Personal Branding for Athletes: How to Market Yourself as an Athlete
As an athlete, even though you might work for or be associated with a larger sports organization, you have to treat yourself as your own brand. From the day you first show your face on the court or field and every day that follows, how you brand yourself will go a long way towards affording you opportunities. How do you market yourself as an athlete?
Here’s how to build your brand as an athlete:
- Find media partnerships
- Use social media
- Host a contest
- Engage your fans
- Speak at events
- Appear on podcasts
In today’s full guide to personal branding for athletes, I’ll go over all the marketing strategies above, providing plenty of actionable information. You’ll soon be ready to craft your own branding campaign!
Before you dive in, if you are an athlete looking for sponsorship, check out these titles in our “sponsorship for athletes” series:
Sponsorship for Athletes: Everything You Need to Know
How to Write a Sponsorship Proposal for an Athlete
How to Get Soccer Sponsorhsip
How to Market Yourself as an Athlete: Personal Branding Tips and Tactics
Find Media Partnerships
Whether it’s for better or for worse, the media is what people primarily rely on to gauge what’s worth talking about.
The media can create a trend and just as quickly break it. You want to be on the receiving end of media attention so your athletic star can begin to rise, and that means finding media partners.
A media partner is a media outlet that’s willing to provide coverage of your sport and you in particular. Perhaps you’ll get a feature written about you or a short news segment.
Either way, you can be sure that after your media spot goes live that a whole heck of a lot more people are going to be talking about you than ever before.
Of course, I must stress that this is a partnership, which means the relationship is a two-way street.
You can’t only hope to reap the rewards but offer nothing in return. That’s not a partnership. It’s one-sided mooching, and it will reflect badly on you and undo all that positive press you just garnered.
So what in the world can you offer a media partner as an athlete? Plenty of things!
A media partner is someone from a media outlet, so they’re always looking for footage.
Perhaps you can let them onto the field or court early, give them exclusive access during a game or event, or arrange it so they can interview your coach or another star in your sport. Maybe they’re granted a special photo opportunity.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways you can give back to your media partner.
By treating your media partners right, it reflects well on you. When other media outlets hear about the special treatment that your other media partners received, they might come to you and wish to work together.
When a small business is eager to make a brand for themselves, they advertise. As an athlete working to build your personal brand, it’s no different.
Well, okay, it’s a little different.
More than likely, the advertising budget is not going to come out of your own pocket, but rather, from the sports organization or company that you belong to.
You want to be clear when you talk to your coach or manager that you’re not looking for advertising for the whole sports organization or even the team you belong to (if your sport even does teams).
Rather, you’re trying to advertise yourself.
Okay, so what exactly should you be advertising? Well, you can promote your future games as well as your upcoming media appearances. Those should begin doubling and tripling, as guest speaking and appearing on podcasts are two methods for increasing your personal brand (but more on that to come).
The good news is that these ads don’t have to be too complex. An Internet banner ad with a photo and text about your upcoming appearance on a big sports podcast suffices.
Native ads on social media promoting your next big match or game to sports fans will also go over well.
Even local billboards or mailed ads are a good idea if yours is a more local sport. Radio and television advertisements are also suitable.
Your sports organization or company still needs an advertising budget, don’t get me wrong. Since your coach or manager likely already shells out to advertise for the rest of the team or the organization, the budget for your own personal advertising might not be too high in the beginning.
As you build your personal brand and become more of a household name, then your advertising budget would surely go up in kind.
Use Social Media
Social media is a highly valuable tool for burgeoning athletes who want to expand their starpower through branding and marketing.
First thing’s first, if you don’t already have your own social media presence, then you need it. You shouldn’t just be represented by your team or your sports organization or company on social media. You need your own accounts.
If you can, try to make the account names the same across Instagram, Twitter, and any other social media platform that uses a handle rather than your real name (looking at you, Facebook). This way, it’s easier for people to find you on social media.
Plus, once they’ve found you on one social media platform, they’ve essentially found you on all of them.
Now, if you’re like almost five million other people worldwide, then you probably already have active social media accounts. You probably have since grade school or high school.
These are personal accounts that have showcased your everyday life, right? You probably have some sports content on there, but these are more personal accounts.
Well, you have two choices here. You can either gut those accounts and start over or delete them.
As a professional, you don’t want your personal life bleeding all over the place. You want to keep your posts centered around your sport.
You can show some photos that give a feel for your interests (outside of sports) and personality, but you don’t want to get too personal.
I recommend looking at what your favorite athletes post on social media, especially the more well-respected athletes who have built highly successful, often multi-million-dollar (or billion-dollar) personal brands.
You might see them posting with their parents or their spouses and kids, but do you see a shot of them during a night on the town after having a few drinks? Not the athletes who care about their reputations, you don’t.
It will take time to go through every social media platform you have a presence on and prune your posts, but it’s worth it.
It may be time for a new profile photo and bio as well. You want your profile photo to reflect the professionalism you’re putting forth. A headshot is great, but a photo of you in action doing your sport is also good.
As for your profile, discuss what you play, what team you’re on, and maybe share a website link or an email link for bookings.
Host a Contest
Another method for building your brand as an athlete is to host a contest.
Once again, this is likely something you’ll do on behalf of your sports organization or company rather than individually. That said, you should ensure the contest is promoted on both the sports organization’s socials as well as your own.
What kind of contest can you do? Maybe one where the winner gets a meet and greet with you, or a quick Q&A session if you want to choose multiple winners.
Contests are a great way to grab someone’s attention, especially when the prize is valuable. People envision themselves winning, and so they figure why not enter?
Once they do enter, they usually want to talk about it on social media, which will result in free press for you.
No matter what kind of contest you’re planning, you want to make it as easy to enter as possible. If someone has to jump through hoops just to participate, then they’re simply not going to.
Engage Your Fans
This next tactic goes back to social media. When you begin posting and growing your following across platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, naturally, you can expect that followers who see your content will comment on it.
Don’t just let the comments pile up without saying something. It’s one thing if the comments aren’t addressed to you, or they’re inappropriate and you don’t want to touch them with a nine-foot pole.
For the comments that are PG, feel free to respond.
You’re becoming more of a star athlete, and your followers are more than just random people who check out what you have to say on social media. They’re your fans.
How does anyone feel when their idol takes a moment out of their day to address the fans? It’s a very personalized, affirming, awesome experience.
You will make people’s day by commenting on their social media posts, so try to make it a regular habit as often as you can!
Network, Network, Network
As an athlete building your brand, your work is never done.
Whenever networking opportunities are on the horizon, try to accept as many as you can. Go to that sports gala or award show, even if you’re not up for an award. Attend conferences or conventions for athletics and sports.
Meet with people, shake hands, and give out business cards. Make a contacts list and keep building on those contacts with each new networking event you attend.
You never know who someone else knows. Perhaps they can get you a foot in the door with a huge advertising or marketing opportunity, or maybe someone has a connection with a media outlet, and they want you to be in a documentary on ESPN.
Stranger things have certainly happened and will continue to happen!
Of course, you’re not just collecting business cards from others like a stack of baseball cards. You have to keep connections alive and nurture the relationships you have.
That doesn’t mean you must talk to your contacts every single day, but certainly a couple of times a year. This will keep you fresh in their minds so that when these career-defining opportunities arise, you’re the first one they think about.
Speak at Events
Part of building your brand is getting out there and giving back to the community. Public speaking is one way of doing that.
I recommend going to your manager or coach and telling them that you’re interested in doing more public speaking. In the beginning, don’t be surprised if you don’t get great gigs. You might end up in a lot of grade school auditoriums.
Even still, treat the speaking engagement as though you were talking to an enthralled crowd of thousands. If your passion comes through, the speaking engagements will get better and better.
You could eventually reach the point where you’re speaking at college graduations or maybe even inducting a legendary athlete into a sports hall of fame.
Besides improving your public speaking skills, speaking at events also benefits you.
Your name will eventually have starpower attached to it.
You’ll notice the difference because instead of a room full of kids who have to be there, you’ll have a full house that wants to be there. Your speaking engagements will also become bigger and better.
Appear on Podcasts
When you’re not playing, training, and doing public speaking events, you should also try to get on podcasts.
According to podcast resource Podnews, there are at least 39,000 podcasts dedicated to sports in general.
If you want to get into more specific sports, about 3,200 are basketball podcasts, 1,500 are baseball podcasts, 330 are cricket podcasts, 5,900 are football podcasts, nearly 1,100 are hockey podcasts, over 300 are rugby podcasts, and more than 4,600 are soccer podcasts.
You have no shortage of podcast options to pursue, so reach out to some hosts and see who’s interested in having you on the show. You’ll probably get more takers than you might assume!
You could have one-time interviews with podcast hosts or even get a regular gig appearing a few times per month.
Either way, your brand is getting bigger all along.
Building a personal brand as an athlete starts off the field or court. The tactics I covered today will help you cultivate and strengthen your brand so you can be afforded more stellar opportunities!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Baylis is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and a self-confessed sponsorship geek.
After several years as a sponsor (that’s right, the one investing the money!) Chris decided to cross over to the sponsorship sales side where he has personally closed tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Chris has been on the front lines of multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements and has built and coached teams to do the same.
Chris now spends his time working with clients to value their assets and build strategies that drive sales. An accomplished speaker and international consultant, Chris has helped his clients raise millions in sponsorship dollars.