Sports Marketing: The Athlete’s Brand and its Components

By Athena Constantinou, Managing Director, APC Sports Consulting, Nicosia, Cyprus

Whilst some athletes are simply popular because of their sporting prowess and achievements, there are others who have gone the extra mile and created a ‘killer’ personal brand that can always be utilised by themselves and others for profit and influence.

Indeed, a personal sports brand can be built in such a way as to transform the athlete into a local, national or even a global signature brand, which can be successfully leveraged and commercialised profitably.

The sports celebrity brand has three identifiable main components which are vital in the potential influence of the sports brand to its audience and fan base.  These components are:

  • Athletic Performance;
  • Attractive Appearance; and
  • Marketable Lifestyle

Each of the above components consists of several sub-components which must be thoroughly analysed, interpreted and utilized accordingly when creating the sports persona’s brand strategy.

The overall appeal of the athlete’s image can be evaluated by analysing the components of their image from a consumer’s point of view; this is quite a useful evaluation tool for brands looking to recruit the best celebrity athlete as their brand ambassador.

Analysing an athlete’s brand image components helps brands to determine the massiveness and extent of the appeal that celebrity athletes have with their fans, and the potential ability to influence their fans’ purchasing habits.

In addition, by analysing their brand image components and sub-components, celebrity athletes can create suitable strategies for the optimum commercial exploitation of their celebrity status.

The main components of an athlete’s brand image and their sub-components are discussed in more detail as follows:

Athletic performance reflects an athlete’s sport performance related features.  Usually an excellent athletic performance is a prerequisite in building the athlete’s personal sports brand.  The first touch point of athletes with fans is usually through their on-the-field performance; an excellent performance always catches the eye of spectators and sports fans and triggers the curiosity to learn more about a high performing athlete.  Athletic performance has several sub-components which can be utilised when building the personal sports brand and are as follows:

  • Athletic Expertise – An athlete’s individual athletic capability and achievement. A perfect example of this is Lebron James, whose athletic achievements have made him well-known beyond the United States.
  • Competition Style – An athlete’s sports playing style. The soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo is considered to have an aggressive competition style; whereas Lionel Messi is considered to be mild when competing, yet very swift and effective on the field.
  • Sportsmanship – How the athlete approaches the game, i.e. with respect for the game, abides by fair play rules, and so on. The tennis player Roger Federer is considered to have a gentlemanly attitude both on and off the tennis court and his sportsmanship is recognised to be of the highest standard.
  • Rivalry – The athlete’s competitive relationship with other athletes. A good example in this case is the intense rivalry style of soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimovic, which has been much talked about.

Attractive appearance refers to an athlete’s attractive external characteristics and has the following components:

  • Physical attractiveness – The physical qualities and characteristics of the athlete that fans and spectators find attractive.
  • Being a Symbol – An athlete’s appealing and engaging personal style which transform him/her into a symbol.
  • Body fitness – An athlete’s body fitness in his/her sport.

Tom Brady, the quarterback of the New England Patriots, is the embodiment of all of the above characteristics of attractive appearance.  Brady’s physical qualities appeal to a large audience, not only to game spectators; he is into health and fitness with a book to support his keen interest in health and fitness and, generally, he is acknowledged as a fitness symbol, even at the age of 40!

Marketable Lifestyle is all about the athlete’s off-field marketable features such as:

  • The athlete’s Life story– An appealing, interesting off-field life story that includes a message and reflects the athlete’s personal values.  The case of Colin Kaepernick, the American football quarterback, is a perfect example of an athlete whose personal beliefs brought him into the spotlight when he participated in the recent Nike campaign with the message “Believe in Something”.
  • Whether the athlete is a Role model and has an ethical behaviour.  Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all times, is a role model for youngsters with learning disorders because he has channelled the negative effects of his ADHD condition to swimming and managed to turn a negative situation into a positive success story.
  • The athlete’s Relationship effort – An athlete’s positive attitude when interacting with fans, sponsors and the media.  Athletes who invite their fan base into their lives through the use of ‘social media’, have a much higher visibility than those who do not.

Capitalizing on a celebrity athlete’s brand components can be beneficial for both the athlete and the sponsoring brands.

We have seen Shaquille O’Neal, one of the most dominant centers to play in the NBA, who has successfully capitalised on the Athletic Performance component from a young age; whilst on the other hand, David Beckham and his family, have fully capitalised on and still utilise the Marketable Lifestyle component as a means to maintaining popularity and generating revenue.

Each athlete is unique, with distinct individual qualities and characteristics, each of which can be successfully utilised in developing the athlete’s personal marketing plan!

Athena Constantinou may be contacted by e-mail at ‘athena@apc-sport.com