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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Derrick

Athlete power

Updated: Nov 10, 2021

You’ve all seen the quote “people are more likely to change their religion (3%) than their football team (2%) and for the most part, you’d have been silly to argue that.

But with the launch of digital spaces like Twitch, docu-series like Netflix’s Drive to Survive, individual ambassadorships and of course the ever-present social media, the rise of the individuals sport star has accelerated to the forefront. Not least thanks to Covid-19!

We’re hearing football fans are now likely to follow

up to four clubs, in large part because of the fandom of a particular player –seeing fans follow this player through the teams he or she is transferred across. Particular sports are seeing surprising growth where a participant has created a unique celebrity following off the court, pitch, track etc.. it’s no secret what Lewis Hamilton has achieved for Formula 1’s fanbase and the knock-on effect it’s having on its sponsorship interest and plans.

We are also finally seeing success at national team levels over-spilling into new fans at club level – case in point being Lucy Bronze’s move to Man City or Alex Morgan’s move to Tottenham Spurs creating welcome noise for the WSL.

Fans are demanding more access to their favourite players and less from the team they may be part of. And from this, sponsors are looking beyond the team or franchise and sponsoring an individual or set of individuals across the sporting landscape that fit their strategic brand direction in a far wider reaching way than say, sponsoring 25 people from one team, many of whom don’t have or want to have a platform in the spotlight.

Just look at Nike – yes they sponsor teams from a kit POV, but the faces of the campaign, the voices of their brand, are individuals who have their own fan following, their own independent thoughts and who are seen further afield than the sport they play. Osaka, Williams, Kaepernick, Bryant, Ronaldo, Semenya, Sharapova, Sterling have achieved more for the Nike brand than a logo on a shirt – I’m speaking in terms of reputation, fans, trust, esteem, differentiation as opposed to immediate sales (I’d need to get access to Nike’s data to confirm this but I’d be confident to say these sport stars sell a significant proportion of their kit is their team members, competitors and many of these to fans not necessarily of the team itself).

And if sport brands are really intent on becoming entertainment brands, then the need to have ambassadors is more important than ever. Just look at Dele Alli. Whilst whispers are rife that he’s already reached his peak in football (personally I disagree), he is far from reaching his peak as an entertainer and brand in himself. With his Boohoo collaborations, his grasp on esports and his comedic, relatable Instagram lives, Alli is creating a fandom wider than those who support England or Tottenham. But with that, he’s in a position to bring new fans and viewers to the game. Whilst PSG can claim Dele is worth £6m, I can bet-your-bottom-dollar that his brand value is far greater and should therefore be considered.

Predictions for the future? For one, I’d say managers will be forced to consider individual stardom in its transfer/draft/team make up strategy’s on top of performance. More so, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Formula 1 scheme of paid drivers – paid players – will start to be seen across more sports, the importance of sponsorship and investment taking front row in a post-Covid-19 world. The same could be said for the brands sponsoring. We starting to see individuals become part of wider kit deals and contracts with PR, social media management and content creation packages focussed around key players and stars as opposed to the full team. Finally, I’d expect to see as much, if not more, weighting on brands to sponsor the single person sport such as tennis, gymnastics, Formula 1 etc.

My greatest hope? With diversity, equality, sustainability so important to a brands reputation survival, sponsorship deals and fan engagement is going to open up more opportunities for minorities to further inspire and challenge the discourses and strive to gain true equality. I’d love to see and absolutely believe it can happen, sport being the most equal and diverse industry, truly leading the way of the world.

Bring it on.

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