How Athletes Can Put Themselves in a 'Great Position of Power Moving Forward'
Greg Esposito, who was the first Social Media Specialist in the NBA, spent five seasons with the Phoenix Suns in various roles, concluding as the Senior Digital Manager. Greg is also a proud husband and father to a 16-month-old daughter.
Greg, what are you most excited about today?
Right now, I'm most excited about my Social Media in Sports Column for Front Office Sports. I love interviewing the best and brightest in social, and sharing my thoughts and experiences with others in the business. It's a chance to have a true conversation about what I enjoy in social. I'm also hoping to launch a podcast about a similar topic soon.
How does Greg define an epic athlete brand?
I define it as one that both humanizes the athlete, yet celebrates their athletic prowess and success in their league. Humanizing can come in many forms — including humor, vulnerability, dedication — but it has to make the athlete more relatable.
Charles Barkley did this with his "I'm not a role model" campaign and his ability to say whatever was on his mind. Joel Embiid has done it through using social media and being humorous and showing he's just like us in that regard — while backing it up on the court with dominant play. Tom Brady has tried to do it by peeling back the curtain on his workout and life via TB12 and his Facebook Watch show.
Myself and most who watch sports will never be an elite athlete, but if you can connect with me on a different, personal level, you win.
What's your favorite athlete brand at the moment, and why?
At the moment it's probably LeBron James because he has decided not to shy away from social activism. He's taken his platform and decided to use it for the greater good of others. He's done it on social, Uninterrupted, on the court and even in his Nike ads. It's a powerful statement for fans but more importantly, for the younger generation of athletes.
On the other end of the spectrum, I've also been enthralled by what Joel Embiid has been able to do on social media. It's as if he's in on the big joke about how ridiculously vain social can be, and how crazy it is that we put certain athletes on pedestals, only to knock them down. Everything he does is with a wink, as if he's saying: "Am I serious or not? Guess you'll never know."
He's basically a new-age NBA version of Andy Kaufmann. There's something fun about that and about the fact that he doesn't take any of it too seriously in a world where everything and everyone is taking themselves too seriously.
When you look across the athlete brand landscape, what's the one thing you think more athletes should be doing?
Connecting with fans. We live in a world where you can control your own narrative. You can directly communicate with fans. You can build a legitimate relationship and loyalty with them. So why aren't more athletes genuinely taking advantage of it?
If done right, we're going to soon live in a world where the athlete (not the team) will have the power. Fans will follow the specific player, rather than a team, which constantly overturns its roster. Thanks to streaming media and league packages, a fan anywhere around the world can watch the games of their favorite player, rather than just the team that happens to be closest to them and has a television deal with their local stations or cable provider.
Athletes who build those relationships, the ones who create genuine and unique content on their social platforms, will be in a great position of power moving forward.
What’s your best advice for athletes who want to kickstart their personal brands?
The most important thing is to determine what you stand for as a person. Once you know that, then you have to figure out what you're willing to share with the outside world about you, and then get out there and show it. In your interviews, in what you wear postgame, on your social accounts — just showcase who you are.
I'd also make sure that everything you do on social reflects that and your personality. Look into getting a few people who can help you manage your digital footprint. People who can help you create additional behind-the-scenes content that fans would love to see about you. Graphics that are fun and informative. Basically, use the team model for the athlete.
What’s the number-one tool you’re using right now?
I'm going to cheat and give you two. Canva is great for on-the-go quick quote graphics and other graphics. With so much of social becoming visual, it's a must. I've also started using Continual. It's an app that will take a large video and cut it up into chunks to post on Instagram Stories, which is the platform that I think will continue to grow rapidly in 2018.
Based on your knowledge and expertise, what's the future of athlete branding and marketing?
The future of athlete branding and marketing is authenticity. It's access for fans. No longer will fans only know an athlete from their postgame quotes, commercials and through the eyes of the media. They will build a unique and intimate connection with them that is more raw and unfiltered.
It's a world where the athletes, more than ever, will control their own brands. This should be both exhilarating and terrifying, because it means they'll be held more accountable than ever as well. It's time to embrace it and own it. It's time for the athlete to control their destiny.