Today’s athletes are blessed with an extraordinary opportunity to leverage their fame to create institutional value like never before. The history and evolution of athlete marketing illustrates how the building blocks of this new paradigm came to be and athletes today are empowered to become highly profitable media companies.
Michael Jordan was the ultimate “pitch man” and was handsomely rewarded by being a spokesperson for some of the most admired brands in the world. However, Michael never owned his own Intellectual property (IP), and he was at the height of his fame before the days of social media when athletes could communicate directly with their fans.
Leveraging the Power of Partnerships:
As someone who has spent three decades building athlete brands and witnessing the evolution of the industry, it is clear that the game has changed. Let’s take Shaquille O’Neal for example. When our company, Management Plus Enterprises (MPE), worked with Shaquille to created the Shaq brand at the beginning of his career, we went one step beyond what Jordan had perfected. From the beginning our strategy was to own the Shaq IP and license to brands for use in their marketing campaigns along with Shaq as the spokesperson. The legendary creative Lee Clow, the creative behind Steve Jobs and AppleAAPL, generously agreed to design the Shaq “dunkman” logo that Shaq could own. Not only did this help build Shaq’s personal brand but also created institutional value in the Shaq IP. The strategy paid off handsomely as Shaq formed a lucrative partnership with Authentic Brands Group (ABG) to supercharge Shaq’s brand growth and exploit that IP on a global scale. Most recently, Shaq is a perfect example of how to combine mass media and traditional marketing with social media in order to exponential fuel brand growth and value.
The Era of Athlete Media Companies:
In the emerging digital age, the landscape of athlete branding and influence has undergone a paradigm shift. With the rise of social media and the power it holds, it is crucial for athletes to recognize the immense potential they have as media companies. By leveraging their status and utilizing effective tactics, athletes can unlock a world of opportunities and enjoy significant financial benefits previously unseen.
Just as traditional media companies forge partnerships to expand their reach and revenue streams, athletes can do the same. By collaborating with brands, media outlets, and other influencers, athletes can amplify their brand message and tap into new audiences. Strategic partnerships can take the form of sponsored content, co-branded campaigns, or even joint ventures that extend beyond the realm of sports. These collaborations not only boost visibility but also open up lucrative revenue streams for athletes, including endorsement deals, content licensing, and revenue sharing opportunities.
Today, they have the power to create and distribute content and products directly to their fan base through social media platforms. This shift allows athletes to become media companies themselves, controlling their narratives, shaping their brands, and monetizing their influence. We have seen this explode in the traditional influencer space where Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian have launched lucrative brands on the back of their massive social following.
To truly embrace the role of a media company, athletes must invest time and effort into building a strong social media presence. Platforms like Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok provide direct access to millions of fans worldwide. Athletes should consistently create high-quality, authentic content that resonates with their audience. By sharing behind-the-scenes footage, personal stories, training routines, and engaging directly with fans, athletes can cultivate a loyal following and increase their influence as media entities.
This will allow them to create valuable original content and intellectual property (IP). By producing unique content such as podcasts, documentaries, web series, or even writing books, athletes can diversify their revenue streams and strengthen their brand equity. Intellectual property ownership grants athletes greater control over their content, enabling them to license it to various platforms, broadcasters, or streaming services, generating substantial income in the process.
The Future of the Athlete Brand
Becoming a media company opens up a world of financial benefits for athletes. Now that student athletes are permitted to profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL) they can start building value far earlier than before.
By adopting from the beginning the mindset of a media company, leveraging social media platforms, and focusing on creating original content, athletes can unlock unprecedented financial growth and open doors to new opportunities. Embracing this frontier empowers athletes to control their narrative, expand their reach, and build lasting relationships with fans and partners. As the world continues to on the path to digital transformation, the power of athletes in our culture is enjoying radical growth and we are experiencing the true emergence of the athlete brand.
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