Athlete Brand Analysis: JuJu Smith-Schuster, NFL Wide Receiver
After leading his rookie class in receiving yards and touchdowns during the 2017-18 NFL season, JuJu Smith-Schuster is poised to become one of the game's top wide-outs.
JuJu's off-field athlete brand is equally impressive, with a focus on his dynamic personality, sense of humor and creativity via original video content and fan engagement.
Still, JuJu and his representatives have plenty of room for improvement if he wants to build and scale a highly innovative and massively profitable athlete brand.
JuJu's Athlete Brand Scouting Report
✅ Official accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube
✅ Good balance between on- and off-field content in his social media posts
✅ 1.9M follower count (as of March 13, 2018)
✅ Significant, consistent amount of original video content
✅ Well-known nickname
✅ Two of the eight Internet-based income streams, including YouTube monetization (revenue sharing) and digital sponsorships
AREAS OF CONCERN:
❌ Lacks a website, blog, email marketing program and podcast
❌ Lacks complete life story in his social media posts
❌ Lacks comprehensive Team Association Model* (TAM), League Association Model (LAM), Sport Association Model (SAM), and Community Association Model
❌ Lacks a Converged Media Strategy, Integrated Content Strategy and Sponsored Content Strategy
❌ Search engine optimization
❌ Lacks six of the eight Internet-based income streams, including a membership club, e-commerce, affiliate marketing, revenue sharing (Facebook), online advertising and guest publishing
To maximize his value to the Pittsburgh Steelers and potentially other NFL teams in the future, the league, sponsors, marketing deals and other stakeholders, here are four high-level strategies JuJu and his representatives can start deploying today:
1. Increase his influence, leverage and value by scaling the number of followers across JuJu's digital footprint.
To increase his number of followers, JuJu and his representatives should consider the following:
- Develop strategic engagement campaigns and digital brand activations that encourage fans to engage in social sharing, therefore exposing his athlete brand to significantly more people
- Leverage the four brand association models to strategically reach fans who engage with the team he plays for, the league he plays in, the sport he plays, and the city he plays in
- Create a Converged Media Strategy that combines earned, owned, paid and rented media to generate more exposure, followers and engagement at scale
2. Create additional opportunities through which JuJu's growing fanbase can interact and engage with him.
If used effectively, a website and blog are game-changers for athlete brands, because they enable athletes to strategically:
- Publish original content that provides fans with a variety of lenses through which they vicariously experience an athlete's life on and off the field — a proposition that deepens the athlete-fan relationship and maximizes the value of an athlete brand
- Capture extensive fan data, which can be leveraged in negotiations with teams, sponsors and other stakeholders
- Generate additional, scalable income for the athlete via online advertising, sponsored content, e-commerce, and affiliate marketing (e.g. Amazon Associates Program)
- Enhance the fan experience, which creates a unique value proposition that can be leveraged in negotiations with teams, sponsors and other stakeholders
The other benefit of a website and blog is enhanced search engine optimization, since original content will appear in relevant searches more often, ultimately driving more people to an athlete's website.
In terms of podcasting, audio-only content pays dividends (literally) for an athlete brand, including online advertising (podcast sponsors) and sponsored content. Not to mention, it's a tremendous opportunity to further connect with fans, and vice versa.
3. Build an email marketing program.
While email marketing seems like it's been around forever, it's still one of the most effective forms of marketing, primarily because it falls under the most reliable type of media: owned media. It also happens to be a grossly overlooked and untapped marketing avenue by athletes.
Email marketing is more than a force to be reckoned with, because nearly every one of the billions of Internet users on this planet has an email address — which gives athletes like JuJu yet another touchpoint to connect and engage with their fanbase.
The more touchpoints an athlete creates with his or her fanbase, the more opportunities the athlete has to develop strong, massively profitable relationships with their current and future fans.
Plus, email addresses are one of the most coveted online data points; the more fan data athletes have in their possession, the more money they can generate from teams and sponsors.
4. Create additional, scalable income streams via JuJu's athlete brand.
While team contracts, sponsorships and marketing deals are an integral part of an athlete's overall income, there are several more opportunities to generate additional, scalable income via an athlete brand.
And, the best part is: Athletes no longer have to put all of their financial destiny in the hands of teams and sponsors, which don't always have the athletes' best interest in mind.
For JuJu, these income streams include:
- Social media revenue sharing (Facebook Instant Articles)
- Advertising on his website (e.g. Google AdSense)
- E-commerce (built into his website)
- Affiliate marketing programs
- A membership club
- Guest publishing
- Comprehensive, long-lasting digital sponsorship and endorsement packages
- Original content production and distribution
By building a strategic athlete brand that matches his on-field success, JuJu Smith-Schuster will strategically position himself to maximize his next player contract, attract a trove of sponsors, increase the value and length of marketing deals, and tremendously scale his off-field income — both today and in the future.
* Source: Sport Management Review