How Sports Brands Use Athletes To Connect With Customers

A.S. Roma is one of the largest and most celebrated Italian soccer teams. In 2015 it signed Mohamed Salah, a highly coveted Egyptian winger, to a contract. The ink was barely dry when Roma’s Facebook followers from Egypt began to increase sharply. Before long, Rome itself was Roma’s second biggest city in terms of followers, behind Cairo. 

Technology is driving new types of connections between athletes and fans, and sports brands are learning how to leverage these to create experiences aimed at increasing their revenue. Here are three ways sports brands are using sports and athletes to connect with customers. 

1. Promoting athletes as celebrities and entertainers

Professional athletes have become celebrity entertainers. The life surrounding athletes — as opposed to the sports themselves — is the new fodder for reality television, advertising and social media. 



Moving into the realm of lifestyle and entertainment gives teams and athletes additional touch points with their fans. Non-team athletic brands like Nike portray sports stars working out, intercut with fans matching their dedication. This humanizes the stars and reinforces our cultural desire to partake in celebrity culture.

Presenting athletes through a celebrity lens is a brand understanding and fulfilling customer demand. Brands and teams are reaching customers they have not been able to before, in ways we could only glimpse 20 years ago.

2. Building brand experiences around athletes

Teams want to be known for winning. The Los Angeles Kings of the NHL were consistently terrible until they brought in Wayne Gretzky, the greatest player of all time. Within five seasons, the Kings were in the Stanley Cup finals, cementing Los Angeles as a hockey town.

As the visibility of individual athletes has increased, fans often find the team through the star, rather than vice versa. Smart teams are building their brand and their customer experience around the star athletes, sublimating the team to the player. 

As organizations implement efforts across various outlets, they hope to give fans a more complete experience with the team. Utilizing star players is one way to provide a consistent brand message across platforms, and gives fans a more engaging and holistic experience.

3. Athletes engaging fans through social media

Connecting with individual fans through social channels gives sports teams an opportunity for unique, personal contact with their fans. A team’s social media channel iswidely accepted as an official voice, and so it behooves teams to provide an engaging and authentic experience. 

A team’s most popular social media content often comes from sharing something from their star athlete’s personal account. When Real Madrid posts an image on Instagram celebrating a recent victory, itgarners 1.2 million likes. Their star forward Christiano Ronaldo posts an image of himself strolling off the field and itcollects 4.4 million likes.

There is nothing wrong with 1.2 million Instagram likes. Real Madrid is one of the largest clubs in the world, but in this arena, the athlete overwhelms the team by a significant margin. By leveraging the popularity of the athlete to connect fans to the team, the brand reaches a much larger audience.

Bringing it all together

Sports and famous athletes have been a ubiquitous part of marketing in this country since the 1870s, and remain one of the most potent tools for reaching customers. As teams and brands develop new ways to harness and integrate fan passion into their customer experience efforts, they will set themselves up for greater success.

By promoting the athletes as the public wants to see them, utilizing those athletes in experiential marketing and engaging fans through social media, teams can realize genuine customer experience results.

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