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Four Wrong Ways to Feature a Sponsored Athlete on Your Website

By Jon MacDonald
5 minute read | Last Updated: March 22, 2016

Four things active lifestyle brands do that come across as inauthentic to consumers when featuring sponsored athletes  – and what you can do to fix them.

Athletic and Outdoor brands commonly feature sponsored athletes on their websites. Doing it the wrong way comes across as inauthentic to the consumer. Here are the four most common mistakes we see brands making and how to fix them.

1. Thinking of the sponsored athlete only as a logo wearing billboard

Granted, brand association is typically a main goal for sponsoring an athlete. But by going the pure athlete/brand association route and only having the athlete featured in videos of their sport or in competitions while using the brand’s gear, the brand is missing out on an authentic touch point that is beneficial to consumers.

Something as simple as asking the sponsored athlete a few simple questions on camera can create that authentic touchpoint and a helpful connection for the consumer. Questions we have seen lead to the most sales or conversions include:

  • “As an athlete, why do you choose this brand?”
  • “Explain why this brand’s products are the best fit for your position or skill set.”
  • “Which specific product are you most excited about and how has it improved your performance?”

The goal with these questions is to establish a deeper connection with consumers by helping the sponsored athlete to relate to the consumer’s needs.

The goal with these questions is to establish a deeper connection with consumers by helping the sponsored athlete to relate to the consumer’s needs. In the process, it will ensure the sponsored athlete is perceived as more than a logo wearing billboard when seen with your brand during competitions.

2. Putting the sponsored athlete on a pedestal

This is a mistake because making a sponsored athlete accessible to consumers is what creates the deep brand association. Encourage and provide a platform for consumer/sponsored athlete interaction. Social tools make this very easy.

For example, online live question and answer sessions, sponsored by a brand and run through social platforms such as Reddit or Google+ offer great opportunity for consumers to interact with sponsored athletes. A stand-out interaction on Reddit includes Manu Ginobili’s candid Reddit IAMA chat. There is even a list of several top athlete sessions from Reddit that can provide some inspiration. Major League Soccer (MLS) also hosts player Q&A via Google+, and provides personalized autographed digital photos to participants, which entices even more participation and provides a way for the social success to spread and live on after the event has concluded.

Integrating the sponsored athlete’s relevant responses from Q&A sessions into a brand website’s digital catalog, such as the product detail pages, is another great opportunity for the consumer to connect with a sponsored athlete. Providing access for sponsored athletes to respond to comments, reviews and questions about products on product detail pages is also communicates authenticity and helps create a more meaningful consumer/athlete brand association.

3. Reducing the Sponsored Athlete to a One-Dimensional List of Facts

A light swipe of biographical information to “check the box” when it comes to having a sponsored athlete on a brand website does more harm than good.

A light swipe of biographical information to “check the box” when it comes to having a sponsored athlete on a brand website does more harm than good. Instead of putting up an athlete biography page listing facts and stats about the sponsored athlete, consider unique, custom and well thought out content – telling a story is often the best way to achieve these goals.

Have the athlete tell how the brand’s products have helped them achieve greatness and (hopefully) victory. Having the athlete tell a story about why they chose your brand and how the products have helped shape their career presents an excellent opportunity for brand storytelling.

Consumers are looking to understand how the brand’s products will be the best fit for their needs, and telling a story through the success (or even failures) of a sponsored athlete will help the consumer obtain perspective – something a list of facts and a general biography cannot achieve on its own.

4. Failure to ensure both brand and sponsored athlete benefit from the relationship

A sponsored athlete relationship needs to be a mutually beneficial arrangement, where both the brand and the athlete benefit.

Providing a sponsored athlete with free gear clearly showing the brand logo is not enough. Providing the sponsored athlete with support by publicizing when they do good in their community on the brand social media and website creates a two-way benefit. One that will not only associate your brand with good things in the consumer’s community, but also make the athlete feel more engaged by your brand and consequently more willing to contribute back when they can.

Providing the sponsored athlete with support by publicizing when they do good in their community on the brand social media and website creates a two-way benefit.

A recent example of this is LeBron James and Nike, who teamed up to design and provide uniforms for James’ high school alma mater. The event made a large splash on social media, including YouTube videos such as “LeBron James Unveils the New Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary Nike Uniforms”, providing an opportunity for both James and Nike to gain positive press while assisting their community.

A sampling of comments on the video gives a sense of the positive impact created that benefited both Nike and James.

“It’s all a small part of James’ mission to give back. Thanks to James — who led the basketball team to three state championships at the high school and was named all-state in football during his time there — every sport will receive new uniforms at St. Vincent-St. Mary, and the school will receive a $1 million gym upgrade this winter. HE PAID FOR THEM, SIMPLE AS THAT!”

Sponsored athletes worked incredibly hard to achieve their goals. It’s a long road filled with hard work and challenging experiences. Connecting your brand to that success story requires consumers to see them as more than someone sporting your logo. Pull them off the pedestal, connect them to your audience in a real way, and create a mutually beneficial relationship between the brand and the athlete. Righting these four wrongs will go a long way to making the sponsored athlete brand relationship into one that is perceived not only as authentic but that also will benefit all — brand, sponsored athlete, and consumer — for years to come.