Brands love sports stars. Athletes, their management and accountants love brands. So it is a win, win? Well, sometimes. Like any relationship there are ups and downs. Timing and fit are critical. You would not have wanted to be associated with Wayne Rooney when he was recently charged with drink driving. Even the best PR in the world would struggle to put a positive spin on that one. The more newsworthy the athlete, the greater the opportunity for positive association for your brand but the higher the risk if they are caught being indiscreet. Some brands, like marriages, stick around but Lance Armstrong, Maria Sharapova and Tiger Woods have lost support due to high profile controversy.
The most successful relationships between brands and talent are authentic, credible and fun. Lewis Hamilton had a brand association with Reebok, which never really hit the mark. It wasn’t the right fit for Lewis and it showed. In fact, a couple of days after the completion of the contract he took great pleasure in wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the Nike swoosh and shared on social media for the world to see. More harm than good for Reebok. Lewis has matured, is a global superstar and a valuable asset for team partners like IWC and Bose.
Nike has always been the go-to best practice in terms of athlete selection but they have lost their way recently to adidas who have engaged with up and coming talent and sub-culture. Nike has also faced the challenge from new players like Under Armour who leveraged partnerships with Anthony Joshua and Andy Murray. Under Armour work hard to understand the talent and know what will make engaging and sharable content on social media.
In team sports like football it is normally the club with the partnerships rather than the player. Unless you are David Beckham with a multi-million pound Tudor watch deal. I helped Epson leverage its association with Manchester United a few years ago and the world’s most lucrative soccer team had over 50 partners at the time. Players at the Carrington training ground went from film crew to photo shoots on the astroturf producing content for random Asian tyre brands. Would that make you buy those tyres? Or does the association make you perceive them to be more premium?
In individual sports like tennis and golf the athlete must become a true ambassador for the brand. Golf attracts an affluent global audience and golfers must truly become the spokespeople of the brand. That’s why the courting phase is so vital to mutual success. Ask not what you can do for a brand but what the brand can do for you. Take a leaf out of the James Bond playbook. EON Productions don’t ask for fees but they do want guaranteed marketing spend to promote their new release from brands like Heineken and Omega. So how will your club and hotel partner promote you to a new audience?
With clear objectives, including leveraging the brands global network, a rising star can easily reach the holy grail of car, watch and apparel partner. You just need Jerry Maguire on speed dial. Show me the money!