How to Build, Scale and Monetize an Athlete's Email Marketing Program [Exclusive]

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

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 revenue stream for athletes and their representatives.

But 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 yet another touchpoint to connect and engage with their fanbase.

After all, the more touchpoints an athlete creates with his or her fans, the more opportunities the athlete has to develop strong, massively profitable relationships with their current and future fans.

Here are eight steps to build and scale the monetization opportunities associated with email marketing for athletes:

1. Select and sign up for an email marketing platform.

Recommended platforms include MailchimpGetResponseConvertKit and the most high-powered one of this group, Infusionsoft.

2. Develop a scalable system for collecting fans' email addresses and other personal data.

The easiest and most effective way to collect the most amount of fans' email addresses and other personal data is through an athlete's website. Simply asking for fan data (including email addresses) via a "newsletter" or the equivalent, however, is not a winning play.

Instead, provide immediate and upfront value in exchange for fans' personal data (known as a lead magnet). The more perceived value an athlete provides, the more data fans will submit. And the more data fans submit, the more athletes can turn this data into additional, scalable income (more on that below).

Athlete Branding and Marketing - Email Marketing

Strategic data points to collect include:

  • Name
  • Email Address
  • Phone Number (good for mobile marketing)
  • Twitter and/or Instagram Username (if fans want the athlete to follow them)
  • Location of Primary Residence (if fans want to know about the athlete's events and public appearances in their area)
  • Birthdate (if the athlete wants to surprise fans on their birthday with a text message, tweet or another gesture, and/or if the athlete wants to send fans a special discount code for their online store on their birthday)
  • Gender (good demographic information for prospective sponsors / marketing deals)

Now, here are some thought-starters for providing immediate and upfront value via a lead magnet:

  1. Spin-to-Win
  2. Challenges
  3. Exclusive Content (like Rashad Jennings' weekly meal plan)
  4. Gated Content

Whichever type of lead magnet an athlete elects to use, fans should receive the content associated with it immediately and automatically after entering their information.

3. Determine the type and frequency of email marketing communications.

To determine the type of email marketing communications, consider the two most frequently used options:

  1. Personal Emails – uses the first-person voice of an athlete (but can be written by a good ghost writer)
  2. Content Roundup Emails – a collection of recent content from the athlete's blog, social media and other online channels

Email frequency can vary from monthly, to bi-monthly, to weekly, but the most successful athlete brands usually send one email per week (on the same day each week). This allows athletes to stay as top-of-mind as possible with their fans.

4. Create an automated onboarding series.

After fans give their email address to an athlete, they'll receive whatever content the athlete promised as part of the lead magnet. However, the buck doesn't stop here.

In order to build and systematize fan loyalty and athlete brand equity at scale, athletes should consider "onboarding" fans (familiarizing fans with the athlete, mainly off the field) via a series of automated emails that immediately follow the delivery of the lead magnet (one or two days later). By providing even more value to fans — on top of the lead magnet content — athletes will develop more engagement, greater loyalty and an increase in athlete brand equity among their fans, which translates to a massively profitable athlete brand.

Here are a few thought-starters to consider in an athlete's automated onboarding series:

  1. 5 Things You Probably Don't Know About Me
  2. How I Start Every Day
  3. These People Have Made the Biggest Difference in My Life
  4. The Top Lessons I've Learned On and Off the Field/Court/Track
  5. All the Books I Plan on Reading This Year
  6. A Letter to My Younger Self

The key here is to create "evergreen" content for the onboarding series, so these additional pieces of content remain relevant and interesting today, tomorrow, next week, next month and even six-to-12 months from when they were created — without needing to constantly update them.

5. Brand an athlete's email marketing communications.

In order to maximize the perceived value of an athlete's brand through the lens of email marketing, give an athlete's email marketing communications a name.

For example, an athlete who employs the "Personal Emails" type of email communications (using the first-person voice of the athlete) could brand his or her emails "From the Desk of Professional Athlete."

For athletes who prefer the "Content Roundup Emails" type of email communications, consider these examples:

  • A baseball player brands his email communications "The Full Count" or "The Cycle."
  • A snowboarder or skier brands their email communications "The Slope."
  • A wide receiver brands his email communications "The Two-Minute Drill" or "Third and Long."

Bonus: The name of an athlete's email communications can (and even should) also be the name of his or her blog.

6. Track data to optimize email marketing communications.

As with any form of digital media, the single-most important non-monetary metric is engagement: the percentage of people within a total audience who took a desired action.

In email marketing, engagement is measured by open and click-through rates. By paying particular attention to a the content on which fans are clicking in an athlete's email communications, you'll better understand the types of content fans most enjoy. As a result, the athlete can focus on creating more of these types of content, which drives more engagement and creates a virtuous cycle.

The more engagement an athlete drives, the more his athlete brand is worth to teams, leagues, sponsors, marketing deals and other stakeholders.

7. Create email marketing sponsorship packages.

Once an athlete has deployed and optimized his or her email marketing communications, he or she can leverage the fan data and engagement rates to create email marketing sponsorship packages.

There are several types of sponsorship opportunities, including:

  1. Sponsored Content
  2. Dedicated Emails
  3. Title Sponsors
  4. Co-Branded Emails
Digital Monetization Analysis (7).png

8. Include hyper-personalized fan options.

To maximize email engagement and the number of email subscribers — which drives up the monetary value of the athlete's email marketing program — allow fans to select the types of content they want to receive from the athlete, and how often they want to to receive content.

For example, if an athlete sends out weekly email communications, give fans the opportunity to decide if they want to receive the weekly email, or if they want to receive a monthly recap of the weekly emails.

Additionally, give fans the opportunity to select the types of content they want to receive from the athlete, such as:

  • Exclusive content from the athlete
  • Information about the athlete's upcoming events and appearances
  • Announcements about the athlete's e-commerce operation (e.g. new products)
  • Giveaways and promotions

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.