An athlete's brand is perhaps the greatest asset they hold in their sponsorship toolkit.
It's their superpower. But to activate your superpower, you have to know what it is and how to use it.
More and more, we're seeing sponsors seek out athletes with niche interests and stories that speak to their target market. The future of sponsorship is marketing that feels custom-made for the consumer.
Because the marketing landscape is crowded. With the birth of the internet and social media, came 24/7 advertising with better data and analytics than ever before. We're being sold to all the time. Effective sponsorship has to cut through that noise.
And nothing breaks through better than human-to-human marketing. People trust people. That's why ambassador-led marketing is so effective.
Athletes make great ambassadors because they're just like us (regular, non-sporty folk) and yet also extraordinary. We can relate to them AND be inspired by them.
So what does it mean for athletes?
Many athletes rush into the sponsorship process. They're go-getters and doers by nature. Once they know something needs to get done, they lean all the way in.
But without a clear idea of who they are and the unique value they bring to the table, all the excitement and gusto fades away. They send out generic proposals to hundreds of businesses and then...crickets. It's a story we've heard too many times from athletes and it often ends with "so...I guess sponsorship just isn't for me."
However, every athlete CAN get sponsored. It's just that there's some prep work involved. It's a process like anything else and if you follow it, the outcome is usually a happy one.
The very first step in that process is taking a good look at what their brand is.
Brand creates better, more effective partnerships
By looking at who they are as a person and not just an athlete, they'll be able to identify niche sponsors that are perfect for them. Lots of athletes approach brands like Nike and Adidas (and there's nothing wrong with either, don't get us wrong). But going outside the square and aligning their interests and passions to their sponsorship activities can produce some really interesting sponsorship pairings.
We were in the US recently, speaking at colleges about the changes to the NCAA's NIL policy. Part of our talk was getting the students to think about aligning their brand to potential sponsors. A male swimmer from one of the schools told us he really loves styling his hair, so he'd love to get sponsored by Dyson and promote their airwrap. Another goes to the same local donut shop every day and he always jokes with his friends about getting sponsored by them. After the talk, he realised it wasn't such a wild idea.
The modern consumer wants ambassador marketing to feel like they're talking with a good friend. It's not an internet stranger selling them food subscription boxes. It's your best mate, who's also a busy, single mum, telling you how Hello Fresh has saved her hours in the kitchen. She loves it for all the same reasons you will. The meals are kid-friendly but packed with veg and it saved her from strapping her toddler into their car seat for a mid-week grocery trip.
Does it matter that you've never met her? Not really. You keep up with her content online, you watched her compete on the world's stage and were inspired by her story and know she only endorses products she truly loves and uses.
Sponsorship is an opportunity for athletes and brands to tell stories together. But athletes need to know what they can bring to the storyboard to create real magic.
Are you an athlete looking for brand and sponsorship support?
Connect with the experts and a community of like-minded sponsorship seekers by joining The Athlete Brand and Sponsorship Hub.
The Hub is a free group for athletes of all types, sports, abilities and ages. You'll find brand and sponsorship tips + a forum to seek and receive support as you navigate your journey. Join The Hub to take your brand and sponsorship journey to the next level.