At Large: What might athlete marketing look like in the 2020s?

Considering how far this morning may seem in these accelerated times, it’s fair to say that 2010 seems far away now.

At any rate, that’s when this post kicked off its first annual list of the world’s most marketable athletes, projecting a three-year period in which Roger Federer’s tennis career would likely begin to grow. get out of breath. My esteemed colleague, SportsPro Editorial Director and Editor-in-Chief Michael Long, has done a great job elsewhere detailing the history of the feature film and explaining how it has reflected changes elsewhere in sport, in the media and in the media. brand priorities, so there is no need to think further here.

But what about the next decade? Knowing what we are doing with the media and commercial space of 2019, what will be the trends that define athlete marketing in the 2020s? In the good spirit of the most marketable athlete feature, here’s a speculative collection of things to watch out for in the years to come.

Pragmatic sports activism

Political activism has historically been the backbone of brands investing in sports, but from Colin Kaepernick to the bottom, more and more athletes have been able to demonstrate social awareness without sacrificing their business profile. Naturally, this is not without risk for sponsors in these times of polarization – Republicans still buy sneakers too, only some now set those sneakers on fire in protest – but a careful alignment of target consumers and causes was effective.

It will be intriguing to see how far athletes can push this. One of the first stops American football star Megan Rapinoe made during her post-World Cup media tour was Pod Save America: the hit podcast run by former Obama and Clinton staff for committed Democrats and political geeks. Its massive, like-minded audience makes it a publicity honeymoon, and owner Crooked Media converts that revenue into funding and coordinating its own local campaigns.

It could be a role model: Athletes are not only confident enough to combine business relevance and political influence, but savvy enough to use one to benefit the other.

Cross-audiences and shared experiences

There are a lot of things elite athletes appreciate that most of their fans will never have access to, like fast cars, designer clothes, luxury vacations and being really, really good at it. a particular sport. But cultural touchstones have always been there to bridge that divide, and increasingly the digital space offers opportunities to make the most of it.

The game was quick to capitalize on its status of shared interest from leading stars and their followers, both through the above-the-line publicity and the power of split-feeds. With that in mind, you might imagine further exploiting the possibilities of curated playlists on music or video streaming sites or, if the practice of shared viewing becomes more common in over-the-top sports broadcasting (OTT), the prospect that fans watch matches with their heroes. It’s not hard to see the added value in an interactive in-game Q&A where a current or recently retired player gives personal and technical information.

Live esports competitions, mass participation events, and app-driven physical challenges might also be more active ways to bring athletes together.

Digital data and identities

One of the great unresolved debates of recent years concerns the ownership of biometric and performance data. It is extremely beneficial for leagues and rights holders to be able to sell this collectively to the media or the betting industry. Still, it seems likely that some people will fight to take personal ownership of their information, either for ethical reasons or because they see a way to market themselves.

As in-game sponsorships have become a feature of title worlds like Fifa, it may also be that athletes are looking to exploit their digital avatars for commercial gain. Virtual endorsement in the space where they have the most contact with many fans makes sense, even if it would mean breaking existing licensing agreements once again.

Athlete-Led Events and Competitions

Stars have always been used to break events, but with social media and clip-based media putting so much emphasis on the individual, the conditions are right for it to be more disruptive than it has been. for a generation.

As experimental formats are in vogue among rights holders, brands could carry out their own trials, bringing together their main sponsors for small showcases. Already, the potential for athlete-led set pieces has been explored through Eliud Kipchoge’s quest for a marathon under two hours or that infamous meeting between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather in 2017. The Bookmaker Example 32Red parachuting Wayne Rooney into English football’s second level at Derby County may also have his imitators.

The impact of all of this could be felt most keenly in emerging sports where interest in top international stars has grown out of proportion with existing competitions. In women’s football, for example, it will be instructive to see how the club game develops around the followers of the best players.

Short-term hits

The faster the culture changes, the greater the risk for anyone trying to take hold of it. Long-term betting still pays off in many cases, but sponsors are wary of the type of three-year commitment that SportsPro’s most marketable list is hypothetically based.

With influencer marketing trends having their own influence, agents are increasingly talking about the demand for shorter-term partnerships – something, say, the length of a Love Island series. It’s not ideal for an athlete trying to build a sane future for themselves, but for anyone looking to maximize a short period of attention, it has its appeal.

Olympic athletes would be among those who stand to gain the most from shorter sponsorship agreements – which will add further pressure on rule 40, with the regulations limiting the promotion of non-IOC sponsors for the duration of each Games.

Olympians said to be among those with the most to gain from shorter sponsorship deals

Inheritance and long tail

As Gen Z floods the workplace over the next few years, have a thought for all the Millennials and Gen X youth whose authority will begin to wane: Serena Williams, Rafa Nadal, Lionel Messi, Tom Brady.

A whole cohort of great athletes will retire in the 2020s and they happen to be the very last to emerge in an era of relative media universality. How properly global icons emerge from more diffuse forums remains to be seen, but popular interest in the culture seems sure to outlast their careers for some time to come.

Already, the clamor for ’90s and 00s TV favorites like Friends and the Office is shaping the next phase of the contest among entertainment streaming services more powerfully than original content. From legendary tours to new legacy offerings, affection for these waning sports greats could reshape the industry in ways hardly felt.

Fragmentation and reconnection of branches

Bringing athlete offerings into new contexts and timelines will require a lot of specialist knowledge and personal attention, as well as the kind of agility that monster agencies are not known for. These conditions tend to produce the break-up and emergence of agency-shops, either under the auspices of existing organizations, such as the Collective focused on women’s sport by Wasserman, or as breakaways.

So it’s probably fair to expect a wave of political consultants from athletes, niche media representatives, and companies with tailor-made sales drivers – at least until the scale of the business becomes a necessity for a major project or the big boys embark on a buying spree and the whole industry comes back together again. Think of it like eroding and building mountains, only in powder blue suits without a tie.

Athletes in space

I mean, maybe? Between Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Virgin Galactic, space tourism and an international race back to the moon, the cosmos is going to be the star of the 2020s. Someone, somewhere, is thinking of attaching one of these people to a rocket with a logo on the side.

Charles T. McConnell