If you’re a club or league dealing in buying and reselling players (and 99% of us are) then you need to invest in athlete brand building.

Most writing on athlete brand building focuses on how the athlete can benefit. But there are also significant benefits for organisations to invest in such a programme.


What is athlete brand marketing?

Simply put, it is about creating a marketable product – a story – around the athlete.

The usual, simple brand building process applies. Who are they? What do they do? Why do they matter?

It’s their marketable story. It’s their on-field traits. It’s their personality.

It is what they stand for. Their values. Their selling points as a person.

It is what they are known for. The perceptions people have. Then it is about challenging those perceptions and accentuating the positives. It can launch a young talent. It can turn around damaged narratives and relaunch careers.

It is about the regularity and consistency of messaging. A strong visual identity.

It’s what they want to achieve from their careers.

All of it goes into creating a crafted identity – a product – that can be marketed to benefit the athlete/player’s career and your business objectives.

GBoly Ariyibi Brand


Why do it?

If you’re at a club, league, or other relevant association, building an athlete brand help you with all of the below, whichever is relevant to you:

Generates interest, hype and profile – and increases value – for resale

If you are a club that actively recruits intending to resell at a profit, you can’t simply rely on the athlete’s form on the pitch.

Sure – what they do on the pitch will play the predominant part in whether they move on and achieve your objectives. But why leave it purely to that? It is your responsibility to hype up the assets you have. It’s simple marketing. Create a product people want to buy.

Don’t just leave something sitting on the shelf that looks like it could do the job but there’s no evidence or social proof it does. Showcase it at every turn.


Take control of the narrative

Right now, you’re letting the mainstream media and social media set the perceptions of your squad.

Why are you allowing the marketing of your prized assets to be done exclusively by people you can’t control?

Let’s be blunt. If someone you trust tells you something you have poor knowledge of is crap, you’ll adopt that viewpoint. You will not seek the truth for yourself.

If 100 people on Twitter are saying your star defender is hopeless, another 100 people will believe that viewpoint without even watching a clip of them playing.

If your country’s leading journalists are persistently saying that your expensive foreign recruit is a self-centered, irresponsible, bad-tempered individual, the mud will stick. What people think a “brand” is is essentially what their gut feeling about a person is.

Those negative perceptions will then continue to rise exponentially until it starts to creep into bias, even at the recruitment level.

Take back control. Use the tools available to you to build an alternative persona, get ahead of the persistent negativity and change the story. Be consistent. Promote an alternative narrative.

Remember – a brand is not what you say it is. It’s what everyone else says it is. So change their conversation.


Show, don’t tell

First, you must have a clear goal in sight for what you want your athlete to be known for. Then, when that’s established, lean into it heavily in all public activity.

Build their value. Use the tools available to you to showcase great stories and build an audience.

Got a goalscorer? Use your external media activities to keep pushing the message of how prolific they are. Use your in-house channels to craft endless content that demonstrates the prowess.

Show, don’t tell. Video. Stats. Constantly reaffirming the message with your copywriting. Show the human side by having them teach kids how to score goals. Whatever the plan – go in heavily on the narrative you want to create. Bring good stories to people and you’ll start to take control.

Make something people want to talk about and share. And talk about them at every opportunity. Every day in some small way if possible. Increase their value by compounding their worth through constantly shouting about and demonstrating what makes them great.

Take responsibility. Build the brand. Visualise their value.


Increases chances that athletes want to work with you

If you’re helping them build their brand and their athletic ability, you’re an attractive proposition to work with. If there’s a clear track record of players being hyped up and then getting moves because of what you do for them, how much might that help your recruitment drive? Probably quite a lot, especially for the younger generation of athletes.

For athletes to say “this is a perfect place for me to grow a career”, they have to see a pathway to help them do it. Playing minutes in a strong competition is a major element – but so is having their brand image built to raise awareness of what they can bring to a bigger club.

Set a precedent. Good club cultures help drive decision making for athletes and agents. A club that actively tries to help them advance their career further will get extra attention.


Generates revenue right now

Commercial partners want a story to get behind and be associated with. Principally, this should come from the core values of your club. But good athlete brand marketing can also open doors.

Influential talent within squads can tip the balance in getting sponsors on board, especially in the digital landscape. Sponsors don’t just have the opportunity to be associated with a club or organisation. They can also tap into athletes’ audiences too.

Increasingly, young audiences are gravitating to the personalities in sport. If you focus on their back story, the journey they are on, their on-field traits and their off-field lifestyles, you’re increasing potential eyeballs on your athlete and your club from different audiences.

Plus – the relationship between the athlete and the fan is now almost completely direct, opening up even more earning opportunities.


Club brand awareness growth

Increasingly, clubs even at Scottish Premiership level will have athletes who have a greater social media following than the team.

Fans, particularly younger audiences, are increasingly gravitating towards the talent instead of the club.

COPA90’s Modern Fan Report 2019, which surveyed 18-24 year olds, gave insight into the different storytelling styles available to associate the talent with clubs and build audiences.

The top three consumption habits outside of watching the 90 minutes were highlights (63%), interviews (58%), documentaries (44%) and challenge formats (39%).

This insight shows how content for athlete branding can be utilised. One which posts their best clips, who is accessible to hear from, who delves into longer-form subjects and also showcases their skills will resonate with the 18-24 “modern soccer fan” audience.

In terms of getting new fans, 32% of respondents said their support of a second club was because teams or leagues “have key players I am a big fan of”. And 30% said it was because they “really like their style/history/values”.

Strong and defined athlete brands will attract new followings that your club typically may have struggled to make contact with.

While you have the talent in house, use their presence to get people hooked on the story of your club too.


Take action

If you realise the importance to your organisation of having strategic, specific marketing behind your athletes, that’s the starting point.

The steps that go into building and cultivating those brands are a topic for another day. But even if you pick out one member of your squad, start looking at how to take control of their story. It will benefit their career. It’ll help you achieve your goals.

Want to know more or find out how we’ve made athlete brand building work for a growing number of players at Motherwell FC? Feel free to connect and send me a message.


To read more from our insight series click here.