When Dwight Howard, basketball player for the Orlando Magic, wants to thank fans for supporting the games he gets on Twitter and tweets to followers.
Howard, who has about 115,115 followers (and counting) as of Saturday evening, continually updates fans both on and off the court. Suspended from a recent National Basketball Association (NBA) game, he sat on the sidelines and tweeted to followers, providing updates throughout the game.
"He drew in about 60,000 followers that day," says Eric Goodwin, president at Goodwin Sports Management (GSM), which represents Howard. "It also allowed him to introduce the followers to virtual goods and social networks."
Goodwin says his sports management firm represents progressive athletes, many of who are young and practically live on the Internet and in social networks. "Eventually the lines will blur between reality and virtual goods and sales," he says. "We want to be on the front of that. These athletes are excited about being part of the culture."
Howard, 24; Kevin Durant, 20; and Candace Parker, 23; are the youngest stars in the NBA. The trio become the first professional athletes to launch virtual images and associated virtual goods for purchase through Virtual Greats. The group joins stars such as Justin Timberlake, Snoop Dogg, Raven-Symone and Elvis Presley. Virtual merchandise from the three players became available in WeeWorld, which focuses on tweens and teens
The virtual goods could tie into brands that the three athletes support. Howard is the spokesman for nine sponsors including McDonald's and T-Mobile, Parker supports McDonald's and Gatorade; and Durant, the spokesman for Nike.
"It's exciting to be one of the first professional athletes to team up with Virtual Greats," says Candace Parker, 2008 WNBA Most Valuable Player & Rookie of the Year. "Being on the forefront of this partnership gives me the opportunity to grow my brand and increase my fan base through online communities and social networks."
Dan Jansen, Virtual Greats CEO, said the company will sell the athletes likeness and goods into virtual worlds, social networks, application and widget developers, causal games, and massively multiplayer online games (MMOG), about 10 platforms total.
Jansen said Virtual Greats want to start developing virtual goods that enhance game play such as tennis shoes that can jump higher. "You can customize goods in a game similar to the way you customize avatars in virtual worlds," he says. "It's about giving goods custom functions that let players wear a pair of tennis shoes that let them dunk better like Dwight."