Ep.015 Athlete Story Podcast
Athlete Personal Branding: How_to Monetize Your Sports Career ft Josh Hoffman
Should you spend time or even money building your brand as an athlete – or former athlete? In this episode we’ll be looking at personal branding as an athlete or former athlete and different opportunities that any athlete can take advantage of to monetize their sports career.
“I think a lot of athletes would say, why would I ever put money into advertising if I’m an athlete? There’s good reasons to do that. For example, if you want to build your email list. And that’s a tremendous opportunity. It’s actually still arguably the best form of online marketing – email marketing. Most athletes do not have an email list. A lot of purchases come from email marketing. They don’t come from social media.”Josh Hoffman
Josh Hoffman from the Institute for Athlete Branding and Marketing is our guest today. He lets us in on how you can build real equity as a personal brand and business leveraging your sports career and athlete story and lifestyle.
We talk about
- the 4 different types of communication channels to play with
- the do’s and don’ts of marketing
- why you don’t want to put all your eggs in the social media basket
- 8 different ways that you can leverage your sports career and the internet to make money
You can catch more notes and information about athlete branding and marketing at www.iabm.co
as well as a report on those 8 digital revenue streams.
About our guest
Josh Hoffman is the Chief Strategy Officer at the Institute for Athleete Branding and Marketing
Based on statistics and research, he serves brands and agents with reports and strategies about anything sports marketing, sports branding, digital marketing, fan experience, research, consulting, training, co-branding, and content marketing.
READ the transcript of full interview by clicking here.
Josh Hoffman: The idea of building an athlete brand can be for every athlete in every sport no matter your gender, no matter how good you are, no matter how many years you did your profession or maybe in college when you’re still an amateur. It’s for everyone if they want to do the due diligence of building that authenticity, building that trust over a sustained long period of time with their audience.
Intro: Welcome to the Athlete Story Podcast, your chance to tap into wisdom from athletes and experts in world-class sports. You’re about to be taken into a chat about sports careers and related issues between an awesome guest and your listening host. The sports insider, repurposed Olympic mogul skier, and former Freeride World Tour athlete Anja Bolbjerg.
Anja Bolbjerg: Hi there. Anja here. Welcome back to Athlete Story. Today, we’ll be looking at ways for you to make money leveraging your sports career and building your personal brand even if you’ve been retired for a while. My guest today is Josh Hoffman from the Institute for Athlete Branding and Marketing. He’ll let us in on how you can build equity as a personal brand. We’ll talk about the four different types of communication channels to play with and the do’s and don’ts and how to use all of that to turn your brand into a real business. Let’s welcome Josh Hoffman. Hi, Josh. Welcome to the show Athlete Story.
Josh: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Anja: I’m so excited about this episode because I invited you on the show because I really loved receiving the newsletter that you guys are making. So much insight and analytics about athlete branding and marketing and how you can monetize your sports career even in life after sports. I think this will be very useful for the audience of Athlete Story, so thank you for taking the time to do this.
Josh: Absolutely. Let’s dive into it.
Anja: Just first quickly, how did you get into working with the Athlete Branding and Marketing in the first place? What’s your background?
Josh: Absolutely. I’ve always been a big sports fan. I grew up in Los Angeles. There is a pretty good sports culture there. I grew up with the Lakers, with the Dodgers. I actually studied once upon a time sports journalism in university. In journalism right now, it’s going through some sort of a revolution because of the internet and social media. Once I was working in the media industry, I worked in sports journalism for about five years. Didn’t love the direction that the media industry, in general, was going, so I went into marketing and went away from sports.
As I was learning marketing and different principles of marketing, this was like 2010, 2011, I started to realize there’s a tremendous opportunity for athletes to utilize some of these modern-day marketing opportunities to build their personal brand. I think if you look at pre-social media and post-social media, pre-social media, it was only the A-list athletes that had the opportunity to get the kind of exposure through traditional media.
Now, post-social media or in the social media era, I should say, any athlete at any level whether you’re the best player or not the best player, whether you play in a mainstream sport, whether you play a sport that maybe is not so mainstream, every athlete today has the opportunity to receive mainstream exposure and more so to monetize that exposure, to monetize their profession unlike athletes could do prior to the social media and internet age. It just took me back to my love of sports. That’s when I started having conversations with different agents and different people in the industry. Eventually, one thing led to the other and I started the Institute for Athlete Branding and Marketing.
Anja: That’s cool. You say a lot of things has changed since you started sports journalism. Of course, you’re thinking about social media. What more concrete things can you say that are different from the ethics perspective?
Josh: That’s a good question. Just in the monetary opportunities, there’s the eight different revenue streams that live through the internet that any person, not just athletes, any person with internet access can take advantage of. For example, if an athlete in the ’90s wanted to sell shoes, he couldn’t necessarily get a percentage of those sales that he was driving because there wasn’t a way to track him advertising Nike, for example, and then Nike being able to track the amount of sales that were generated from this athlete’s endorsement.
Now, more and more products and services are being sold on the internet or through the internet. Now, you can track all that stuff. If LeBron James, for example– I actually wrote an article about this. LeBron James loves wine. That’s like one of his new things as part of his personal brand. If LeBron James signed up for the affiliate program of wine.com and, basically, every month, he wrote an article, a blog post on his website saying, “Here are my top five wines from wine.com. Check them out,” he could get a percentage of every sale that he drives through wine.com.
We’re talking about, obviously, LeBron James is in a level of his own, but he could easily be driving millions of dollars a year just from one blog post a month. If you’re not the LeBron James of your profession, of your sport, that’s okay. You can still drive several thousands if not hundreds of thousand dollars in affiliate marketing. That’s just one of the eight digital revenue streams.
That’s something that I think a lot of athletes are not taking advantage of or, if they are, they’re not taking advantage of it to the greatest extent. Amazon, for example, has a terrific affiliate program. There’s all types of great affiliate programs on the internet through different e-commerce and even traditional brick-and-mortar stores that are not selling through the internet that athlete should absolutely be taking advantage of in terms of endorsing products.
Anja: That sounds like you’re saying that athletes should be more going like to be influencers we know from the social media and model fashion market and stuff like that?
Josh: Exactly. I think the common mistake that a lot of athletes make, unfortunately, is that they automatically assume that they’re an influencer just because they’re an athlete. Influence is something that you actually have to earn just like playing time is something that you have to earn. Being in the playoffs is something you have to earn. Nothing is given. I would say the same mentality has to be taken with actually being an influencer because being an influencer, just to say you’re an influencer doesn’t mean anything.
Being an influencer means that when you do sign up for Amazon’s affiliate program, people actually buy the products that you are advocating for and you’re actually making money from that Amazon affiliate program. Not just saying, “I’m an influencer because I have 20,000 followers or because I’m an athlete or because I play for such and such a team. I play in such and such league.” Influence is absolutely something that has to be earned.
Anja: In a way, it sounds wrong to say, “I’m an influencer.” It sounds to me like you’re not the one deciding whether you’re an influencer or not. That’s more the audience that decides that, right?
Anja: How do you become an influencer?
Josh: It’s all about trust and authenticity. Being authentic to who you are as a person, not just as an athlete, I think that’s another common mistake that we see with a lot of athletes where they only show their athletic life. We know that these athletes are people. They have other interests and hobbies. They’re involved in different initiatives, businesses, organizations, causes, they’re family members.
They might be mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. Showing the 360-degree view of who you are as a person, including but not limited to who you are as an athlete, is a great way to show authenticity. Actually, just being true to who you are and not trying to fake something or even not trying to endorse a product that you don’t actually even use in your life, those are ways where, today, people can sniff out the lack of authenticity when you’re just taking a picture with a product because somebody pays you to do that.
Anja: Can you explain the difference between taking a photo with whatever product and posting it as opposed to making a story about it or integrating it into the life and who you are?
Josh: We see, especially on Instagram because it’s a hyper-visual platform, a lot of, “Hey, look, I just got this from the mail. Check it out,” as opposed to, “Here’s how I use this to benefit myself or to benefit my life in some capacity,” and really turning it into, as you said, a story and not just a few sentences about the product. When you make it more relatable to who you are as a person or as an athlete, that’s where the true influence is going to take place as opposed to just posting something because, again, somebody paid you to do it.
I cannot stress enough that authenticity is something that takes several years to build and yet with one post, you can ruin it. You could spend two, three, five, 10 years building your authenticity as an athlete, as a personal brand, and yet all it takes is one tweet, one Instagram photo, one video on YouTube to effectively nullify those 10 years that you just put into of actually building your authenticity.
Anja: Because then, we know you’re sold out?
Anja: Is that what you’re saying?
Anja: Isn’t that allowed? It’s always been like that in sports industry. We know that athletes are advertising for this and that.
Josh: Yes and no. I think that today, advertising is not just limited to the Fortune 500 companies, right? Think about it like this like in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s where athletes became part of pop culture. You’re only talking about some of the biggest companies could afford to work with the biggest athletes. People didn’t care about the 25th man on the baseball roster or about the 12th man on the basketball roster, about the 52nd man on the NFL roster.
They only cared about the quarterback or the star point guard or the top homerun hitter. Today, all the athletes who were not the star quarterback, who are not the top homerun hitter, who are not the star point guard can still work with a lot of companies who don’t have necessarily the budgets of the Nike’s brand, the Wall Street, and all those big companies but do have some money in and have some money that a lot of athletes would be interested in entertaining.
That opportunity, I think, is where the average athlete, which most athletes fall into, I would say, the average athlete bucket still a lot of tremendous opportunity financially and otherwise to take advantage of opportunities that because of the internet and because of social media are here today. These opportunities didn’t exist 10, 15, 20 years ago.
Anja: Okay. What exactly do you need to have or to build in order to be able to take advantage of these opportunities or to use these strategies?
Josh: Basically, it’s the authenticity and trust. That’s what branding is all about. The first thing you have to do is build that sort of relationship and do it on a consistent basis. We’re talking it mostly as on a daily basis to build your audience and then to build that sort of relationship with each person on the audience so that they can see you somewhat iconic, but also somewhat relatable.
From there, it’s really about taking and shooting what makes sense for your brand. Like I said, there’s eight digital revenue streams. Not all eight are going to fit every athlete, but I would definitely say four to six will fit most athletes. Now, it’s about figuring out what makes sense for you. We work with an athlete, for example, who isn’t really big into products in general. Affiliate marketing just doesn’t really make sense to her. She’s kind of like a minimalist in that capacity.
Anja: Okay. Let me just say. It’s a marketing where you get some kind of commission for selling somebody else’s product, right?
Josh: Correct. That just doesn’t make sense for a brand. That’s where the authenticity again comes in. If she’s sort of a simple minimalistic type of person, which she is, and her audience knows that [unintelligible 00:12:38], it wouldn’t make sense for her all of a sudden to start advertising all these products that she didn’t even use. It’s really about figuring out what if it’s your brand. To answer your question in short, it’s for everyone.
The question is how you’re going to do it with the detail you’re going to look like, but the idea of building an athlete brand can be for every athlete in every sport no matter your gender, no matter how good you are, no matter how many years you’re professional or maybe you’re in college or you’re still an amateur. It’s for everyone if they want to do the due diligence of building that authenticity, building that trust over a sustained long period of time with their audience.
Anja: Okay. We’ll get back to those eight digital profit centers that you mentioned, but let’s just start with how you build that brand equity. What’s like the number one priority? Is it the number of followers that you want that to be as high as possible or what do you need to get started with this?
Josh: I talked about the fact that athletes are not just athletes. They’re people. We actually borrow a term from a group of professors that did a study on what they call the motto of an athlete brand image. That motto breaks down an athlete brand into three primary categories. The first is their athletic expertise. That’s everything that deals with you as an athlete. How many years you were playing your sports, what sport you play, what position you play, what awards or accolades you’ve won.
Everything that falls into your athletic life, that’s bucket number one. Bucket number two is your physical appearance. For some athletes, that’s fashion. For some athletes, that could be body hair like James Harden, the NBA player, and has beard right now. His appearance is the beard because he has this crazy beard. For him, that would be his physical appearance. For some athletes, it’s tattoos. It could be jewelry and so on and so forth.
Sex appeal, obviously, could fall into that if you think about somebody like David Beckham. Obviously, a lot of athletes, in general, have very good bodies for obvious reasons. That could also be part of the physical appearance bucket. Bucket number three, which to me is the most important bucket, is marketable lifestyle. That’s literally what you’re doing in your day-to-day life that doesn’t involve your athletic life, right?
What are you doing when you’re not practicing and playing your sport, right? Those are the things that, actually, most people want to know because they know you’re an athlete, right? They’re going to watch you on TV. They’re going to see you on the newspapers. They’re going to see you online. Now, I’m not saying ignore that part of it, but I’m saying put as much into the marketable lifestyle bucket as you put it into the athlete experience and expertise bucket.
When you’re able to create this sort of combination between athletic experience and expertise, physical appearance and marketable lifestyle, that’s where the magic happens, right? That 360-degree combination is powerful. That’s what’s going to separate the athlete who only focuses on his or her athletic life versus the athlete who gives you that 360-degree view of their life.
Anja: Right. That’s why an athlete who may not have the best merits on the planet or super outstanding athletic capacity can still in this game beat the one who is a superman [chuckles] in this context.
Josh: Absolutely. That’s a very good point.
Anja: I know you talked about owned versus not equally borrowed, but the media platforms that you can use to communicate these buckets. [chuckles]
Anja: What does that mean?
Josh: Right. It’s a list of actually like hardcore marketing now. This is what’s known as converge the media. Basically, the idea is that pre-internet, you had owned media, earned media, and paid media. They all effectively live in silos. The internet comes. Now, they all work together or they should work together in order to achieve what they call a good marketing mix.
Now, social media added a fourth item here, which we call rented media. Basically, what the idea here is to take all these four types of media and create a strategy in which they’re all synced, therefore, increasing the sum of the parts and, ultimately, the results that are tied to that sum. In short, I don’t want to go too much into hardcore marketing here, but owned media is any media that you outright own.
This is, in most cases, your website and your email list. Earned media is usually PR. This is when other people write about you or other people share your content. Rented media is social media. Why we stay rented media? Because today, when you go on Facebook or Instagram and you open an account, it’s basically free to have an account on these platforms. If Facebook decided tomorrow that they’re going to charge every Facebook page or every Instagram account $5 per month. Now, it’s $5 per month that’s the rent.
Today, it’s free. Who knows? In the future, they might pay for it. The idea here is that social media is not owned media. You don’t own Facebook. You don’t own Instagram. When they make changes, they make changes that are best for them and not necessarily best for the users in all cases. The last of those is owned, earned, rented and– Which one am I missing? Owned, earned, rented-
Anja: – and paid.
Josh: – and paid. Thank you. Paid media is advertising, right? It could be social media advertising. It could be Google Ads. It could be advertising offline. The idea here is, for example, to create what we call a fund on marketing where we start with paid media. Let’s say we start with a Facebook ad, right? From that Facebook ad, we get people to go to our landing page on our website.
Now, we go from paid media to owned media. It says, “Hey, enter to win a signed baseball from me. Give me your email.” Now, I got you to come to my website that’s owned media. I also got your email. It’s also own media. After you sign up, it’s going to say, “To increase your chances of winning, please share this with your friends.” Now, we’ve also achieved earned/rented media across that entire sort of fund.
Anja: Right. Are you actually advising athletes if they have a product or something to sell to go pay to go for paid media, do advertising to get people to their website?
Josh: Yes. It’s a good question because I think a lot of athletes would say, “Why would I ever put money into advertising if I’m an athlete?” Yes, there’s good reasons to do that. For example, if you want to build your email list. I think that’s a tremendous opportunity. A lot of people still look at email marketing as this sort of old school marketing. Actually, still really, arguably, the best form of online marketing is email marketing. Most athletes do not have an email list. A lot of purchases come from email marketing.
They don’t come from social media, at least not in the present day. That might change in the future. If it makes sense, if we’re building– The idea here is if I can have a large email list, using my email list, I can actually use a lot of affiliate marketing. Again, a lot of purchases today are coming through email, not through social media. The idea is if I invest $1 into Facebook to get a single email address, $500 gets me 500 emails. Of those 500 emails, I make $2,000 in affiliate marketing every month. I’m now up $1,500. 500 gets me 2,000 if you’re following the math.
Anja: Also, seems like it would be skipping a step. I remember when I was competing in mogul skiing, I’d have to go down to the race office and send a press release with the fax machine or go to a phone booth [chuckles] and make the call to the different journalists so that they could communicate out to the people who wanted to know how I did and stuff. Now, you’re saying you can write those kind of press releases but directly to the fans if you have an email list. You don’t need to depend on whether the media has a better story or that you can get it out there.
Josh: Absolutely. Moreover, it doesn’t have to be after the fact anymore. You can even show a lot of the stuff live because, obviously, Facebook and Instagram and Twitter all have live broadcasting capabilities now. There’s tremendous opportunities to show people what you’re doing before you compete, while you’re competing in some cases, and after you compete. Again, that’s a 360-degree view.
For me, if I could tell you I know what my favorite athlete’s pre-game meal is, I know what he does in warm-ups, then I go watch the game. After the game, I know where he’s going out for dinner. The amount of equity that he’s building and meeting as a fan, it’s through the roof. When was the last time in the history of sports where you knew all those things about your favorite players? It’s just crazy the amount of access that we have now to these people. The people that take advantage of it and monetize it are the ones that went here.
Anja: Right. Let’s get back to those eight digital profit centers because I’m sure that people want to know how can they make money off this because it’s an investment time if you have to write all these things and post all these things. What are those eight ways?
Josh: It’s an investment of time and it’s also an investment of money. The eight different revenue streams and you can check it out on our website as well, iabm.co. First, we talked about affiliate marketing. We have sponsorships. This could be, for example, if you want to have a podcast so you can get a sponsorship for your podcast.
You can have sponsored content, which is a company pays you to do a series of videos that are not necessarily about them, but they’re sponsoring. It’s ABC video series presented by XYZ company. You have revenue sharing through YouTube and through Facebook. In other words, YouTube and Facebook run ads against your content and you get a percentage of the revenues rather than those ads generated for Facebook and YouTube.
Anja: If you post a video and there’s an ad before that video starts, is that what you’re talking about?
Josh: Correct. With e-commerce, number four. Number five, we have original content. What does that mean? It means that you could effectively set up your own Netflix-style membership program where people pay for specific content or specific access to you. On top of that–
Anja: Can you give an example of that?
Josh: This is kind of old-school, but there’s a new-school way of doing it. Let’s say you want to have a fan club. What does that mean? It means every week or every two weeks, I’m going to do a private live chat, me being the athlete, with my die-hard fans and they’re going to pay $10 a month, $20 a month. They’re going to get to be part of this live chat.
Anja: That’s actually what the media used to do in the old days. They would have you come on.
Josh: Exactly. Instead of doing live content, you could produce content. You could put out specific content for these fans who signed up for this sort of membership offering. Original content, either way, you cut it live or pre-produced, is a hugely untapped opportunity for athletes. We also have memberships. Memberships can be for actual physical thing. For example, a lot of athletes get a ton of free gear.
Have you ever seen these companies that send up these boxes every month like dog treats and make-up? There’s all these companies now. They call them the [unintelligible 00:25:11]. For example, the dog treats one is called BarkBox. What does it mean? It means you have a dog. Instead of going to the store every month to buy new dog treats for your dog or dog food, this company BarkBox is going to send you once a month, every month a little kit of dog treats.
You can even customize and everything and it’s a monthly membership fee. I don’t know how much they charge, $50 or something. Athletes can do the same thing. They got a bunch of free gear. They can put all their free gear into and disseminate it to their fans that want to pay for this monthly subscription. On top of that, you can do giveaways. Some athletes will get free tickets to certain sporting events that they participate in.
Everyone who is part of this membership program also would be entered automatically into winning one of the 10 free tickets that I get every month. Membership is a big opportunity there. We talked about affiliate marketing. The idea here is that all these revenue streams are not necessarily for every athlete. There’s definitely, I would say, four to six that no matter who the athlete, no matter where they’re at in their professional career or what sport they play or how much exposure they’re already getting, with the right strategy, that’s really what we focus on at the Institute for Athlete Branding and Marketing.
With the right strategy, you can pull this together to make decent money. What you put in, you’re going to get out literally and figuratively. Also, a lot of athletes today who are already– you wake up and you have 10,000 more followers just because you can take advantage of these things to make what would be considered really, really good money for the average person. I can give you some statistics that certain influencers– These are not athletes.
They’re influencers who have spent years building up their personal brand who are now making literally dozens of thousands of dollars per month through each of these revenue streams. Again, if you’re an athlete, you already have that camaraderie, you already have that cultural respect that comes with athletes in today’s society, if these influencers who you never heard of before can make hundreds of thousands of dollars per months and millions per year, then athletes certainly can do it if they do it through the right marketing and the right athlete brand building.
Anja: It might not be the main focus though. [chuckles] If you’re like an “influencer” and that’s your lifestyle, then you have all day, all night to do your post and your stories and you’re this and you’re that. If you’re an athlete, your prime job is to be good on the field or on the court or– [chuckles]
Josh: Correct. We also know that athletes have people that are already in their lives that can help with this. We also know that you can hire freelancers at relatively cheap rates, inexpensive rates, I’d say, to help them with this. I’m not necessarily saying athletes should invest more time in building their brand. I think that you have to approach like a business, right?
Josh: For example, when LeBron James– I know I’m just using him as an example, which is probably not the most relatable example. When LeBron James says, “I’m going to go and invest in a new pizza company,” LeBron James is not making the pizzas. He’s playing basketball.
Anja: [chuckles] Right.
Josh: He’s investing in the business. I think athletes have to look at this the same way where this is not just, “Oh, let’s put a few photos on Instagram. Let’s put a few videos on YouTube” or “Put up a website because it looks cool.” No. I’m approaching this because I’m going to invest a certain amount of time and money into it. I’m also going to build a team around me that is going to help me facilitate the day-to-day so that, like you said, I can focus on the real moneymaker, which for most athletes is the sport itself.
Anja: I can see some coaches going crazy with [chuckles] a lot of phones on the courts and for athletes having to post this and post that in the middle of the training might not be the best mix. [chuckles]
Josh: Listen, the videos and the cameras are already there. The media in many cases is already there filming practices and so on and so forth. Obviously, some practices are close to the media. Let’s put those aside. A lot of media are at different non-game media opportunities. If I’m an athlete, I’m saying, “Okay. Every time that the media is invited to take footage or to take photos or whatever they need to do, I’m also going to bring my video person to do the same thing.”
Anja: Right. That makes sense. Like I say, it’s an investment. The athlete who retires with, I don’t know, a million followers has equity there.
Anja: Well, I want to get to one more thing, which is you talked about the athletes’ life story being everything. Of course, me being athlete story, [chuckles] I think that’s very interesting. I’d like to hear your perspective and hear it coming from you. Why do you say that athletes’ life story is everything literally, you would say?
Josh: They all have interesting life stories and they all have a platform today to tell those stories. I fundamentally believe that the more you know about somebody, the more empathy, the more respect, the more admiration that you have for them no matter what that story is. Some people, yes, have better stories than others. Something really interesting happened to me.
I was watching the show Narcos on Netflix, which is– If you don’t know that show, it’s about Pablo Escobar, who’s the Colombian drug lord who killed thousands of people and ruined thousands of people’s lives and was involved with crazy drug trafficking. I watched the series. It was a fiction series on Netflix. I walked away from that series actually feeling a little bit bad for him.
Why did I feel bad for a Colombian drug lord who is considered the biggest narco-terrorist in the history of modern-day drug trafficking? Because I got to see through this series who he was as a person. He was a family man. He was a terrific father. He actually loved his country Colombia. Did he do some pretty crazy things and some things that, obviously, were illegal and immoral? Absolutely. Do I condone those things? Absolutely no.
I understood more about him than just the title of narco-terrorist and so I think athletes can take something from this, which is to say if you’re just an athlete, you just have that term “athlete” next to your name. You don’t have father, daughter, animal rights activist or whatever the different things that you’re involved with. They cannot be the basis that might not necessarily have to do with the sport that you play and the reason that you’re in the limelight.
I think LeBron James does a really, really, really good job of this. He’s very well known for speaking out against things that he’s passionate about. Again, I brought up the thing that he loves wine. Loving wine has nothing to do with him being a basketball player, but that’s what he talks about because that’s part of his life in some capacity. He obviously cares enough about it to share it with his audience.
There’s opportunities there for him to monetize if he wants to do that through, for example, like I said, affiliate marketing. Tying all those things together, giving your fans the ability to know where you’ve come from, how you’ve got here that it hasn’t been all fun and games. That’s the relatability aspect, but then also showing the larger-than-life aspect of, “This is why you should look up to me and admire me.”
When you give that whole life story, also your day-to-day story today, I can’t stress enough. That is absolutely where the magic happens. That’s where you’re going to experience it for the athletes who, again, a lot of athletes, “Well, I’m not LeBron James,” “Well, I’m not Ronaldo,” “Well, I’m not Messi,” “Well, I’m not Roger Federer,” “Well, I’m not Serena Williams.”
That’s true. The average athlete is not one of those individuals and yet, at the same time, you’re still an athlete. You still have that cultural respect. You have the platforms today to connect with the people that you want to connect with in terms of the audience that is either following you already or that you can attract through the right types of storytelling and brand building.
Anja: What are the right types? I often hear athletes say, “Well, I just don’t know what’s so interesting about me.” It will be hard to see if you look at yourself. You can always see what’s interesting about other people, but not necessarily what’s so interesting about you because you’re just you, to you, you know? [laughs]
Josh: Correct. That’s correct. Listen, we all have intricate and very detailed lives. Like for example, we were consulting with an athlete who actually retired from her sport and was going to business consulting based on creating a– Her thing is, “Why was I successful as an athlete? Because I was mentally strong.” She was able to relate mental strength to the business world. There’s a lot of things that athletes are exposed to that can be translated to other aspects of life that are interesting to enough people.
You don’t have to go and get 50 million followers to be a successful athlete brand. You only need sometimes a few thousand and sometimes a few hundred thousand. There’s enough people out there in the world that would be interested in your story. It won’t include everyone, but it will build enough people to where you can monetize and create what we would call successful athlete brand.
Anja: I think that’s where the story becomes valuable to yourself. If you dig deep into your story, you’ll see patterns of– In her example, it would be events where the mental strength was exceptional or she knew how to mobilize it in ways that she can talk about. That’s how she finds her own value in her own story.
Josh: Exactly. By the way, some of the examples I gave were pretty meaningful mental strength or being a political or social activist. Let’s say you’re an athlete who, literally, all you do is you play your sport, you practice your sport, and you play video games. That’s all you do. That’s fine. Now, your audience is going to be the video game community or that specific video game that you play.
That’s a pretty big audience and so it doesn’t have to be meaningful and admirable all the time. It can also just be, “Listen, I’m a 19-year-old kid who’s lucky enough to be in the NBA. When I’m not practicing and playing basketball, I’m playing video games,” so build a community of video game players.
Anja: Before we round out, I just wanted to hear. If you’re an athlete, you have stats and, “I’ve won this many days and I’ve been in the top 10 for this many years,” or whatever. How do you put a value or a number on your brand equity?
Josh: That’s a good question. I think the way that we recommend people to do this is a very forward-thinking approach, but everything today on the internet is measurable. Whether it’s clicks, website visitors, followers, engagement rate, so on and so forth, all those numbers have value to different companies. For example, different sponsors or different brand partners.
On a very basic level, if I know that the local pizza chain in my city pays a dollar per click to Google to get people to come to their website, I can do a campaign with that local pizza chain that says, “Every website visitor that I drive from my platforms, my website, my social media, my email, newsletter, et cetera to your website, you’re going to pay me a dollar.” That’s a very basic example, but all these numbers are transparent.
You can literally just do a Google search and say, “How much is a website click today worth in the United States or worth in Germany or worth in Japan?” Those numbers are out there. That’s the beautiful thing about the internet is that it’s all black and white, it’s all transparent, and it’s all trackable. Those opportunities, I believe, are going to become more common because– Again, if you’re not the top 1% of the athletes, most companies are not just going to say, “Hey, I’m going to give you X amount of money to just say my company’s name a few times.”
It’s like more and more marketing is going to results-driven marketing. I think along with that, we’re seeing a lot of athlete playing contracts so they’re becoming more incentive-based. I also think that sponsorship and endorsement opportunities, et cetera, in fact, these are also going to become slowly but surely incentive-based. There’ll be a base number instead of, “Maybe you would have gotten $5,000 10 years ago, so we’ll give you maybe 2,000. We’re also going to pay you for every single website visitor. We’re also going to pay you for every person who signs up on the landing page that we created for the athlete.”
Let’s say Best Buy wants to do a campaign to collect people’s email addresses, so the athlete drives people to a specific landing page that Best Buy creates for the athlete. Every time somebody sends their email, the athlete makes $5 per email. Over the course of three months and 10,000 emails collected, that’s $50,000, which that deal wouldn’t have been worth $6,000 20 years ago. It might have been worth $20,000, so the upside is also greater in the sort of incentive-based model.
Anja: Usually, it’s the company or the endorser that will set up the whole technical part of it and make sure you get your numbers in there with the click-through rates and all that.
Josh: Again, we’re talking about pretty intense marketing, but that’s where I think this is going. I think that the upside is greater than it’s ever been. With that, you have to actually now perform, which I think is exactly how sports has always been.
We see it now more than ever. It’s, “What have you done for me lately?” Fans feel that way. Management feels that way. If you’re not performing on the field or on the court, you’re going to have a hard time staying on there for a long time. I think athletes have to have that same sort of approach and mindset with the way that they build and monetize their brand.
Anja: Right. Would you ride along with where you have your athletic results? Would you have branding results as well like there’s many followers or there’s much engagement on my Instagram, whatever, those kinds of stats?
Josh: Absolutely. You said a few minutes ago where it’s the latter is going to become a lot more important. You might not be the best athlete or have the best number or the best accolades, whatever in your sport, but we’ve seen already lots of examples of athletes who are not necessarily the best athlete or even in the top 50% of their sport who are in many ways in the top 10% from an athlete brand perspective. That to me is what’s exciting here is that the internet and social media has democratized the opportunity to build an athlete brand as opposed to 10, 15, 20 years ago. It was only reserved for Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Wayne Gretzky, et cetera.
Anja: That’s good news for everyone out there. [chuckles] If you’re willing to put in the effort, there’s ways for you to stand out and make some money on your sports even if you’re not the number one. Well, thank you, Josh. Thank you so much for sharing all of this.
Josh: Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure. I appreciate it.
Anja: I’ll make sure to make a link to your website. Iabm.co, is that right?
Anja: Thanks, Josh. Take care.
Josh: Thank you.
Anja: If you have any fellow athletes or people who you think could benefit from listening to this, of course, I’d be very grateful if you’d share this podcast with them.
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