Sooo… I decided to write a piece on sports marketing. I found it to be a pretty fascinating area in marketing. I’ve got to be frank from the start, though. I don’t know much about the field. Never worked in it, never got too close to it. Only observed from a distance.
Recently, though, we’ve been talking to a few amazing people in sports marketing agencies.
Why, you ask?
We wanted to learn more about their field and their workflows.
Why, you ask?
Sports marketing has a lot of moving parts. A lot of people are involved in each campaign. Where there’s a lot of people, there’s a lot of collaboration. We’re a collaboration tool. Ba dum tss, cha-ching.
So, yes, you got me. Moving on, talking to so many professionals in sports marketing got me thinking. And googling. There’s not much content out there and I’m sure there are a lot of people wondering. About what exactly is sports marketing, about possible careers in sports marketing, what sports marketing agencies do and so much more.
Since I’m a rookie, thought it’d be wise to go to an expert. Jeremy Tucker has helped athletes and brands build and implement marketing, branding, and public relations strategy throughout the course of his career.
Lately, Jeremy has been involved with diversity and inclusion awareness campaigns with both current and former NHL athletes. Having recently launched Radix, an athlete marketing consulting agency, he and his team hope to transform the way athletes value their platform and position in the marketplace through brand partnerships and new technology ventures.
They have a really cool team, too:
Jeremy was kind enough to answer the internet’s top 5 questions about sports marketing. Let’s check them out:
What is sports marketing?
Let’s start with the basics. Sport is one of those weird things that can’t really be explained. Starting with their popularity across the globe to the incredible amount of money spent and generated from sports. It’s just a tad unbelievable.
Let’s paint a quick picture. Statista estimates that in 2021, NFL will have 141M viewers in the US. 84M people in the states will watch eSports. And it’s not just the US. Soccer’s world cup final is watched by an estimated 600 million people worldwide.
Too many numbers?
Let’s put it this way — a lot of people watch sports. Most people watch sports. And an audience of hundreds of millions calls for …drumroll, please… marketing.
Sports marketing is a combination of all the potential marketing techniques aimed at attracting sports fans. The sole difference between marketing and sports marketing is that the latter targets a specific audience. Though I wouldn’t call a pool of billions of people specific.
Dumb it down for us, what is sports marketing?
What’s sports marketing’s role and purpose?
The definition above is pretty much what I understood after turning the internet upside down. I got that sports marketing is anything and everything. But let’s see what an actual professional in the field would say.
“You can ask 10 people and get 10 different answers to ‘what is sports marketing?’ Simply put, it’s a way to market a product, service, or even athlete, within a specific category ‘sports.’
The purpose of it, for us anyway, is to help athletes leverage the emotional connections that fans, consumers and audiences have within that category to do a number of things ranging from raising money for a charity to partnering with a brand looking to grow their influence within the sports market.”
Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Sports marketing has a wide range of possibilities. So much so, that trying to completely define it is pretty complicated.
Why do sports need niched marketing agencies to manage their presence?
Sports marketing exists because sports have a huge audience. But why is this a field that needs special attention? Why does it need agencies whose focus relies solely on sports marketing?
“I wouldn’t say all athletes need to have niche marketing agencies, but it helps to have an agency or marketing rep who understands what it means to develop and manage an ‘athlete brand.’ No athlete is the same in what they are trying to accomplish through marketing and branding, so knowing how to handle each athlete’s needs and emotions is a must.”
It’s starting to make sense. What seems to make a difference in sports marketing is the level of industry know-how. Sports marketing is a bit different from, say, FMCG. Its mere consumption is widely known. Its behind the scenes though? Not so much.
Another aspect is exactly what Jeremy said. Sports marketing is a lot about personal brands. Athletes are the stars. People fall in love with them. Watch them. Root for them. That’s what the audience is interested in. So sports marketing has to appeal to that. To fully embrace who the represented athlete is and what their fans are looking to see.
Sports marketing agencies and firms
Sports marketing agencies and firms know a lot about their field. They have a huge role in consulting companies on their target. They suggest the sports their clients should invest in, and the ones they should stay away from. They also do the match-making between brands and players. Since athletes have such different personalities, they attract different fan bases. The audience is huge. So brands have the luxury of segmenting. Of choosing the athletes based on the profiles of their fan base.
I like the way Jonathan Schecter puts it on Quora:
“There are two types of sports marketing firms (well, more than two, but we’ll segment it this way for now…), the first is brand-side and the second is the player side. The brand side has marketing and public relations agencies organizations like Team Epic, Octagon, IMG, Taylor Strategy, M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment. Also, some of the major sports brands (i.e. Nike, Adidas) do not use these agencies and source endorsers and negotiate contracts in-house. The player side is represented by many of the same organizations (Octagon, IMG, M&C Saatchi S&E) but also by agents and marketing reps.
The partnership process works both ways. There are times where a brand or their representatives will call an agent and say “is so-and-so interested in promoting our brand?” There are also times where the agent will seek out potential partnerships. I have experience working with both brands and athletes and it has worked both ways. I have pitched my athletes to brands as endorsers and I have also approached athletes on behalf of brands that I’ve represented to be endorsers.
In terms of the pay scale, generally, if you are working on behalf of a brand, the brand will pay a fee for what is basically headhunting. If you are working on the athlete side, you will get a percentage of the endorsement contract.”
Q: Tell us about Radix and the way you do things. What makes you unique in the sports marketing agencies’ landscape?
I wanted to know more about Radix, in particular. How do they approach things? Here’s Jeremy Tucker’s answer:
“Radix is another way of saying ‘root’ or ‘base’ and that’s how we approach each athlete. That’s how we work – we identify who the athlete really is at their core or base. We then work to identify different partnership opportunities and long term relationships that help them build on that base so they become more than just a ‘hockey player.’
As for what makes us unique, I think it’s our approach to the way we do things. As I just said, this is an athlete-focused 100%. Some athletes may be looking to generate revenue streams in different ventures away from the game. Others may just be looking to network with different groups and people within a specific hobby, or something they are passionate about, and we’re ok with that.
My business partner, Jamie, and I both played the game professionally ourselves. We’ve experienced firsthand just how short the window of opportunity is for these athletes to use their platform to grow as brands and individuals. Our mission is to do whatever we can to support the goals of our athletes and help them maximize that window.”
Radix is a sports marketing agency that focuses on the athlete side. The company’s founders are former players themselves. That helps them understand the industry and the point of view of a player. Their needs and challenges. Their opportunities and space to grow.
The sports marketing industry’s way of doing things
Your business is, in a way, representing unique individuals. This type of marketing has to be very personalized and tailored to the athlete you’re working with. What would you say is the biggest challenge to that and how do you approach it?
I know what you’re thinking. Aren’t brands unique too? How is that different? Brands are all different from one another, yes. But think about it like this. A brand is built. It’s built with consistency and clarity in mind from the start. Everything you do for a brand has to fall within the parameters of its written and established personality.
An athlete, though, is a person. People are complex beings and aren’t born with brand guidelines. You have to understand, help them identify themselves, and link that to their fan base.
“Yeah every athlete has a different story to tell, that’s for sure.
I’d say the biggest challenge is in being able to adapt strategies to each individual and not fall into the ‘one size fits all’ model. That being said, I think being able to overcome that challenge on a daily basis is what makes us successful.
When you start doing the same thing for each athlete, you lose the authentic factor that makes each player unique and that’s ultimately what fans enjoy about these guys.”
Another thing about sports marketing companies is that they have to constantly work closely with their athletes. Every step of the way. As much as you understand a personal brand, you can’t fully represent it. Not without the athlete involved. Which led me to my following question.
Collaboration in sports marketing
Where does the sports marketing industry stand in terms of collaboration? I asked this because it doesn’t seem to be a “laissez-faire” type of field. It really can’t be if the sports marketing agencies are truly interested in representing the uniqueness of their athletes. So I asked Jeremy.
How important is collaboration in the sports marketing biz?
“You wouldn’t last long without it, and I think as a business we thrive on it.
We don’t bring any ego into this as a team. There are tons of smart, creative people out there and we love connecting and working with them. Every person has a different perspective on each situation, and we love hearing how other people view and solve problems.
I just think it’s important to keep everyone involved. As I said before, we love learning about new things from ongoing communication and discussion with the many different people we have relationships with out there.”
Keeping everyone involved is key here. Think about it like this. A sports marketing agency manages the presence of its athletes. Their public appearances as well as their online presence. A big part of that is social media.
Sports fans fall in love with their favorite athletes. They want to follow and get to know their athletes in a more personal way. That’s what social media can do for them. Provide that environment where authenticity is key.
Social media management for athletes is no easy trick. It has to be personal, so it has to be done in the most collaborative way. The athlete has to be part of the creation and review process. They have to ensure that the content published has their voice and personality.
And this is where Planable comes in. We’re a tool made for social media collaboration. What we do is get all the stakeholders involved on the same page. Literally.
Sports marketing and social media
How do you do social media management for athletes?
1. Get everyone on the same page
When social media management involves more than one person, easy visibility is key. Editorial calendars in spreadsheets lack visibility. Sharing spreadsheets across emails, chats, and text messages isn’t easy.
Teams that do social media in sports marketing need one place to unite all the stakeholders involved. Planable is the tool where you can invite everyone involved. With a link. Doesn’t get any easier than this.
As a sports marketing agency, you have more than one athlete to manage. Wasting time or losing files happens a lot in folders and sheets. The organizational system has to flow on its own.
What you see above is what we call “workspaces”. Consider them living folders. You can group all the brands of the athletes you manage, with their social media pages, their media assets, and the stakeholders involved.
2. Create and review social media posts on one platform
Reviewing and approving social media posts has to happen in the same place. Not in a dedicated column somewhere lost in the “May_Social_Calendar_Posts_ForApproval_final” spreadsheet.
Giving and collecting feedback flows naturally in Planable, too. You know, without the neverending emails, the pinging, the nagging, the calling. All those actions make social media managers dream of retiring on an internet-free island.
In Planable, any workflow can run smoothly. The internal team in the sports marketing agency can initially create posts hidden from other stakeholders. They can add internal notes, go through their initial collaboration process. Once the content’s ready for review, they can make it visible to everyone involved. Feedback is given right next to the posts. With context and everything.
For those special-case posts, there’s a way to collaborate, too. Take sponsored posts for example. Brands usually want to take a look, too. You can simply create a private post link and send it to them. They’ll see the posts and will be able to leave comments. No login, no signup needed.
Oh, and approval is clear. It’s a green button that ensures everyone that the posts are reviewed and good to go.
3. Schedule & publish social media posts at ease
This is a no-brainer. Copy-pasting is… you guessed it… a waste of time. When you have to copy posts from wherever you keep them to social networks or publishing tools, a deserted island starts sounding amazing again.
In Planable, the entire workflow is in one place. After the athlete, the team, and the brands gave their ok, the content is automatically scheduled.
All done. Fast & easy.
Best sports marketing examples on social media that are just too good
So social media and sports marketing get along. They fit perfectly together. Managing athlete social media accounts isn’t that hard either. Not with Planable.
#hairflip #eyeroll #shamelessplug
Now let’s get into how the masters did it. There are some sports marketing examples that are soo amazing, we’re in awe. I chose 5 sports marketing examples that blew my mind. Take a look.
1. #WhatsYourGoal — Chicago Blackhawks
NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks had one of the most memorable sports marketing campaigns. #WhatsYourGoal was a social media campaign developed in 2015. The campaign’s purpose was to spark up the connection between the team and their fans while contributing to the community.
They challenged their fans to share their goals. The team then helped some fans fulfill their goal, documented it, and shared the results on social. It was pretty amazing. Here are a couple of amazing ones:
The campaign won social media. It had over 21,000 fan submissions rolled in via social media. It reached over 46 million people organically on Facebook. It received 4.5 million impressions on Twitter. It was amazing.
Back in 2014, football rockstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Nike started an amazing social media campaign. It was called #DareToZlatan and it got a lot of attention.
Zlatan’s fans love him because, yes, he’s an amazing player. But also, because his personality is unique. He’s very much aware of his talent and doesn’t hide that one bit.
It was basically a hilarious Q&A that got fans even more in love with their favorite superstar. Here are just a few very cool ones:
Dear @EdgleyLFC. Daring to Zlatan is easy. Start by trying moves that can’t be done. Keep trying until you are Zlatan. #DareToZlatan
— Zlatan Ibrahimović (@Ibra_official) March 10, 2014
Zlatan applauds the number of times you got Zlatan into one sentence, @jflint91. Always do what others don’t have guts to try. #DareToZlatan
— Zlatan Ibrahimović (@Ibra_official) March 10, 2014
There are 2 things Zlatan cannot do @at_sunshine. One is be predictable. The other is a step-under. But Zlatan is practising. #DareToZlatan
— Zlatan Ibrahimović (@Ibra_official) March 10, 2014
Yes @Tom_J_Webster. Zlatan is just a human. The same way a great white shark is just a fish. #DareToZlatan
— Zlatan Ibrahimović (@Ibra_official) March 10, 2014
It got 12M likes, retweets, and mentions. 13M organic impressions on Twitter and 10M views on Facebook and YouTube.
Sports fan or not, you’ve heard about this campaign for sure. It’s one of those big ones. The ones that future marketing students will learn about in college for a while.
This particular campaign was built with the mission to make sport a more accessible thing. It started with the idea that a lot fewer women than men exercise. And a lot of that was due to a specific stigma on women working out. Take a look at their latest video:
It’s inspiring and it’s just amazing.
4. I AM a CHAMPION!!
I thought I should also include a sports marketing example from a direct athlete. I remembered about LeBron James’ epic tweet that went viral. No brand involved.
OMFG I think it just hit me, I’m a CHAMPION!! I AM a CHAMPION!!
— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 22, 2012
The love that this tweet got shows just how much fans appreciate when their favorite players show humanity. LeBron James showed nothing but plain old pure excitement. Something so relatable, and yet something many hide. It’s just a reminder that authenticity wins crowds.
On the same note, here’s quite a recent video that went viral all over the internet. Mid-quarantine, Coby Cavil posted on his Twitter an amazing video. And as all amazing tweets do, it started a challenge:
Lol make this go VIRAL!! Try it…. #overthehouse #overthehousechallenge @espn @ESPNDallas VC: @Og__Kj pic.twitter.com/GD3b4y1aur
— CBG. (@cobycavil) May 4, 2020
It got a lot of media attention and fans jumped at the opportunity to show that they can too.
Building a sports marketing career
Looking at such cool campaigns, we inevitably wonder.
How does one build a sports marketing career?
I did a quick research to save you some googling. Before you ask, yes, there is such a thing as a “Sports Marketing Degree”. But they’re rare and mostly Master’s Degrees.
I’d be interested to learn, though, just how many successful sports marketers have such a specific degree. I honestly think that a background in marketing can help you make the change. Or a background in sports. So don’t get discouraged, #thismarketercan.
After looking a bit into the available jobs, they’re quite similar to what we have in marketing. From advertising to research, brand management, PR specialist, and event manager, they resemble the traditional roles we already know. But they come with a sports twist. Something quite unique is a sports agent. They usually represent athletes or sometimes entire teams. They work with licensing images and trademarks.
If you’re looking for a role in the field, there are some recruiting websites specialized in this field. I found Jobs in Sports and Work in Sports.
If you want to know more about sports marketing, the ball’s in your court now. If you want to start collaborating more efficiently, we offer a free plan for everyone to join the (social media) game.
Miruna Dragomir, Marketing Manager @Planable. Social media fanatic, tech geek & a sucker for learning. Past experience? Social Media Comms Manager @Oracle & Marketing Coordinator @Uber