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Athlete Marketing vs. Influencer Marketing

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

Athlete Marketing is Taking Over

This week, we’re looking into how athlete marketing compares with influencer marketing for growing brands. Since the introduction of NIL, more and more brands have started to jump at the opportunity to work with college athletes. You might be wondering why athletes are so attractive to brands, and part of the answer lies in the distinction between athlete marketing and influencer marketing.

What is influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing is a social media marketing strategy where “influencers” or people with expertise in a specific field and/or a large following endorse products. This can be done through background product placement or overt promotions of specific products and services in posts. If you are on social media, you have definitely encountered influencer marketing, as it is one of the most significant ways modern companies market their products.

Essentially, influencer marketing flips traditional print or television advertising with celebrities into a new marketing strategy that is made for social media. Oftentimes, brands don’t have the means to work with A-list celebrities on marketing campaigns, and end up choosing between athletes and smaller influencers to endorse their product.

What are the problems with influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing allows brands to tap into the following of figures with big names, as influencers share their product with everyone who follows them. It all sounds great, but there are problems with this kind of marketing. Influencer marketing can easily feel stale and inorganic, especially when influencers don’t seamlessly integrate promotions into their content. When a high percentage of an influencer’s content is marketing different products in obvious ways, it’s easy for social media users to scroll right over their posts, knowing that however much they trust or like the influencer, they were paid to promote the product, and may not actually believe in it. This stale style of influencer marketing fails to make a personal connection with consumers. It is also bad for brands, as a lack of engagement and interest won’t lead to success no matter the size of an influencer’s following.

The Benefits of Athlete Marketing

Athlete marketing is different from influencer marketing, focusing specifically on athletes, and drawing in a niche audience that is more likely to engage than typical influencer marketing. Data shows that athletes get better engagement than other kinds of influencers (sponsored Instagram content in 2019 from athletes had a 3.9% engagement rate, 2.1% higher than that of other influencer accounts). This is likely because athletics build community in a unique way. College sports fans love their teams, and love specific players for their athletic performance and personality. This in turn creates an emotional connection between athletes and the fans who follow them. The love between collegiate sports fans and players creates a relationship that goes much further than a simple follow on social media. This means that each follower an athlete has is significantly more valuable to a brand than a follower of a typical influencer, because that follower is significantly more invested in the player.

The Takeaway

Athlete marketing is advantageous because it has the benefits of a niche community with high engagement, but it still has the ability to be mainstream and far-reaching. Through NIL, brands can tap into the excitement fans have about getting to know their favorite players as people. Brands are able to work with athletes to enhance their presence on a certain campus or area by basically employing these athletes to be a face of their brand. When brands sign athletes who represent their core values and run creative athlete marketing campaigns, they have an opportunity to grow in a major way. If you’re interested in learning more about athlete marketing, check back with us for future posts!

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