Athletes as Influencers: The Untapped Monetization Opportunities of Influencer Marketing

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Through the early 2000s, only the cream-of-the-crop athletes had true, transcendent influence over sports fans and society at large.

Think: Mohammad Ali, Pele, Tiger Words, Michael Jordan, Billie Jean King, Jim Brown, Wayne Gretzky.

With the advent and evolution of fantasy sports (athlete-driven fandom), social media (athlete-driven dialogue) and easy-to-use digital publishing tools (athlete-driven content), virtually all athletes are able to organically cultivate their own measurable fanbase (digital followers and subscribers) and portray whatever they desire — their off-field life, personality, business ventures, charitable endeavors, et cetera.

This is precisely why more athletes than ever before are publicly regarded as activists, trendsetters, entertainers, moguls, entrepreneurs and philanthropists — regardless of athletic skills, accomplishments and experience. As athletes adopt more of these roles that transcend sports, their level of influence naturally increases, and they become just as valuable off the field as they are on it.

From Influence to Influencer

In the digital age, influencers are people who use the Internet and its auxiliary tools to:

  1. Build and scale a measurable fanbase of millions of people, whose trust in the influencer inspires purchasing decisions and actionable engagement related to the influencer's opinions, recommendations and affiliates
  2. Produce and distribute original content experiences that generate exponentially greater trust and actionable engagement, as well as effective marketing content for brands and affiliates
  3. Quantify their influence with tangible results and metrics
  4. Leverage their ever-growing, highly engaged audience to monetize and massively profit from their influence

Monetizing and Massively Profiting from Influence

The financial goals of becoming an athlete-influencer are twofold:

  1. To increase the value and length of offline revenue streams, such as player contracts, traditional marketing deals and business opportunities, and
  2. To take advantage of as many as eight digital profit centers, including:
    1. Revenue Sharing
    2. Affiliate Marketing
    3. Sponsorships
    4. Online Advertising
    5. Subscriptions (Fan Club)
    6. Original Content
    7. Guest Publishing
    8. E-Commerce 

An Athlete's Advantage Over Non-Athlete Influencers

Historically, sponsors and advertisers predominantly used the eye-ball test to measure popularity and decide which athletes they wanted to employ in their marketing and advertising campaigns. Athletes had significant leverage because they were one of the few groups of people with the most potential to attract mass consumer attention and influenced buying decisions.

Today's sponsors and advertisers, thanks to the Internet and digital media, have access to a plethora of other people (influencers) who attract mass consumer attention and influence buying decisions, many better than most athletes. This phenomenon is known as influencer marketing.

However, athletes still hold one major advantage: They receive a tremendous amount of free, built-in, ongoing exposure through the leagues in which they play; the teams for which they play; and the local, regional, national and international media companies that continuously stimulate public interest in and excitement for their teams and league, as well as the athletes themselves.

Unfortunately, most athletes don't have a comprehensive influencer marketing strategy that allows them to capitalize on and massively profit from the tremendous amount of free, built-in, ongoing exposure they receive. Otherwise, they would easily be able to double, triple or even 10x the amount of money non-athlete influencers generate through the eight digital profit centers.

Let's take a look at some of these figures:


The highest-earning YouTube user, Daniel Middleton, made $16.5 million via the YouTube Partner Program, while the top-10 most lucrative YouTube channels combined to generate more than $125 million, in 2017. (Interested in YouTube strategy? Click here.)


Pat Flynn, who runs the blog Smart Passive Income, generated more than $69,000 per month through affiliate marketing programs in 2017, or upwards of $831,000.


According to Forbes, an Instagram user with 100,000 followers can command $5,000 for a sponsored social media post. Rachel Brathen — a yoga influencer with 2.1 million followers as of April 3, 2018 — commands as much as $25,000 per post.


Since the launch of his podcast Entrepreneur On Fire in 2012, John Lee Dumas has grossed more than $13 million — 35 percent of which has come through advertising.


Jon Loomer, an entrepreneur and Facebook marketer, generates a conservative estimate of $10,000 per month through his exclusive membership clubs — where he provides exclusive content from and access to him.

An Unprecedented Opportunity for Athletes

None of these individuals above are athletes, which means they never received the tremendous amount of free, built-in, ongoing public exposure that athletes enjoy. They don't have (or are associated with teams and leagues that have) millions of fans, and they're not celebrated in society.

Now, imagine how the figures above would look if these people were athletes — that is, if they were consistently on TV, in newspapers and magazines, on sports and pop culture websites, and performing in front of thousands (if not millions) of people every year.

About the Author:

Josh Hoffman is the Chief Strategy Officer at The Institute for Athlete Branding and Marketing. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.