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Managing An Athlete’s Online Brand: A 5-Step Getting Started Guide For Agents

This is a guest contribution courtesy of Jorge Monasterio the founder of Avantla.com, on online branding management tool for sports and entertainment agents and attorneys. Avantla keeps up with the ever changing social media sites and trends. They also help find and acquire domains, trademarks and other online assets.

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You’ve landed a talented athlete as a new client. A professional contract is fast-approaching. When the contract is signed, will the athlete’s online presence be ready?

In sports, the athlete’s name is the brand. So it should come as no surprise the bad guys on the internet, known as cyber-squatters, may try to take advantage of your athlete’s name and brand.

An example: In California, a single cyber-squatter was recently convicted of registering the domain names of nearly 800 basketball players. Domain names are Web browser addresses, like SteveNash.com and ChrisBosh.com. The affected players ranged from NBA pros to top high school and college players. Because of this one squatter, hundred’s of athletes were unable to take the first step into online branding. This was just one squatter — there are thousands of squatters on the NET trying to make money from athletes’ brands.

As an agent, you need to start managing your client’s online brand early -before fame and success attract the cyber-squatters. It’s critical for agents to help athletes create a comprehensive online branding strategy.

Here are 5 simple tips to help agents prepare and protect a player’s online brand:

1. Register a Dot-Com Domain Name

Domain names are Web addresses, so they are the focus of your online branding plan. Having a domain name with your player’s first and/or last name in it, like RogerFederer.COM, is the Grand Slam of Internet branding. The domain is also part of the player’s main email address.

But, web domains are a scarce resource, and are registered on a first-come-first-serve basis — so even RogerFederer.COM doesn’t own Federer.COM

Once you start searching for an available domain name, you’ll be surprised how hard it is to find an available domain name. If your client has an uncommon name, you may be lucky and still be able to acquire CLIENTNAME.COM. Other good domains to register are nicknames. Shorter domain names are usually better, dashes and digits in a domain name are not as easily remembered by site visitors.

The Dot-Com domain is the most memorable and upscale-it’s far better than the other top-level domains (.NET, .ORG, .INFO, .BIZ, .US, etc.).

To register a domain, visit domain registrars like Godaddy.com (http://GoDaddy.com). If the client’s name is available, you can register it for about $8 a year – you’ll need to renew every year or you lose the name. There are also many websites, such as Afternic.com and Sedo.com, that help you buy and acquire domains that are already registered — though auction prices can be exorbitant.

As long as you’re able to get the athlete’s main domain, it’s not worth going overboard speculating on a bunch of domains when an athlete is just starting out. However, keep in mind that the squatters will try to take advantage of typos in web addresses, so you may consider acquiring common misspellings of your client’s name (for Tennis, think Nadall.com, Nedal.com).

From there you can start to build an official website for your athlete. Designing websites can be confusing, especially if you are not particularly internet savvy. That being said, there are some brilliant website design companies out there nowadays like GO Creative that can help you to design an eye-catching and professional website, so do not be afraid to ask for assistance if you need it.

Later in this article I have some tips for what to do if you can’t get the name you want.

2. Create Social Networking Accounts

When fans want to find out about an athlete, they’ll go to the social networking sites; MySpace and Facebook are the biggest. With MySpace, you’ve always been able to get a page like http://Myspace.com/CLIENTNAME, so, you’ll want to grab that. Facebook now has that feature, too. And you’ll want to start and take ownership of a Facebook Fan Club for your client.

YouTube is also a big one, with fans being able to see an athlete’s true talent through videos and make a judgement of their character, instead of judging them based on words through platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Although YouTube is a saturated site nowadays and has a very specific algorithm, making recognition more difficult than it perhaps was a few years ago, there are ways to make using this platform a success. An athletes fame from sports should bring subscribers and likes in as it is, but if the channel is stagnating or taking a while to gain a loyal fanbase, you can always find out how to Buy YouTube Likes to encourage growth. This is perfect for fans to connect with athletes.

What content do you put on all these social media sites? It doesn’t matter-you can leave them blank to start with. The main point is that you control the real estate for your brand.

If you or your client does create some content on a social media page, keep the site very professional. Don’t let the athlete use these accounts for gossiping with friends, uploading photos or video of last Saturday night’s party, or other unprofessional uses. Future sponsors and advertisers will be watching, so you need to keep the client’s content squeaky clean and presentable. Once something is on the Internet, it’s nearly impossible to take it down.

But remember: The main point is to acquire these online properties, even if you don’t use them at first. It’s far better to have nothing on a Web pages than to have cyber-squatters fill the page with advertisements.

3. Create a Twitter Account

Twitter, an online Short Message Service (SMS) site, is extremely popular and growing so quickly that it gets a checklist item all to itself. When fame first strikes, Twitter is where the trendsetters will talk about your client. Beware: Twitter squatters are already grabbing up all the famous Twitter account names.

Signing up for a Twitter account is free, so sign-up for an account name that matches the client’s real name. You may want to update the Twitter status occasionally with things like recent victories and upcoming games. But again, the key is to own the Twitter account for later use and to prevent someone else from controlling the Twitter account.

4. Setup Email and Instant Messaging

Fans, sponsors, advertisers and other vendors will want to communicate with an athlete. When your client owns a COM domain, you can automatically receive all email sent to any address at @CLIENTNAME.COM.

But, as part of a comprehensive branding plan, create free accounts at Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and HotMail: CLIENTNAME@gmail.com, CLIENTNAME@yahoo.com, and CLIENTNAME@msn.com. Setup the accounts so that they invisibly forward email to a single address.

Additionally, try to get brandable accounts for AOL Instant Messenger and MSN Messenger.

5. Setup Voicemail

For a business phone number, you can set up a free GoogleVoice (http://voice.google.com) account, which comes with a free phone number in almost any area code. Configure GoogleVoice to automatically forward voice-mail to your email accounts as an audio/text attachment. Or you can forward all GoogleVoice calls to your cell phone (the forwarding will be invisible to the caller).

If your client needs to speak with the press by phone, he or she can easily make phone calls through the GoogleVoice account using their existing cell phone. Have the client use the GoogleVoice as a business phone number for all sports-related activities to prevent the athlete’s personal phone information from becoming mixed with the athlete’s career info. Keeping an athlete’s professional life and personal life separate will also help protect the athlete’s privacy.

Troubleshooting Your Brand

What do you do if you can’t get all of the above items? Well, if your athlete’s name is very common like Joe Smith, then he’s a little late to the Internet party. But you can still try for domains like “JoeSmithHockey.com”.

What if fame has already struck and the athlete’s brand is already cyber-squatted? There are laws to protect an athlete’s name and brand. Contact an intellectual property attorney who specializes in trademarks. If the athlete’s name is fairly unique, having a lawyer send a letter to the various social media sites can often get them transferred to the player. Gaining control of a squatted domain is a little more complicated, but an attorney can definitely help to acquire it. Solving cyber-squatting problems through the legal system will cost you a lot more time and effort than doing it right the first time.

Be Ready for Fame…

Most importantly, it’s critical to be a few steps ahead of the cyber-squatters. With the first whiff of fame, squatters will notice an up-and-coming player and grab up all the prime Internet real estate related to that player. You can reduce future legal costs by keeping up with online trends and by beating the squatters to the prime Internet real estate. Your client’s future sponsors will appreciate a clean online-brand that isn’t full of Internet spam.

Remember: Your job as an agent is to help plan for the athlete’s entire career. It’s never too early to get a player’s brand ready. By spending a little effort up front, you can make future success that much sweeter.

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.

8 replies on “Managing An Athlete’s Online Brand: A 5-Step Getting Started Guide For Agents”

Wow, great article. Being a marketing major and also working in network marketing, I know how important the internet can be in building a brand name and an image for a product or in this case, an athlete.

Larry:
Thanks!

The sad thing is how many simple mistakes athletes make. Remember when Melanie Oudin became the “next big thing in Tennis” at the US Open this year? Her dad (her manager) did a pretty good job — he got her COM domain, and Facebook page. But the Twitter account was cyber-squatted with a bunch of sex ads (I haven’t checked if that’s been fixed).

It is always interesting to get back to the basics, as you said it Jorge.
Just a tip: Twitter accounts can be Verified, which renders impersonification and other stealing practices much more difficult.
Regards,
Thierry

Good start Jorge! And always as a matter of general practice, constant vigilance and an ongoing online reputation management campaign should help curb in ongoing cyber squatting directed towards the athlete’s personal brand.

David, you’re totally right: “Start” is the operative word. You have to stay on top of your clients’ reputation, plus there are always new things to watch. Two years ago, Twitter was hardly a blip — now it’s huge.

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