Why an Athlete's Life Story Is Worth Everything (Literally)
In 1998, when I was 9 years old, my dad bought me Kobe's biography. The book had just been published, and I finished it in no more than two days.
From that moment until today, Kobe Bryant has easily been my favorite athlete, for one simple fact: The more you know about a person, the more you can connect with them, and the more you tend to like them. This is important because, aside from athletic ability and accomplishments, connection and likeability are the most effective selling points for an athlete brand.
Many sports fans can tell you how many championships he’s won (five), that he wore two numbers during his playing career (8 and 24), that his father (Joe “Jellybean” Bryant) also played in the NBA, and that Kobe made the leap from high school (Lower Merion in Philadelphia) to the NBA in 1996.
In addition to these well-known facts, I can also tell you that Kobe's parents named him after the Japanese beef “Kobe beef” (seriously) ... that he grew up in Italy because his father also played professional basketball there … that he moved back to the United States for high school and felt like an outsider, because he didn’t understand the slang and pop culture his American peers were accustomed to … and that Kobe and the then-popular singer Brandi went to his prom together.
Since I’ve grown to know so much about Kobe, I’ve admired, respected and looked up to him more than any other athlete in my lifetime. The result: I (and my parents) have spent in the thousands of dollars on Kobe-related products: his shoes, jerseys, apparel, collectables, et cetera. It’s precisely why I became a die-hard Lakers fan, going to at least a few games each season, tuning into 70-plus games on TV and radio every season, buying Lakers memorabilia, et cetera.
And it all started with Kobe agreeing to the opportunity for an author to write a book about his then-20 year life story.
What is "life story" in athlete branding and marketing?
In athlete brand strategy, life story refers to an appealing, interesting narrative about an athlete, including the athlete’s professional and personal goals, values, mission, style, symbol, rivalries, traditions, causes, hobbies, passions, affiliates (teams, brands, people) and experiences.
In other words, athlete brands become more meaningful to fans (and more lucrative to athletes and their representatives) when fans know more about an athlete's life story, and the individual parts that make up the whole.
By making a calculated decision to strategically put his “life story” out there, Kobe positioned himself to be significantly more valuable to the Lakers and other NBA teams, to sponsors, to business ventures and partners, and to several more financial opportunities on and off the court.
The Dollar Value of Life Story
To quantify this decision, let’s say a conservative estimate of 50,000 people read this book and “fell in love” with Kobe the way I did. 50,000 die-hard fans multiplied by thousands of dollars … yeah, you can do the math.
With that said, publishing a book is no longer the most effective approach to strategically tell an athlete's life story.
Instead, the Internet and its auxiliary tools (websites and blogs, social media, email marketing) provide athletes and their representatives with unprecedented opportunities to portray their life story at tremendous scale and with astronomical exposure, giving them an even greater advantage than Kobe had when his biography was published in 1998.
Plus, fans can get a first-hand look into athletes’ lives through photo and video content which — compared to words and maybe a few photos in a book — only deepens their connection and "likeability" within their scalable, measurable, ever-growing fanbase.
(Not to mention, athletes can directly monetize these relationships, as we outline in our exclusive insider's guide How to Create the Most Profitable Athlete Brand.)
The bottom-line result: Athletes (and their representatives) who get serious about this unprecedented opportunity will position themselves to be significantly more valuable to the leagues in which they play, to their current and potentially future teams, to sponsors, to business ventures and partners, and to several more opportunities on and off the playing field.