The evolving modern athlete

The evolving modern athlete

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 groups that require time and attention. Why is this important? Because, it gives the athlete additional opportunities to monetize and improve his athletic performance. This can significantly increase revenues during and even after his career. By building a personal brand and engaging with fans, there are many opportunities to do this.

The evolving modern athlete

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, because they love to identify themselves with the stars. However, the same fans demand more and more. For example, they now expect content that tells a little on the background and personalities of their favorite stars. They like to hear a good story.

Transparency, identity and values important

This means athletes have to take care of this need and have to carefully craft their public image. This is not an easy task. Their reputation can get ruined with just one action. 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 is. Values are the principles and standards that you live by.

If an athlete is aware of this and knows what his identity and values are (and many do not, just like in the real world), he can align his actions. Realness really pays here! The fan knows it, because he has access 24/7 to so many resources now, that it is impossible for the athlete to hide. If an athlete does not align his actions with his 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, will also 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 in monetising his or her actions. Clearly some of these responsibilities can be taken care off by the athlete’s manager. However, in order to be successful he or she has to actively participate. OK, let’s discuss the main roles a successful athlete has nowadays.

The athlete as performer (performance and fan related)

The most important role of the athlete is of course still his athletic performance. This is his main purpose for existence and 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 examples of less famous athletes, who have carefully crafted their social media strategy and make a decent living from this: they have become more of a social media star than anything else.

Paige Spiranac is professional golfer, but not that wellknown for that role. However, what she has perfectly done is raising her profile as a social media star. She has loads of followers and is leveraging her golf into the business world, becoming a major influencer and standing for her beliefs. Smart and nothing wrong with that!

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. That tells you something doesn’t it? 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 to individual athlete centric marketing. This is becoming slowly the new normal! For athletes being active as an influencer this is extremely important. It gives them not only an opportunity to interact with their 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! 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. Fans do recognise him as real and a person who speaks out and hence he is important as an influencer. Not surprisingly Nike has become a sponsor of him.

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 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, not only news, pictures and or videos but also storytelling, special content and giving your opinion on social matters.

Fans do expect the athlete to be active on socialmedia and tell them what’s going on. By creating your own content, you as an athlete are taking destiny in your own hands. You are no longer dependent on third parties but will be able to interact directly. I expect that this trend will only become bigger in the future. Additionally, athletes will own the rights to this content and leverage these into distribution deals. You already see some platforms arising, Players Tribune 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

The athlete as data vendor (performance, business related)

The athlete as data-vendor will become ever more powerful! All currently important trends as far as data is concerned, 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 allows players to monetize their personal data. The athlete will obtain an additional role with a new source of revenue: the role of data vendor.

Interesting read:11 important trends in the world of sports

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 rewards the athlete in terms of money, but indirectly it does.

However, there is 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 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 club values and identity. If they misbehave, this can have huge repercussions and hence affect their commercial value.

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 managment.

Athlete endorsements

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 the different roles of the athlete, where required, as well as monetising the 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.

Nadal and Federer good examples of modern athletes

A good example of two athletes who are very aware of all these different roles and who are living their values are identity are Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Both are very different but tremendously popular with their fans. 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….

Federer

  • Values: style, integrity, modesty, family, joy, learning
  • 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

Nadal

  • 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

Published by Jan Kees Mons

I am Jan Kees Mons. Just call me JK, that’s easier I guess. I am a Dutchman living in the heart of the city of Amsterdam. Right now I am living on my own. However, not for much longer, as I plan to live together with my lovely girlfriend.