By Demetris Constantinou, APC Sports Consulting, Nicosia, Cyprus
In the year 2020, the world was caught by surprise by the unprecedented emergence of the Coronavirus Pandemic: an event that has altered every individual’s day-to-day life and has challenged everyone to re-think how they go about their lives.
Athletes were not affected any less, as they saw their playing time cancelled and their ability to engage with their fans taken away. Nevertheless, such circumstances, should not prevent athletes from keeping up with their brands and finding ways to engage with their fanbase.
In previous articles, we have discussed the importance of athletes’ brands and how brands allow one to reach beyond their sport, to a broader, more diverse audience. Brands go beyond the sport, they are about who you are and how you will eventually be remembered, ten or twenty years from now. It is, therefore, vital for athletes not to lose sight of their branding strategy and use this Pandemic to rethink how they may promote their brand in the days of the “new normal” that we are living in.
Before describing how athletes should strategize and control their brand narrative, we need to examine how, and to what extent, this Pandemic has affected athletes’ brands.
Generally speaking, the Coronavirus Pandemic has been costly for most brands, mainly due to the reduced on-court visibility and the inability of the fans to engage directly with athletes. Many athletes have seen their endorsement contracts renegotiated or even taken away, causing the loss of affiliations with strong athletic apparel brands. However, a brand goes beyond the athlete’s performance on the field of play and very few endorsements are contingent upon an athlete’s performance. This creates a unique opportunity for every athlete to enhance their brand, during a time where social media engagement is at its peak.
The most important pillar in an athlete’s revised strategy is higher engagement through virtual platforms. Creating videos on ‘YouTube’, live Q&As, as well as podcasts, are just a few examples of how athletes can become more active in the virtual world that we currently live in. After all, nearly everyone can access these platforms, giving athletes an immense opportunity to expand their fanbase to anyone with access to these platforms.
However, having said that, it is important for athletes to keep their loyal and core fanbase engaged, by creating more sports-focused content and providing insights into their future career plans and goals. Moving on, in a period where people around the world undergo suffering on all fronts, it is important for athletes to show their human side and take actions to help communities in need. Take the Marcus Rashford example regarding his campaign for free school meals for underprivileged children in the UK.
Thus, athletes need to engage with the average person and show them that everyone, even elite athletes, experience similar day-to-day happenings in this period of hardship and uncertainty. Reaching out to the world and displaying that even an athlete can be vulnerable, creates a mutual feeling of empathy between athletes and their fanbase, giving athletes’ brands a more humane face.
It is equally vital for athletes to avoid dehumanizing themselves, by promoting their lavish lifestyles and their complete disconnect from the average person’s reality. Such actions are not only dangerous for an athlete’s brand but can also trigger a death spiral where the ordinary people revolt against the athletes, causing them to be drowned by the so-called “cancel culture”.
One could say that, whilst the Pandemic has adversely affected athletes’ brands in the short run, it has created opportunities that, if taken seriously, can boost athletes’ exposure to markets that were impossible to reach in the pre-Pandemic era. Athletes have a unique opportunity, through the emergence of the virtual reality that we live in, to strengthen their brands and build bridges with communities that were not previously within their reach.
It is, therefore, in the athletes’ hands to take this opportunity to create relatable content and engage with the endless potential audience that has embraced this virtual reality, which, undoubtedly, is here to stay in the post-Pandemic era.
For more information on how athletes can strategize their branding approach during the Pandemic, log onto ‘www.apc-sport.com’