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Social media sponsorship is the new Norman

No this isn’t a typo. When I was young I wanted to be Norman Whiteside. 

Two things to note:

  1. There already was a Norman Whiteside and he was, unsurprisingly, much better at football than me.
  1. While it was Manchester United I supported, it was the player I worshipped and attempted (really quite badly) to emulate.

Flash forward 30 years or so. As a general rule, the biggest athletes have a larger, more attentive social following than the clubs and sports federations they play for (everyone has their own Norman), and social media sponsorship is growing apace. 

So, the big question for sponsors, does sponsoring the social media of athletes across social media offer a better return for sponsors than the social of the rights holder? 

And if so, what are the long term financial ramifications for the rights holder as regards to social media sponsorship?

With social being the operative word, it’s arguable that many rights holders aren’t providing a social experience.

Of course, as with everything it’s a spectrum; there is great work happening (here’s looking at you Leyton Orient and Stevenage), but for many rights holders, social media seems to be an exercise in box ticking, a hygiene factor that represents a digital facsimile of their corporate identity.

But one thing is for sure, just as data is the new oil, so too, attention is a commodity – and it isn’t getting rarer (intangibles are not finite – they are just harder to explain with KPI’s). 

Attention is just stretched more thinly, with an audience that is becoming harder to impress and more prone to switching to another of the many alternatives that present themselves. 

While we don’t have 20/20 foresight, we do have 2020 hindsight – well, not so much hindsight as access to lots of data (with over 1500 athletes registered on the Sportskred platform) – and the results are telling. 

During this recent period of pivot, transformation and introspection, there has been a huge and sudden rise in the social media following for athletes and players.

During the lockdown period, we saw an average increase of 24% growth in Instagram audiences (across 28 tracked sports) – all at a time where there was no live sport. This growth was driven in part by circumstance, but further fuelled by personality, attitude and life beyond sport.

As social media sponsorship becomes a more central part of sponsors’ activation plans, rights holders may find themselves competing for sponsorship money with their own athletes, as their audience growth and engagement outpace the social offering of the club or federation that pays their wages.

While Sportskred already let sponsors easily work and track the effectiveness of working with multiple athletes, in late March we launched our ‘Sportskred for Rights Holders’ solution. 

Clubs and federations can now combine their social media audience with those of their athletes to create a huge audience of fans, then share and track the effectiveness of content across this entire audience at the touch of a button, while the Sportskred algorithm provides an ongoing media evaluation. 

So, rather than clubs and federations missing out on sponsorship revenue at a time where it has never been more vital, it is now possible to pool resources to create something larger and more effective that attracts sponsorship for organisation and athlete alike. 

Great for club communications, great for the sponsors, great for club or federation revenues. 

So it’s influencer marketing using athletes? 

If we had a pound for every time we have heard this we would have… £178. 

And our answer to that is always the same.

It depends on what you think a professional athlete does first and foremost. 

They are influential by deed, rather than influencer by design. 

Not bad – didn’t mention the ‘C’ thing once. 

Apart from this bit. 

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