The evolving modern athlete of today and tomorrow does not only have to take care of his athletic performance on the field but increasingly also of his activities off the field. We discuss the different roles of today’s modern athlete.
Athlete of today has many responsibilities
Nowadays, it is not sufficient to just perform at your peak at the right time. Fans, sponsors, clubs, equipment manufacturers, charities and journalists are just a few of the user groups that require time and attention of today’s elite athlete. Why is this important? Because, it gives additional opportunities to both monetize and improve his or her athletic performance. This may significantly increase revenues during and even after his or her career. By building a personal brand and engaging with fans, there are ample ways to do this.
Demands are ever increasing
Clearly, athletic performance is still the key driver behind the popularity of a professional athlete. Fans do want to see their favorite athlete or team perform to the max; in fact, they love to identify themselves with the stars. However, these same fans demand more and more. For example, they now expect content that tells a little on the background and personality of their favorite stars. They like to hear good stories. They want their favorite to act as excellent role models etc etc.
Transparency, identity and values important
This means athletes have to take care of those needs and have to carefully craft their public image, wich should be aligned with their own personality. This is not an easy task. Their reputation can get ruined with just one action. We have seen numerous times, how athletes can destruct their image and careers through one faux pas.
It is therefore important that today’s modern athlete is transparent and fully aware of his identity and his values and is living by these standards. Transparency is all about openness, speaking out and not hiding anything. Identity are the qualities, beliefs, personality, looks and/or expressions that make the athlete the person who he or she is. Values are the principles and standards that someone lives by.
If the sportsman/woman is aware of this and knows what his identity and values are (and unfortunately many do not, just like people in the real world), he or she can align his/her actions. Realness really pays out here! The fan immediately recognizes this, because he has access 24/7 to so many resources now, that it is almost impossible for the athlete to hide away. If he/she does not align his actions with his/her identity and values, these same actions will likely backfire rather sooner than later. Values, identity and speaking out do pay off. The ones that are doing this best, are also stand to benefit the most! In the end actions translate into popularity and hence into money.
The different roles of the athlete
Below, we describe several roles of the athlete which are either performance related, fan related or business related. All of these interconnect. If done properly and aligned with identity and values, they will help the atlete to monetize his or her actions. Clearly some of these responsibilities can be taken care off by his or her manager. However, in order to be successful he or she has to actively participate. OK, let’s discuss the 7 main roles which a successful competitor has nowadays.
1. The athlete as performer (performance and fan related)
The most important role of the athlete is obviously still his athletic performance. This is his main purpose for existence and the reason why he started doing this in the first place. It is also why fans start following him in the first place. Hadn’t it be for sports, nobody would know him anyway. Of course it helps when you are a star, but this is not entirely necessary. There are plenty of examples of less famous sports professionals, who have carefully crafted their social media strategy and make a decent living out of this: they have become more of a social media star than anything else.
Paige Spiranac is a professional golfer, but not that wellknown for this role. However, what she has perfectly done is raising and crafting her profile as a social media star. Mind you, she has close to 4 mln followers on both Instagram and Facebook and is smartly leveraging her golf into the business world, becoming a major influencer and standing for her beliefs. Smart and nothing wrong with that! It tells you that in today’s world there is also place for athletes who are not performing on top levels.
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2. The athlete as Influencer (fan, business related)
The athlete as influencer has become ever more important, certainly now that GenZ and the millennials feel more connected with a superstar than with a team. This should tell you something, not? These generations are becoming increasingly important vis-a-vis the babyboomers and genXers. It means that brands are shifting away from team related marketing more into the direction of individual athlete centric marketing. This slowly but surely is becoming the new normal! For athletes being active as influencers this is extremely important. It gives him or her not only an opportunity to interact with fans, it also offers them yet another possibility to monetize their careers.
Again, it is important here that when being active as an influencer, you align with your identity and values. It has to be you and what you stand for and believe in. Walk the talk! Practice what you preach! So, if you support sustainability and the environment, stay away from engagements with plastics and or oil companies. Your credibility will be hurt and it will not go down well with your fanbase.
A good example of a player living up to his own values is the American Football player Colin Kaepernick. We all remember him, don’t we? Fans do recognise him as real and a person who speaks out and hence he is enormously important as an influencer. Not surprisingly Nike has become an important sponsor of him. This company is all to aware of the importance of individual athletes and what they can do both for the community and the brand.
Also interesting to read: 14 awesome ways how fan engagement will improve in the future
3. The athlete as Content creator/rights owner and distributor (fan, business related)
Building a personal brand and connecting with fans is incredibly important for creating value. Your fans are your followers and vice versa. The size of your social and digital following as well as your brand are the main criteria for getting those all important endorsements and sponsorship deals. Hence, it is important to connect with your followers/fans, which represent value. If you do this regularly, you create trust and a long term relationship. One way of doing this is creating content. This means not only posting news, pictures and or videos but also storytelling, special content and giving your opinion on social matters.
Fans do expect athletes to be active on social media and tell them what’s going on. By creating their own content, athletes are taking destiny in their own hands. The athlete is no longer dependent on third parties but will also be able to interact directly with the outside world. I expect that this trend will become ever more important in the future. Additionally, athletes will own the rights to this content and leverage these rights into distribution deals. You already see platforms arising such as Players Tribune, which is an example of such a platform. The underlying statement of Brian Finkel says it all! That’s why it’s important to connect with your fans.
“The fewer barriers there are between athletes and fans, the more commercial opportunities that will materialize. The value in having fans relate to their favorite players is immeasurable.”Brian Finkel, Deloitte Sports Research
4. The athlete as data vendor (performance, business related)
The athlete in the role of data-vendor will become ever more powerful! All the important trends in the world of sports are data related and hence are leading to the athlete. He will be the main transmitter and carrier of data, not only for his own benefit but also for the benefit of the wearable- and smart textiles industries, for fan engagement purposes, for data analytics companies, for stadiums, for training programs, for media companies, best practices etc.
Many industries will be benefiting from these data. The NFL is already pretty far advanced with its Whoop system, which is a wearable monitoring your recovery, sleep, training, and health and with personalized recommendations and coaching feedback. It allows players to monetize their personal data. For example, the Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes is one of the featured athletes, whose data can be tracked. It is a win win for the sports professional, the fan and the equipment manufacturer. For the athlete it means an additional important role with a new source of revenue: the role of data vendor.
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5. The athlete as rolemodel and ambassador (fan related)
This role again has everything to do with identity, values and fan connection. The modern fans want their stars to socially engage and speak out where they stand for, whether it concerns kids, environment or whatever. This is the reason why many athletes establish a foundation or are actively involved in charities. Clearly being an ambassador for a charity or social cause increases the likability of a star and hence his commercial value. This is a role which does not directly reward the athlete in terms of money, but indirectly.
However, it is walking a thin line again. If an athlete supports a cause for his own (longterm) benefit and it does not correspond with who he really is, fans will notice it and probably drop the athlete because of fake behaviour. Again, walk the talk, practice what you preach!
Additionally, the athlete is also a main representative for his sports and/or his club. Clubs and federations demand their athletes to be rolemodels and ambassadors. It means showing social responsibility and being representatives of the club’s values and identity. If they misbehave, this can have huge repercussions and hence affect their commercial value. The recent example of Mason Greenwood tells it all. Greenwood, who recently was arrested on suspicion of rape and assault, immediately was dumped by Nike, whilst this action will have huge repercussions for his future career.
6. The athlete as Entrepreneur (business related)
Clearly this is an all important role as all other roles are combined in this one. The entrepreneur is the one who negotiates and closes the deals with equipment manufacturers, analytic firms, sponsors, clubs etc. He is the one who does not only manage all the different activities of the athlete but also the one who is monetising these activities. Quite often this is the athlete’s manager or management as it is too time consuming for him or her. However, involvement and awareness will be ultimately important for him or her.
7. The athlete as manager
The managerial role of the athlete is the all important one besides his performance in the arena. It takes care of managing all his different roles where required, as well as is monetising these different roles mentioned above. As the athlete has limited time and in some cases knowledge, some of these responsibilities can be taken care off by the athlete’s manager. However, in order to be successful the athlete has to actively participate and be aware of what his values and identity are. Selection of the right manager is therefore ultimately important.
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Nadal and Federer great examples of modern athletes
A good example of two athletes who are very aware of all these different roles and whose values and identity are perfectly aligned with their actions, are Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Both are very different but tremendously popular with their fanbase. Realness and being aligned is what counts here and this is reflected in the brands they represent, the ambassador roles they have taken on and the entrepreneurial activities they undertake. That’s how it should be done! Many try to follow-into their footsteps. Let’s see who succeeds….
- Values: style, integrity, modesty, family, joy, learning, sportsmanship
- Identity: the graceful artist
- The athlete performer
- The influencer: 34.1 mln social media followers (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)
- The data vendor: ?
- The ambassador Roger Federer Foundation, Unicef ambassador, makeawish foundation
- The entrepreneur: TEAM8 (sports management and entertainment), Laver Cup, On (running shoes)
- The manager: TEAM8 Tony Godsick
- Sponsors: Rolex, Mercedes, Credit Suisse, Moet Chandon, Wilson Uniqlo
- Values: humility, family, hard working, learning, respect, perseverance, never give up, sportsmanship
- Identity: the worker, the matador
- The influencer: 37,8 mln (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)
- The data vendor:?
- The ambassador: Rafael Nadal Foundation, Laureaus Sport for Goods foundation, Small Steps project
- The entrepreneur: real estate, hotel/restaurants, tennis academy
- The manager: Carlos Costa
- Sponsors: Telefonica, KIA, Nike, Mapfre, Richard Mille
Concluding, the job of the future athlete will not get any easier. His different roles will require alignment of values, a clear identity and transparency both on and off the field. Just performance no longer will do the trick. What is your opinion. Please share your thoughts.