The sports world is at a stand still, brought to its knees by the COVID-19 pandemic. The NBA and NHL postponed what was left of their seasons and are teetering on cancellation. Opening Day for the MLB came and went without a pitch, the 2020 Olympics were pole vaulted to 2021, and now the NFL has entered the fray with September’s kickoff coming under review.
Without sports, sports marketers operating in the space have been forced to pivot and creatively relaunch months of hard work and planning seemingly overnight. Brands and athletes have had to closely evaluate and reimagine their partnerships to avoid missteps in a more sensitive media landscape. In doing so, athletes have unlocked and engaged their digital communities in new ways and on new levels. Because of this, athletes have opened themselves up for additional partnership opportunities, and brands are lining up out the door — or at least they should be.
AUTHENTICITY ABOVE ALL ELSE
COVID-19 has reminded sports marketers of the importance of authentic relationships between athletes and brands. In the midst of a crisis, consumers can sniff out phoniness, and brands will pay dearly with negative talk-value. Athletes who align with the core values and principles of their brand partners will prove to be invaluable assets and be compensated as such. With an authentic relationship in place, brands can make moves and stand out when others are hesitant due to sensitivities brought on by uncertainty.
DIGITAL-FIRST, ISN’T IT OBVIOUS?
Athletes will transition more closely to what we refer to as “influencers” in a post-COVID economy. With sports on pause, athletes have taken to social media to experiment with the latest features and platforms. We’ve seen stars like Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young, Memphis Grizzlies’ Ja Morant, Seattle Seahawks’ Shaquem Griffin, Philadelphia 76ers’ Matisse Thybulle and more, create TikToks and join in on the latest dance challenges and give a glimpse into how they’re dealing with quarantine and managing boredom.
TikTok, and other up and coming digital platforms like Twitch, a live streaming platform for gamers, humanize these star athletes and allow fans an authentic connection via engaging user-generated content. Brands who can tap into athletes’ social media properties in a genuine way, whether part of a long-term partnership or one-off deals, will benefit in building trust and legitimacy with the next-generation of major consumers.