In an exclusive column for Sport Industry Group, Tim Frith (above), Director of Consulting at Lagardère Plus, explores the commercial benefits for brands working with sporting talent ambassadors and how this relationship strategy has evolved over recent years, with social media a significant factor.
Brands using talent as a way to engage with its customers is nothing new. For years, brands have leveraged athletes' image and profile to endorse products in the hope that some of the ambassadors' star dust can rub off on the brand, leading to greater affinity and brand loyalty amongst consumers.
Essentially, ambassadors can help to grab the attention of customers and help a brand stand out positively from its competitors.
When we started working with EA SPORTS around their global football talent programme about 15 years ago, it was before anyone really knew what social media was.
For EA SPORTS, the strategy was primarily about being associated with the biggest and best footballers on the planet. This same strategy applied across all their sports titles like their golf game, Tiger Woods Golf and NFL game, Madden. This was to essentially add credibility and authenticity to its game by using the player’s image on the front of its FIFA video game.
Traditionally, the basic requirements for most talent deals was to be able to use the player's image on products and across marketing assets.
Access to talent to shoot a TV advertisement and then one or two player appearances throughout the year, with some signed items of merchandise for promotional use and that was basically it. However, we have seen the way brands now look to use talent evolve and social media has played a key role in this.
Over the last decade or so, social media has changed the way we consume our media and engage with brands, whilst also making our favourite sports stars and celebrities far more accessible on a daily basis.
Rather than having to wait and rely on news coverage or match previews etc, we can now get a glimpse into the lives of our heroes directly through their own social media platforms, gaining behind the scenes access like never before.
If anything, this has further strengthened fans' affinity towards their heroes and in some cases has elevated sports stars/celebs to another level, in which they are no longer just known for their primary jobs as footballers, tennis stars, musicians or film stars, but also as key influencers.
Many transcend their professions and have become genuine global personalities as a result.
With social media continuing to embed itself into our daily lives, it plays a significant part in the decisions people make when purchasing products - whether that be a new pair of trainers, the latest iPhone or must have gadget.
This is particularly relevant amongst millennials, with 49% of this audience seeking purchase guidance from social media.
This same audience are 64% more likely to purchase a product if an athlete mentions it on social media. Therefore, demonstrating the influence that talent has amongst many brands’ target audience.
Players themselves have become far more aware of the influence they can play and the importance of having both a large and engaged social media following as they immediately become commercially attractive for brands looking to tap into a key audience of existing and new customers.
Of course, players’ performance on the pitch and how they carry themselves in their profession remain important criteria for brands to take into consideration when identifying the right ambassador to work with.
However, increasingly, one of the top priorities for brands that we work with is to ensure that the players have a comprehensive social following and good level of engagement, as they are as keen to use them as an influential media platform in their own right, as much as for the wider benefits already mentioned.
A significant number of athletes (particularly footballers) now have their own in-house social media team that are responsible for developing their own social media strategy, ensuring they are creating unique and exclusive content to continue to engage with their fans on a daily basis.
We are also now seeing platforms that are being created purely dedicated to creating and hosting content of players. This content is often focused on off-pitch content to further provide a window into the personal lives of our heroes.
As we have witnessed with traditional sports sponsorship rights packages now being far more tailored to brands’ needs, I think we will see more of this in the talent space, with brands looking for more flexibility in areas such as length of term etc and more focused on level and frequency of access to both the ambassador and their platforms.
Creating content more regularly is key to maintaining an ongoing engagement with customers and fans.
Of course, it is not all plain sailing working with talent and there are always challenges that brands will need to overcome.
That is where we can add real value through our network of relationships with talent and their representatives to ensure that they deliver what has been agreed and that all parties are working in partnership.
If we can make sure of that, then the commercial benefits for brands working with talent are huge.