What makes an Athlete Marketable?
Frequency of performance
Demographics of fans in their sport
Nature of the Sport
Strong social media presence
Corporate entities associate with athletes whose brands values align with theirs. Athletes who make the most from endorsements like Ronaldo, Lebron, Roger Federer, and Phil Mickelson are examples of personalities with integrity. They epitomize hard work and good virtues, on and off the field, and hardly get any negative press. The recent Ryan Lochte incident at the Rio Olympics -which I am sure everyone is aware of- is an example of how quick brands will detach themselves from athletes whose actions don’t align with their values.
The world of sports is extremely competitive, and the best athletes in every sport get the most global recognition. Success in business is based on profits, and the leading companies in each industry are the most profitable. Therefore winning is the common factor in sports and business. Brands want to associate with the best athletes in their sport, or athletes who have some history of winning. Most team sports have offensive and defensive players. Statistics from the Forbes 2016 highest earning athletes show that in every team sport, offensive players get more endorsements from brands than defensive players. In football, out of the total endorsements – the sum of all endorsements of athletes in a particular sport - 75% was for Quaterbacks. In Soccer, 97% was for attacking players, and 98% was for scoring players in Basketball. In team sports, winning is determined by having more points than the opponent, and it is usually attacking players that help the team achieve this. It is more likely for their names to be mentioned in the press for winning the game for the team, and in turn gives the brands that endorse them media exposure.
Frequency of Performance
Statistics show that athletes who compete in sports that have longer competitions tend to be more marketable than athletes who compete in sports that have shorter or less frequent competitions. From the Forbes list, the sport that had the most athletes was Baseball – which has 162 games a season without playoffs - with 26. Although the value of their endorsements was one of the lowest at an average of $1million per player, it shows that brands will associate with these athletes for constant exposure. According to Sportsmedias publications on 50 of the most marketable athletes - a publication which has been running since 2010 and takes factors such as value for money, age, home market, charisma, willingness to be marketed, and crossover appeal into consideration- Soccer has had the most amount of marketable athletes every year. In the most recent edition it had 8 athletes, while athletics had 3. Soccer is played 10 months out of the year excluding international competitions while athletics hold major competitions once every year except for Olympic years. Lebron James was the second highest endorsed athlete in 2016 earning $54million from endorsements. Over the course of the year, the basketball season has 82 matches excluding playoffs, which means the athletes are exposed to audiences almost twice a week on average during the year. On the flip side, Usain Bolt was the only Track athlete to feature on the Forbes chart although he racked in a solid $30m from endorsements.
Demographics of fans in their sport
Looking at the Forbes list, those who made the most from endorsements were athletes who participated in Tennis, Golf, and Basketball. The demographics of fans that watch Tennis and Golf are in the higher middle class, and have at least a bachelor’s degree. Tickets to watch some of the Tennis and Golf competitions could be as high as $1,000. Since the incomes of these fans are relatively higher, luxury brands find it more appealing to associate themselves with the athletes who participate in them. Basketball on the other hand has combination of all sorts of fans, and celebrities. For some NBA games, front row seats can cost as much as $6,000. 4 of the top 10 earning athletes from endorsements on the Forbes list played Golf, 3 played Tennis, 2 played Basketball, and 1 played soccer.
Nature of the Sport
From the Forbes list, the highest earner from endorsements in American football was Payton Manning with $15million; Golf was Phil Mickelson with $50million. The highest earner in MMA, and the only athlete in the sport to feature on the list was Conor McGregor with $4million. There were 21 NFL athletes on the list, and the average they earned in endorsements was $3.4million. The 5 Golf athletes on the list have an average of $34.1million in endorsements. This means that the 5 Golfers combined earned more than double of the 21 Football players combined. The Sportsmedia list had only 3 MMA fighters (Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey, and Angela Lee), and 4 Football players (Odell Beckham Jr and Marcus Mariota). This is not a coincidence as the public views these sports to be brutal, and I believe it’s a reason brands strongly consider associating with athletes in these sports.
Strong Social Media Presence
Social media has become the best and least expensive avenue for athletes to stay in touch, and share different moments with their fans. The most marketable athletes have a strong following on the biggest social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Brands benefit from associating themselves with such athletes because they can actually measure the number of the athletes’ followers they will be exposed to every time the athlete posts something related to the brand. Hookit is a data driven sports platform that helps quantify and track the value and performance of sponsorships. Cristiano Ronaldo has over 200million followers on social media. According to Hookit, he generated $176million in value for brands through his social media posts. According to the source, this value is calculated by taking into account promotion type and quality, type and number of interactions and market-driven costs per interaction and platform to deliver a dollar value for each post. The fact that he only earned $32million from this shows that it is a huge bargain for brands to associate with him.
In regards to the argument of which factor is the most critical, I think it is hard to select one due to the fact that each one is different in its own way. However, looking at the case of integrity vs social media presence, the example of Ryan Lochte proves that Brands consider different factors depending on their goals. Although the Olympic medalist lost all his major endorsements in a day due to the fiasco in Rio, Ryan Locthe has gotten 2 new Endorsements in the past few days. This is not surprising as he has almost 3 million followers on Social Media. The exposure the brands will receive from him is going to be of tremendous value to them.
In conclusion, there is no manual or guide Corporations can follow in selecting the right athlete to work with in marketing their product, until proper due diligence is performed. However athletes who create and maintain their brand carefully, have a greater appeal to be associated with. Technology has done a great job in helping to monitor the performance of a brand before and after endorsing the athlete. Corporations should consider some of these factors as a minimum before selecting an athlete.
Jegan Davies-Jones heads Mieza Sports Management as a Football Agent.
Mieza sport is a Jungle client, maximizing their revenue using world-class entertainment technology.