I have seen the athlete agent business go through many transformations over the past ¼ century.
I have survived through the big agency buy outs. I have plowed through the shift in importance from playing contracts to marketing contracts. I have ridden the wave of building brands for athletes. I have seen the transition of fans of teams to fans of players.
To date, the biggest revolution in sports to me has been the explosion of social media. It has permeated every aspect of sports and entertainment, and it is somewhat hard to imagine the experience of being a fan without it.
Just 5 years ago brands would ask what an athlete’s Q-Score[i] was to determine whether or not they would be a good spokesman. Now brands just ask me for our client’s Facebook post reach stats.
When I was a kid, the extent of athlete interaction was limited to three things:
- What you read in the news or heard from the local sportscaster in the last 6 minutes of the new broadcast
- Joining a fan club, which consisted of me writing a heartfelt letter in my best penmanship to my idol (in this case Thurman Munson). That letter I am sure was tossed in the garbage without being read by Thurman’s assistant (or a Yankees employee) but not before they got my address. 6 – 8 weeks of religious mailbox checking, and sure enough I would get a letter back from “Thurman” with a signed photo and a small index card proving my membership to his fan club.
- Waiting outside a stadium for 2 – 3 hours after a game to try and get something signed
That was it. The main focus of what you knew about players were their stats.
Now you can get a viral movement going with millions of followers to induce Derek Jeter to take you to your prom, or to do something useful like raising millions for ALS. Fans literally ask their heroes direct questions and in many cases actually get an answer. Not in 6-8 weeks, but immediately. They can see what the star eats, where they live, what movies they like, and what cool toys all those millions are buying them. You get a peek behind that curtain and see glimpses of the storied life of famous people in ways no one ever imagined.
The flipside is that celebrities can now activate their fan base in a very targeted and efficient manner. They can sell 23,000 tickets to a charity softball game, like our man Richard Sherman did, or they can get fans to vote for them to grace the cover of Madden Football like another client Barry Sanders did.
This direct and instant connecting between fans and the stars has redefined the role of celebrity in the world and even more so has given the general public their first unfiltered look at their heroes.
So what does it all mean? For those of us who saw this coming we built digital platforms for our clients that allow us to help them disseminate content that moves people. That educates them about causes. That inspires them to take action. And brands are all in.
This is the fine line you dance. It has to be authentic to the client’s brand. Once you get too commercial, it’s a wrap. Fans sniff it out and they lose interest. If there is no commercial element, then the client can’t monetize his digital platform and in essence it just becomes media with a very good inside track.
Here is what I think are some good ground rules.
- Keep the content to 80% fan based and 20% brand based on average
- Always link commercial posts to giveaways or added value for the followers
- Host Q&A’s on a regular basis to keep fans engaged
- Post selfies and other pics so fans know it is really you
- Openly support your local teams outside the sport you play in
- Post non-sports information that not only lets your fans get a better picture of who you are as a person, but also widens your appeal
- Be topical. Respond to current events.
- Think about what you would have wanted to know about your heroes when you were a kid… Every athlete started as a fan!
Bottom line… The social media generation is here to stay and to be relevant to fans (and to brands), athletes have to get on the train!
[i] Just by the fact that you are reading this footnote proves my point. Q-Scores were the standard of how celebrity appeal was determined by brands for the longest time. It is a blended average of a celebrity’s reach, likeability, exposure ect.