How To Pick A Sports Brand Ambassador

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In recent weeks a number of athletes have found themselves in hot water with sponsors, bringing the role of what a brand ambassador can and can’t do into the spotlight.

Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton said to a reporter from the Charlotte Observer: “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes. It’s funny.” 

England cricketer Ben Stokes was sacked by brand New Balance over behaviour that it said ‘does not match brand culture‘ (Stokes was arrested for an alleged incident recently).

Meanwhile Cam Newton, quarterback of the Carolina Panthers was dropped as an ambassador by yogurt company Dannon. Newton said to a reporter from the Charlotte Observer: “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes. It’s funny.” The brand said it was “shocked and disheartened at the behaviour and comments” from him.

In today’s internet era, brand ambassadors are under much more scrutiny than ever before and anything that is offensive, or questionable, in terms of actions or comments can results in them being dropped (and also losing a significant pay check) by brands.

How big is the athlete endorsement market? According to research from Florida State University, as of 2010, U.S. companies alone paid nearly $17.2 billion to
leagues, teams, athletes, coaches, and sports personalities to endorse their goods and services.

But how do sports brand actually go about finding and picking a potential ambassador in first place? Lets forget budget, cultural and brand fit, general awareness of a star, and just focus on the initial groundwork undertaken.

Like much in the world today, they rely upon data to pick their brand ambassadors.

Most brands rely upon what might be seen as a “brandometer” tool, which ranks athletes marketability. For example, Q Scores say they are “the recognised industry standard for measuring consumer appeal of personalities”, Nielsen also has its own rankings system (called the “N-Score”) which monitors for awareness, likeability and other attributes. These rankings breakdown how athletes are perceived in both positive and negative ways across a wide range of demographics including sex and age. Brands will use this information to then decide on if an athlete should be a brand ambassador.

Yet some brands are going another route according to this great piece by MarketingWeek. The piece outlines how social media presence is increasingly been measured (linked to an athlete’s performance) and how this can make brand sit up and take notice on if they should partner. Again, data analytics companies are offering their services and insights to brands to help them to make a decision.

Meanwhile, sports brand Under Armour seem to have perfected the art form of spotting top talent like basketball kingpin Steph Curry and golfer Jordan Spieth (before he won any majors) before they become huge stars. By performing in depth background checks and also consistent deep research to identify a nearly-there superstar before rivals do.

Increasingly, many are also opting to jump into alternative, or up and coming sports to gain an edge on rivals, especially in eSports and MMA and other increasingly popular sports. This is a trend which we’ll only see increase in the coming years.

In part two we will examine the top five biggest brand ambassador gaffes and the fallout from them. Read it next week.