3 Reasons Why Sports Influencer Marketing is So Effective

Do you need sports marketing?

 0:55 – About Hochberg Sports Marketing
1:14 – The Value of Niche Athletes
6:05 – Sports Influencer Marketing for Grey-Area Companies
8:05 – Fostering an Authentic Partnership
10:50 – Who is Athlete Marketing for?
13:08 – The Versatility of Athlete Marketing
18:00 – Keeping Influencing Organic
20:30 – Tips for Getting Started

When sports influencer marketing comes to mind, you may think of massive partnership deals such as Lebron James’s sponsorship with Coca-Cola. And this idea sounds dreamy right? Any brand would love to have an athlete such as Lebron sport their product. But for most brands, unless you’re cream of the crop, this is simply not attainable.

However, the sports influencer marketing we’re talking about is very much accessible. You know, the 99% that make up the athletic industry—the volleyball players, the marathon runners, and soccer players that live standard, everyday lives, and may even be using your product already.

From niche brands to highly regulated brands, sports influencer marketing is rapidly growing in the industry and may just be your next brand move. Here are three reasons why:

Athletes are influencers by nature.

In the great words of Matt Hochberg, founder of the independent, socially-conscious sports sponsorship agency, Hochberg Sports Marketing: “Athletes are influencers by nature, not by trade.” 

Athletes bring a refreshing perspective to influencer marketing. “An athlete who has trained pretty much their entire lives and has gotten to a point where they’re some of the best in the country or even best in the world of what they’re doing—yes, they’re influencers, but in my opinion, they are the best form of an influencer.”

This works particularly well with the 99% of athletes whose audience engages with them in a personable way compared to most recognized sports players. Niche athletes benefit everyday brands because they live relatively normal lives and a lifestyle that people resonate with.

“I’m a big NBA guy,” Hochberg emphasizes. “I love Chris Paul. I respect him, but I don’t care what he’s doing on a daily basis. I’m not going to swipe up on all of his stories versus these athletes who are in these niche types of fields. The relationship between them and their followers and fans is unparalleled. They also are very passionate about the brands they align with.”

Hochberg continues, “Lebron James, who I love—I’m a big Bron fan— but I believe his engagement rate is about 1% on Instagram whereas an indoor volleyball player scores between 15-20% engagement on all of her posts. Of course, she has a smaller following but it just goes to show you that people are interested in her daily life and care about what she’s posting, and they’re following her for a reason.”

Athletes are passionate about the brand.

Niche brands, health brands, and grey-area companies with tight advertising regulations can especially benefit from sports influencer marketing. Niche athletes offer a level of personability and are just as excited about your brand as you are.

Most importantly, these athletes are not concerned about big names, Hochberg assures: “The health and wellness space is booming and what’s nice about these younger athletes we’re working with, these millennial athletes, is that they’re very particular about who they align with. They don’t want to align with the Coca-Cola and McDonald’s of the world, they want to align with brands that they’re actually using in their daily life…”

Niche athletes are specific about their partnerships, making them more likely to go above and beyond when advertising your brand. These are also influencers who are more likely to use your products in their daily life. They’re more likely to sit on their couch watching the Champions League while snacking on your supplement or shake and posting on their Instagram story about it. And that’s the ultimate goal of influencer marketing—authenticity. Your product should be embedded in an athlete’s lifestyle.

Athletes have the potential to grow with the brand.

When focusing on niche athletes, and not the 1%, you have an opportunity to grow your brand as your influencer grows. This is a true representation of partnership. Hochberg believes that these niche athletes bring a well-rounded sense of influencer marketing:

“The sports marketing industry really focuses on the one percent of athletes, on the Lebron James’ of the world and Tom Bradys’ of the world, but in reality, those guys are not making up the majority of athletes. It’s really the professional marathon runners and beach volleyball athletes and Olympic players trying to fund their training that make up the majority of athletes.”

“For my work within the industry, I actually found it much more fulfilling to work on their behalf and to help them close partnerships and to grow their brands versus securing six-figure deals with NBA players,  and nothing against NBA players—I’m a big NBA fan. But we have to consider the salaries of those guys versus the livelihoods of a beach volleyball athlete who’s very much living standard everyday life and is really relying on sponsorship dollars and doesn’t really have the time themselves to go about finding these opportunities”

A partnership that’s beneficial for both sides—that’s the authentic alignment Hochberg strives for in his business. Keep in mind, however—sports influencers are not just another marketing ploy. In order for a true partnership, Hochberg believes we must allow athletes to be authentic with content:

“I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum where brands partner with an athlete, and they want to control all of the messaging of the athlete because they’re viewing it as just another part of their marketing mix, which is true,”  Hochberg states, “It’s just a part of their marketing mix, but it is completely different because they’re dealing with another personality.”

“They’re essentially dealing with another brand—these athletes are brands.  So when another brand comes in and tries to control the messaging and how the photos and videos are looking, unfortunately, in my opinion, it really sets up the partnership for failure.”

The best way to go about sports influencer marketing is by allowing athletes to take the content where they feel comfortable taking it, which,  in turn, allows the content to look like all the other content on their feed. This sort of advertising performs better. It’s natural, and it makes athletes happier and not feel like they’re forced into a partnership.

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