You are your own brand. Even if you play on a team, you’re a brand that needs to be managed and grown.
That sounds odd to lots of people. They think of athletes as accidental celebrities. They’re good at a sport, they stand out from the crowd, so they get acclaim and become famous. In reality, that model disappeared with baseball in the 1800s. From the time of Babe Ruth to today, agents and the people who make money from athletes have been managing their brand and letting the world know what they wanted them to.
He was also a notorious drunk. Because he was such a philanderer, his first marriage ended and his life was threatened multiple times, by both jilted lovers and angry husbands.
But what do most of us know about Babe Ruth? He was a national treasure and the pride of America. We might have hints of his problems, but we don’t really care. He was the Sultan of Swat.
Modern Athlete’s Brands
One of the biggest changes from Babe Ruth’s time is that he didn’t have Instagram. He didn’t post about his life on Facebook. What the world knew was what the newspapers told it.
As an athlete in the 21st century, you are not only your own publicity person, but you get to define your own brand. That’s brand management for athletes. Building your personal brand as an athlete is no easy task. Let's review some notable examples of athlete personal branding that works.
Unlike many other football stars, Tebow only played a few years, 2010 to 2015. By 2015, he was competing for a third-string QB position. While he was playing, he attracted a lot of attention for his Christian faith and conservative views. Today, he has a career as a spokesperson for multiple products. There’s even talk of him entering politics. He’s also invested a lot in his philanthropy.
Arguably one of the best tennis players of the modern era, Williams is also an entrepreneur with her own brands of handbags and jewelry. She works with other brands to create products for women. She’s been on TV, both as a character and as a co-host on talk shows. Her face is well-known and she’s a leader in branding and business.
This Liverpool football/soccer player is an international icon. He’s built a brand that spans the culture of his home country, Egypt, and the European world of high end soccer. As a spokesperson for multiple brands, he’s also using his platform to advocate for womens’ right, animals, and more. His brand is on the rise as Liverpool continues to win championship after championship.
Why is brand management for athletes important?
Who are you?
The first step to managing your own personal brand is to know who you are. What will you be known for? Tebow is known for his faith and conservative values. Salah is known as an advocate for the voiceless and as an all-around nice guy. Williams is a fashion icon and recognized as a very brilliant person.
What are the values that you want people to think of when they think of you? Once you’ve defined your values, you will align your activities and professional choices to meet those values.
Who are your fans?
Who are your fan base? Though you might be a first-year college athlete, you probably have at least a few fans. Understanding who those fans are will help you to reach out to them through social media and marketing.
Keep your messaging consistent with your values and who your fans are. If you’re going to stay out of politics and want to be a fashion icon, post fashion posts. If your faith is something you want on display, put that on your social media feeds. Even which social media platforms you’re going to use are important. Instagram will work well for a fashion icon with a younger audience. Facebook is great for someone looking for a slightly older audience that might want to promote their charity work.
Charity is business.
If you’re reading this, you probably don’t have a publicist who is crafting your messages and telling you what to do. The one thing that every athlete needs to do is to give back to the community. Do charity work above and beyond what your club has you do. Let people know you care. Let’s be honest: Many people resent that a basketball player can make $20 million a year to play a sport. It softens the blow if you give of your time and money to help make the world a better place.
You’ve probably already had someone come along and offer to do your social media for you. Unless you’re so big that you don’t have time, do it yourself. Put out your own blogs, social media posts, etc. Speak for yourself so the message is perfect.
Keep track of what people are saying about you. You can set a Google Alert. Monitor names, hashtags, and mentions on social media. Don’t respond to silly negative stuff. The more famous you get the more it will happen. If someone asks a legitimate question, you should feel free to engage with them.
Clean up behind yourself
Take down those old keg party photos that were so cool your freshman year. Get rid of that tweet that quoted a rapper using language you wouldn’t use in front of your grandmother. You don’t need to be a prude, but look at what you’ve in context of how others might see it.
Stake your digital claim
Build a website for yourself. It should be a place that tells your life story (the good bits), your sports highlights, and offers contact information. If you score the winning goal or take home the trophy, you want people to have someplace to find out about you - especially reporters.
Live your Brand
Make choices in your life as if you’re the brand be sold, because you are. Don’t let fame and fortune, or the promise of it, destroy your career. If you manage your brand well and create a persona that people like, you’ll have a career well beyond the short time that you can be in sports. That’s the power of brand management for athletes.
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