Athlete Brand Analysis: Isaiah Thomas, NBA Guard
What a year it's been for NBA guard Isaiah Thomas, who went from a top-five vote-getter for the 2017 NBA Most Valuable Player Award, to a journeyman coming off the bench for the Los Angeles Lakers, the latest of three teams he's played for in less than a year.
For the seven-year basketball pro to command the most lucrative, player-friendly team contract and generate additional, scalable income when he becomes a free agent at the end of the 2017-18 NBA season, Isaiah must become much more marketable.
Isaiah's Athlete Brand Scouting Report
✅ He's consistently active and engaging on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
✅ He has a professional logo, a staple for any athlete brand.
✅ He has an athlete brand mission statement: "If all I'm remembered for is being a good basketball player, then I've done a bad job with the rest of my life."
✅ He has a personal website, which features an e-commerce platform and new content.
✅ He stars in "Book of Isaiah," a documentary-style Web series.
✅ He receives above-average engagement on his social media content.
AREAS OF CONCERN:
❌ 5.5 million followers (as of March 2, 2018) is a relatively average number, at least compared to other NBA players at his position.
❌ Lack of an email marketing program
❌ Inconsistent activity on YouTube
❌ Lack of a blog and podcast
❌ Poor search engine optimization for his website
❌ Lack of measurable and scalable revenue streams, including a membership club, affiliate marketing and online advertising
For Isaiah to maximize his value to NBA teams, the league, sponsors and other stakeholders now and in the future, here are five strategies, systems and tactics he can start deploying today:
1. Scale the number of followers across his digital footprint.
To increase his number of followers so that he increases his worth to an NBA team, Isaiah should consider the following:
- Develop strategic engagement campaigns and digital brand activations that require 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. 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.
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 like Isaiah 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.
3. Add a blog and podcast to Isaiah's website.
If used effectively, a blog is a game-changer for any website, but especially for an athlete's website.
By incorporating a variety of blogging styles — articles, listicles, lookbooks, vlogs (video blogs) — athletes can strategically publish content on their blog 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 increases the value of an athlete brand
- Generates additional, scalable income for the athlete via online advertising, sponsored content, e-commerce, and affiliate marketing (e.g. Amazon Associates Program)
- Enhances the athlete's website experience, which creates a virtuous cycle of more revenues from online advertising, sponsored content, e-commerce and a membership club
The other benefit of a blog is increased 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 another tremendous opportunity to connect with fans, giving them yet another touchpoint to connect with an athlete.
Anchor allows anyone to record high-quality podcasts, host as many episodes as they want, and distribute across the Web with just one click.
4. Better position Isaiah's website to appear in more Google searches.
A website also falls under the owned media umbrella (again, the most reliable type of media), which makes it increasingly important for athletes to drive fans to their website.
The problem is: When you Google "Isaiah Thomas NBA," his website doesn't even appear on the first page (a common problem among athlete websites).
To correct this issue, athletes can take two approaches:
- Organic search engine optimization, which involves improving the Page Authority (PA) and Domain Authority (DA) of their homepage and websites, respectively
- Paid search engine optimization, which involves running a Google AdWords campaign that ensures an athlete's website to appear at the top of the search page when someone does a search containing relevant keywords (e.g. "Isaiah Thomas NBA")
5. Create additional, scalable income streams via Isaiah's athlete brand.
While team contracts and sponsorship 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 Isaiah, these income streams include:
- Social media revenue sharing (e.g. Facebook Instant Articles)
- Advertising on his website (e.g. Google AdSense)
- A more robust e-commerce operation
- Affiliate marketing programs
- A membership club
- Multi-level online sponsorship and endorsement packages
By doubling down on his athlete brand sooner than later, Isaiah Thomas will strategically position himself to take better control over his career path and financial destiny — both during and after his playing days.