paying less money to athletes without agents (because most agents get paid on commission on top of what athletes get paid), this doesn’t mean you should look to take advantage of this athlete and pay them less than what they are worth. Remember, this is an investment. If you pay less money on any other type of advertising, you are going to get worse results.

For many (mostly false) reasons, some brands do not like the idea of working with sports agents. Hopefully, after you read this, you will not be one of those brands. There are a lot of positives to working with a sports agent. Fast communication (remember, it’s their job to close marketing deals for their clients), expertise in the industry (chances are they have closed deals with similar brands), and working with a large pool of clients they represent should all be positives that brands can take advantage of.

Most agents will try to negotiate a higher price for their clients. However, this should not scare or intimidate you. All agents have a cost in mind for their clients when going into a negotiation, and nearly all will begin negotiations at a higher number than they would ultimately accept. Like any negotiation, stay calm, know what number you want to pay, and make sure you always keep focus on the outcome of the deal, not just the money you are paying to make it happen. 

Additionally, even if you feel like you don’t have money to give an athlete, you may have a product to provide them with. I’ve seen so many athletes get free clothing, watches, and more in exchange for promoting the brand. It can be a nice alternative compensation option to keep in mind. 

Any Brand Can Make Athlete Marketing Work For Them

For any brand (large or small), athlete marketing doesn’t need to be an exclusive enterprise that feels too intimidating to take advantage of. Tips from this piece should allow you to feel more comfortable with the prospect of it, but always make sure to remember: 

  • To put yourself in the shoes of the athlete and ask yourself how the athlete would utilize this product or service.
  • That your brand is valuable and, even if it doesn’t relate to sports, an athlete can increase that value.
  • That athlete marketing is both an investment (spending money with the hopes of making more money) and a partnership (you are working with people who want to benefit as well).

Jason Bergman

MarketPryce is a two-sided marketplace for athletes, agents and brands that was launched in December 2020. The site allows users to connect with each other, negotiate and close marketing deals.