How can brands cut through the clutter with the help of athlete partners?

How Athlete Partners Can Help Marketers Cut Through the Clutter

Finding ways to incorporate the right athlete partner for a campaign is critical.

During Hashtag Sports LIVE, Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett, Gina Scott of the NFLPA, and Darcy Nichols from Dairy Management/Fuel Up to Play 60 spoke about the brand/athlete relationship in a panel hosted by Blake Lawrence of Opendorse.

Key Insights:

  1. Finding the right athlete partner takes more than just finding the best player.
  2. Virtual activations can be successful, even post-COVID.
  3. Athletes want partnerships they are passionate about and will invest the most energy into those relationships.

For brands, bringing in the right athlete partner is more important than the best athlete. Nichols noted a lot of the work in finding the best fit comes from in-house research. She said her brand reviews players’ social media posts as well as videos of previous speaking engagements and other events to feel out exactly who the person they are partnering with is.

Finding the right athlete partner takes more than just finding the best player.

Another key part of the process for finding the best athlete for a brand or campaign is the relationship with people like Scott and the NFLPA. “We’re oftentimes in a position where our brand partners may come to us seeking our advice on who to use, who to select in a campaign,” Scott said. “There are so many things that you cannot Google, and our partners rely on us to really give them those nuggets of information so they can find the right player that’s going to align with their campaigns.”

Just because a player may not be the most publicly visible doesn’t mean they can’t make a great brand partner.

“Go beyond the first two or three [players],” Scott said, noting the flexibility that having over 2,000 active NFLPA members provides. “You can really find a player that perfectly aligns with your brand.”

Virtual activations can be successful, even post-COVID.

Both Scott and Nichols have been forced into the world of virtual activations thanks to COVID-19, and each feels that they’ve been able to make the most of it. Scott spoke at length about a “Virtual Red Carpet” event for the NFL Draft put on by Procter & Gamble as one of her favorites.

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“I felt like it was one of the most creative executions [due to COVID],” Scott said, noting how Opendorse was able to help power the event on social media with the NFLPA helping connect P&G with player marketing teams. “It really made the consumer feel like they were there two hours before the draft started.”

Given Play 60’s heavy emphasis on programs in schools with kids, virtual activations for Nichols and her team were all about providing resources for families and teachers and they attempted to adjust to such difficult circumstances. This was especially important given that the spring is Fuel Up to Play 60’s busiest season.

“It has been nice for us to work on ways that we can translate some things that were in the program, but now we can highlight them in a different way from a virtual standpoint and be a benefit to those kids and parents,” Nichols said.

Athletes want partners they are passionate about and will invest the most energy into those relationships.

When you’re one of the league’s best wide receivers, everyone from Pepsi and Volkswagon to Powerade and Pizza Hut want a part of you. So how does Tyler Lockett decide which brands are worth partnering with?

“I’ve always wanted to be a part of people who decided to choose me,” Lockett said. “The companies that pick me, I try to stay with them for as long as I possibly can.”

Lockett also spoke about how he wants to partner with brands that can help him once he’s done playing football, specifically noting that agreements in the real estate industry are something he values since he hopes to get more involved in real estate following his career.

Brands also want to work with athletes that are invested in the product or campaign that they are involved with. Nichols told a story about working with Steelers star Juju Smith-Schuster in which his interest in the campaign itself was what earned him the deal over other NFL players. The campaign, entitled “Fuel Your Good”, was a contest in which fans could send in videos of how they fuel their bodies or their communities.

“Juju said ‘Even if you guys don’t pick me, can I be a judge for this? This sounds great!’ and we were like ‘alright, hands down, we don’t need to interview anyone else,’” Nichols said. “It’s about getting it and wanting to be a true partner in what we’re doing instead of just going through the motions.”


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