Coronavirus Hiatuses Provide Athletes Digital Marketing Opportunities

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  • An athlete marketer said he’s transitioning more focus to digital influencer campaigns as physical appearances dry up.
  • Unknown athletes can build up a brand by creating entertaining content for fans.
Athlete branding
Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

With sports effectively shutting down for the foreseeable future, athletes will need to look elsewhere to maintain their brands. 

Multiple athlete marketers expressed concern and anxiety about their business and the status of their athletes with leagues and events on hiatus.

FOS REPORT: 54.5% of industry executives believe that it would be at least 60 days before leagues resume play.

However, they noted that the fear of the unknown may also bring potential opportunity. 

“Lots of anxiety from a couple of angles with the draft coming up and especially now since is a crucial time for rookies to meet with teams for official visits, position coach dinners, etc., there is a lot of uncertainty with travel,” David Artzi, vice president and athlete marketing manager at DA Athlete Marketing, said. “More related to my day-to-day, there is anxiety on the physical events and appearances side with my athletes when it comes to signings and in-person engagements.”

Artzi specifically mentioned memorabilia signing events, which provide athletes with an ability to bring in side income in the offseason. He said there had been several events already canceled, and while others are still planned, athletes are dropping out. 

As the physical appearance wells dry up, Artzi sees his clients making the pivot to more digital influencer deals. Already he said his work is approximately 50/50 when it comes to digital marketing vs. physical. 

One of his clients, Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, has built up a steady following on social media with his workouts. Ekeler recently signed a 4-year, $24.5 million contract with the Chargers.

Maxx Branding and Management President Maxx Lepselter said all brands would be extremely cognizant regarding spending across the board, especially when it comes to athlete endorsements.

If the NFL Draft in Las Vegas ends up canceled, he figures at least one client could potentially lose out in deals of up to six figures.

For now, Lepselter also will work heavily on digital opportunities.

“We are trying to make sure our clients are taking the right procedures on a day to day while still being able to live,” he said.

READ MORE: Chargers’ Ekeler Takes to YouTube to Build His Brand

Up in the air will be some “lucrative deals” Artzi recently signed for physical appearances that could no longer happen, increasing the need to find ways to fill the gaps in income.

“Selfishly that is going to be tough to find some more avenues of income on that side,” he said.

The digital marketing space does open up quite a bit of room for lesser-known athletes or notable names that may have previously played it relatively quiet on social media, Mark Slavich, assistant professor of sport management at Grand View University.

“How do these athletes use the digital space to make sure people don’t forget about them,” Slavich said. “This is the best time of year for sports, as sports fans, we are programmed to dial into sports. So now, it doesn’t matter what your stats are or who you play for. If you’re an athlete doing something interesting, I’m going to watch.”

With so many events canceled and many workplaces requiring work-from-home arrangements, Slavich said more people would be turning to social to occupy their downtime. 

“People will be seeking out content and looking for who puts stuff out,” he said. 

A key to how well an athlete can capitalize on the downtime comes down to the relationship with their agencies, Slavich said, noting it should probably be the agencies making the push for the athletes to be more active with digital marketing.

READ MORE: Brands Pivot On Marketing Efforts Amid Coronavirus Cancellations 

“This is where we see the impact of their relationships and saying, ‘Hey, you’re not on TV for the next six weeks, two months, how do we make sure we’re taking advantage of this,’” he said. “It’s a blank slate, just be creative.”

Artzi is thinking about the situation and chatting with clients. His worry is how slow other parties might be to respond in the chaos of the current news cycle.

“Even though I am always working, who knows how quickly the other parties on the other side of the deal are going to respond?” Artzi said. “Does the virus give people some type of ‘excuse’ to be delayed at responding? So as long as other parties respond promptly, I can continue my goals and job on the digital side.”