How the Sports Industry has Embraced Influencer Marketing

Written by Ryan Berger, Founder, Berger Shop & Founding Partner, Julius with HYPR

As the world of influencer marketing continues to grow, we are seeing a huge adoption in certain categories for the first time. Whether it is fashion, automotive or CPG, we have seen a shift in how brands talk to consumers, moving away from buying media and towards executing “human media,” or working with people to tell their stories and share their messages.

We are seeing categories such as pharma beginning to tap into creators and influencers who can lead the conversation for these brands, and ultimately influence purchase decisions in line with what consumers want today.

My favorite industry, sports, has always been more traditional in how they market, partnering with cable companies, sponsors and other partners to amplify their messages. But over the last five years, as technology has exploded, so have new ways to market for teams and leagues – and the industry has been at the forefront of innovative ways to tell their stories, driving their narrative with existing fans all across the world and finding ways to drive revenue with new fans.

I have been deeply involved in the sports industry for the last 15 years, going from helping the professional basketball team in NYC create a word of mouth campaign to attract the league’s biggest free agent, Lebron James, to play in there; to consulting for several sports teams to help them navigate the new media landscape; and most recently, working with many of the major sports leagues to provide them with a digital platform to identify and manage influencers as well as create influencer campaigns on their behalf.

As teams have adopted technology platforms and fan engagement tools, like our platform, Julius with HYPR, we have seen a huge shift in how these clubs and leagues work with creators. We have been working with many NBA teams, including the Portland Trail Blazers, who needed a new fresh group of influencers to work with. We were able to connect them with new influencers and creators, allowing them to reach larger and more diverse audiences, which ultimately resulted in new revenue from new fans.

“The Trail Blazers can shout from the top of the rafters how great it is to come to a game, but when people hear that same thing from other fans and creators, there is nothing more powerful,” said David Long, the Director of Innovation for the team.

Jessica Ciccone, New York Jets Vice President Content Strategy & Marketing, says the Jets think along the same lines. She notes, “It can’t just be about our brand – it’s about finding opportunities to engage that are authentic to both the influencer and the New York Jets. Partnering with influencers is a two-way street. When the collaboration resonates with both audiences, everyone wins.” Jessica and her team at the Jets have been so great to work with over the years, as they continue to experiment with new ways to reach fans, from draft night parties for fans with influencers to influencer-hosted episodic shows that fans can interact with. 

Finally, as sports continues to push the envelope into new, exciting areas, I have been working on launching a new company, called DAPS, with two NBA players and a 22- year-old CEO who just finished playing Ivy League basketball. Together, we identified an idea that taps into NIL, allowing college and high school athletes a chance to make money. DAPS taps everything I’ve learned about the industry, and is a new applicationhelping professional basketball players, and amateur hoopers as well, monetize their content and gives fans an easy way to connect with their favorite players in ways they never have before.

Want to have your favorite baller follow you on Instagram? Or have them do a duet on TikTok with you? We want to turn consumers into fans, and we want to turn fans into superfans, by delivering these digital experiences in unparalleled ways, allowing fans to engage with their favorite athletes in ways they never have before. Want to have a 15- minute cup of coffee on Zoom with the point guard of the Orlando Magic? Just sign up on DAPS and get the milk and sugar ready.

The PR Net Digital Event Recap: 'Affiliate Marketing: Influencer Intel'

Last fall, we hosted a digital event covering the ins and outs of affiliate marketing with insights from the media side. Now, we revisited the topic to focus on a prominent practice within this realm: how to successfully engage influencers in affiliate marketing campaigns. We heard from LTK's Reesa Lake, VP & Head of Creator Expansion & Agency Partnerships, and Ally Anderson, Director of Strategy & Insights, Brand Partnerships, as well as Cynthia Andrew, the content creator behind @simplycyn, on affiliate marketing best practices from both the brand side and the influencer perspective.

The takeaways: 

  • Creator marketing is here to stay
  • 75% of surveyed marketers intend to dedicate a budget to influencer marketing, and 90% believe influencer marketing is an effective form of marketing
  • The definition of “winning” in creator marketing is different for every brand (goals could be to generate content, target a new demo, drive sales, etc.)
  • Creators on affiliate platforms often search by commission rates; if your brand goes on a platform like LTK, think about what will incentivize a creator (is your rate comparable to another brand’s/retailer’s?)
    • The standard offering from brands is about 13-15% 
  • Provide creators with the tools and data they need to see the user journey (did they click a link but the item was too expensive?) in one place
  • Creators are doing so much and working across so many platforms, they prefer an all-in-one platform (like LTK) over joining another platform for a specific brand’s affiliate program
  • When setting up your creator framework, start by deciding KPIs, and make sure to vary them, i.e. include goals across performance, awareness, reach, sales, etc.
  • Analytics are key: how will you know how to pivot and shift your program if you don’t know your results?
  • Be strategic in your influencer casting process
  • Gen Z partnerships are a top priority for brands: 92% of this group make purchases based on influencer recommendations
  • TikTok tip: brands could increase chances of generating ROI (since direct links/other tools not available there) by working influencers that have a strong following on other platforms, or a very similar audience on TikTok as they do on other platforms
  • 2020 saw an influx of users spending even more time on social platforms, which made it financially rewarding for creators; people felt bonded to/gained trust in creators on recommendations, etc. This sentiment has remained 
  • Focus on what platforms people are spending their time on. This is where people are getting their inspo from (travel, food, fashion, etc.) and if there’s an easy affiliate link (like on LTK), audiences buy 
  • Advice for brands looking to work with creators on affiliate marketing or other campaigns: 
    • Do your homework - creators respond better when they feel you understand them, their content and their audience 
    • Creators prefer longer term (at least six months) projects versus one-offs, as they feel more authentic and natural, not just transactional 
    • Be careful who you select from the beginning, and make sure you appreciate them and they appreciate your brand
    • Audiences feel like they have a relationship with content creators and they trust them, so let creators do what they do - they know what their audiences respond to

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