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Athlete Influencers: The Rise or Pitfall of Sports?
In-depth look at the rise of athlete influencers and the entertainment commercialization of sports.
Some are calling 2023 the year of the “athlete influencer”.
And I agree…
But this rise has been going on for years now (finally kicking into full gear thanks to NIL.)
However, there are a lot of unintended consequences we might not be paying enough attention to.
Athletes are going through a great transformation (and this is going to have a profound impact on sports as a whole).
Let’s Dive In 👇
TikTok is Easier Than Sports
The bottom line is this…
It’s far easier to grow a social media following than it is to become a professional athlete. (Trust me, I’ve tried both)
And ironic enough, once you become a professional athlete it’s much easier to grow a social media following.
But we actually have to go back a step…
Only 7% of high school athletes go on to play college sports.
And 2% of those college athletes go on to play professionally.
Looking at men’s basketball, 60 players make the NBA each year out of an original population of ~500,000 high school players (0.012%) 🤯
*The percentages are actually much lower if you account for the millions of kids that play sports globally.
Historically, it’s been extremely difficult to make money from sports themselves.
But, NIL has enabled athletes of all ages to make money.
So who does this impact the most?
But I’ll take it a step further…
In my opinion, women’s sports are going to be impacted the most by the rise of athlete influencers.
We’re already seeing it with Livvy Dunne, Paige Bueckers, and the Cavinder Twins.
Teams are going to be filled with female athlete influencers (or at least trying to be).
I was talking with a volleyball coach last week and she said “I’ve never seen as much dancing on the sidelines as I did during this year’s college volleyball playoffs”.
Women’s sports leagues have traditionally struggled to garner eyeballs.
Interestingly, many of these individual female college athletes are having no problem earning attention.
The key is to leverage these athletes to help bolster the sports, leagues, and teams…
Pickleball has been great for both male and female athletes — and I’m excited to see how the pro women’s volleyball leagues turn out.
Male Athlete Entertainers
It’s not just female sports that are going to be impacted…
Men’s sports have similar things to deal with.
The fact that after 18 years of business, Ballislife decided to raise a $2.7M Series A is all the proof you need.
They’re a highlight tape, showbiz, & entertainment version of basketball media.
Ballislife sees the value in eyeballs — people want to see dunks, crossovers, blocks, and trash-talking (their revenue is up 800% in the last year).
Nobody watches a 30-second TikTok of good ball movement or a player who has sound fundamentals.
Let me show you why this is important…
Many players (and parents) are beginning to realize that it is a long shot to make it to the pros.
But social media stardom and the clout/money that comes along with followers are very much in grasp within sports.
So we’re starting to see athletes optimize for social media views & likes, compared to development in their game and attention from scouts.
Keep in mind…
There’s going to be a lag effect in how this plays out (but it will undoubtedly change the landscape).
Downstream Athlete Influencer Impact
The combination of these things is fueling all of this:
NIL - athletes of all ages can monetize
TikTok - short form video clips have created “30 second athletes”
Monetization - athletes as entrepreneurs creates money-driven thinking
Sports have always been about entertainment, but it’s ramped up now.
Here are some of the side effects and collateral damage:
shorter attention spans
coaches have a harder job
education takes a backseat
the constant need for fans to be entertained
athletes thinking more about how to make money vs. get better
I’m sure throughout the ages people have said “we live in such an interesting time period”, but 2023 is so strange.
What’s Being Built
There’s so much potential in building companies, software, and services around athlete influencers.
I covered the landscape in a prior briefing, the rise of creator platforms.
But let’s take a quick look at some other options:
Media - the Ballislife model could certainly work in other sports
SaaS Tools - in my opinion, anything to help save athletes time is valuable
Videography - schools, companies, and athletes are going to have an increasing need for videographers
Editing - with all this extra video content, editors are needed to turn raw clips into a final product
Legal - more brand deals = more contracts
Agents - athletes with more opportunities creates the need for more gatekeepers
Community - membership groups are interesting, we’re starting to see a rise in communities built around athletics
Sports are in the process of becoming fully commercialized — from t-ball social media sensations to Patrick Mahomes.
In my opinion, sports companies need to be thinking about the downstream impact athlete influencers will continue to have.
Starting a sports company from scratch in 2023? You should 100% think about targeting the youth sports landscape.
The Path Ahead
When I was growing up, kids wanted to be professional athletes.
Most kids today want to become YouTubers, streamers, and social media stars (especially in Western countries).
Ironic enough, the worlds of athletes and social media influencers have collided.
Room for concern…
If athletes use sports to boost their influencer status — at least they’re able to make money, bring more publicity to the sports, and learn real-world business skills.
Are these positives or negatives?
It’s all in your perspective and opinion.
However, there is one thing I am worried about…
The mental health of these athletes.
Because the reality is — most kids won’t become pro athletes or famous social media influencers.
A congruent piece to “athletes as influencers” is the ability for them to monetize their data.
This week’s guest was Dave Anderson, an NFL wide receiver turned Co-Founder/CEO of BreakAway Data, a top 10 most innovative company in sports according to SBJ.
Some segments you'll love:
1️⃣ Athlete Biometric Data: who owns it, how it’s utilized, ways it can be monetized
2️⃣ Challenges (and opportunities) of creating a data platform
3️⃣ Habits that both elite athletes and entrepreneurs possess
➕ a ton of other insightful topics you don’t want to miss
Check out the podcast episode here.
Thanks for reading today.