Relationship Effort: Athletes Who Give More Effort, Make More Money

Photo by Travis Yewell on Unsplash

Photo by Travis Yewell on Unsplash

There are two baseball players: One is an all-time great who filled up the record books, while the other you may have never heard of — or, at least, the next generation of baseball fans probably won't hear about.

Between these two players, one has two million social media followers and is still very much relevant, even after retirement. The other player (also retired) has about a quarter-million followers, and you barely hear about him anymore.

Which one do you think has the two million social media followers and is still very much relevant, even after retirement? The all-time great, or the other guy?

If you guessed the other guy (Nick Swisher), you're absolutely right. The all-time great with a quarter-million followers is Barry Bonds, who I'm sure you remember. I'm also sure remember how unfriendly he was with fans, particularly toward the backend of his career. Excuse my language, but Bonds became notorious for being an a-hole.

Fans don't forget those experiences, just like customers don't forget bad experiences at restaurants, stores or any other place of commerce.

On the other hand, Swisher, who had but a fraction of the skill, ability and "wow" factor as Bonds, was a bonafide fan-favorite — the polar opposite of Bonds, both in athletic prowess and personality.

The point is: "relationship effort" (an athlete’s interactions with fans) is a difference-maker, especially in the age of the Internet and its auxiliary tools (social media, website, blog, email marketing). When athletes fulfill their fans’ desire for interaction, fan loyalty skyrockets, and athlete brand equity soars. 

Understanding 'Athlete Brand Equity'

There are several ways to measure the strength of an athlete brand, just like there are several ways to measure the strength of an athlete's playing career.

The single most important measurement of an athlete brand, however, is athlete brand equity. It's kind of like championships: An athlete can score the most points, make the best plays, win the most games, and be the valuable at his or her position, but when push comes to shove, we primarily judge athletes by the number of rings on their fingers.

Championships are to an athlete’s legacy as athlete brand equity is to an athlete brand.

Athlete brand equity is really just a fancy term for fan support, which is twofold:

  1. Depth - the amount of time and money fans will spend, as well as the number of times fans will engage with and advocate for an athlete offline (word-of-mouth) and online (social media), because of an athlete's influence and fan affinity for him or her
  2. Width - the frequency with which fans spend money on, engage with and advocate for an athlete, because of the athlete's influence and fan affinity for him or her

Simply put: The more an athlete can deepen and widen fan support, the more his or her athlete brand is worth to teams, leagues, sponsors, marketing deals, business ventures and other financial opportunities.

Until recently, athlete brand equity was measured with an eye-ball test, or by "on-field" success. Sure, you can measure jersey and shoe sales, but how do you measure influence? How do you equate a strong athlete brand to more fans in stadium seats, more TV viewers, more radio listeners, and more excitement surrounding a team, league and sport?

The long and short of it is, you couldn't and didn't — until the modern-day Internet and its auxiliary tools. Together, they provide game-changing scale, which allows for the most effective (better results) and efficient (less time, money and resources) approach to deepening and widening fan support.

Once athletes and their brand managers make a calculated decision to strategically and systematically leverage the Internet to more quickly build and scale greater athlete brand equity against the backdrop of an always-growing, measurable fanbase, a few things happen.

First, athletes can directly and consistently interact with significantly more of their fans, while reducing the amount of time, money and resources required from the athlete, his or her brand managers, and other stakeholders involved. In reality, athletes can do the majority of "work" from the comfort of their home (or wherever they prefer).

Next, a fan-friendly athlete who's also good (or even great) at what he or she does "on the field" is surely worth more to teams, leagues, sponsors, marketing deals, business ventures, and other financial opportunities.

And, finally, fans will increasingly communicate their growing loyalty about the athlete to their social circles offline (word-of-mouth) and online (social media), therefore serving as an army that cultivates additional fans, at tremendous scale, for the athlete.

In other words, there has never been a more effective and efficient way for athletes and their representatives to maximize an athlete's value, worth, influence, relevance and longevity — before, during and after their professional playing careers.

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.