The Modern Day Athlete
The game is changing.
We started to slowly see it with LeBron James. Then we started seeing it more in the NFL with players like JJ Watt & Drew Brews. Now it has completely exploded with the Ball Family and Big Baller Brand.
Don't get me wrong, athletes are still signing endorsements & sponsorship deals, but we are now seeing more athletes create, grow & monetize their own personal brands. Gone are the days, where athletes had to go through these big companies to generate money or attention around who they are.
They themselves are eliminating the middle-man and going straight to the consumer. We are seeing more athletes take advantage of their "celebrity" and brand because they know that they hold the leverage and power.
This has changed the way we look at the modern-day athlete and what we perceive a typical athlete to be. Michael Jordan was the first major athlete we saw that became a huge cultural symbol off of the court. Through his sponsorship deals with Gatorade and Nike, Michael proved that an athlete's value is worth more than just what we see on the playing field.
As he tied himself to these brands, people started to relate the two naturally and they began to buy more from these big companies because of this association. The emotional connection, respect, and admiration that people had for Micahel Jordan, directly transferred to the brands that he endorsed as well.
Though influencer marketing had been around for years, this was really the first major example we saw of an athlete's power to influence a culture. From this, more brands started to seek athletes to promote their products and reach the masses, making billions of dollars in the process, but now things have slightly changed.
Why Is This Happening?
The internet, connectivity and social media have changed the way we all do business.
It used to be that in order to be noticed you had to go through major networks and media outlets just to get your name out there to be heard. This didn't even guarantee conversions or that you would reach your targeted audience to sell your product effectively.
That's far from the case nowadays where everyone can be their own publicist and reach who they want to reach when they want to reach them. Almost every single person on this planet has a phone in their pocket with an unlimited capability to access anyone in the world. And it goes without saying that our phones aren't even just phones anymore. They are cameras, computers, and radios all in one device. Sometimes I don't even think people realize how remarkable this is.
We can literally have contact with anyone we want, from our favorite celebrities to the companies that we buy from. Everyone and I mean everyone who you could potentially want to get in contact with is on some form of social media and it has altered the way we create relationships with one another.
For athletes and people who are highly recognizable, of course, this can be a positive and a negative thing. Athletes are under more scrutiny, pressure and everything they do is under a microscope. At the same time, that transparency, and raw access to who they are as a person and individual can create a connection that is ideal for business opportunities.
See, the thing is that most people buy on emotion for logical reasons. People who have an emotional tie to certain athletes, such as Michael Jordan, will support them whether it's on or off the court.
Athletes can now change the narrative and create their own stories that resonate with fans to build meaningful relationships.
This shift in the culture that has only happened within the last 15 years, has slowly given the power and leverage back to the athletes that we look up to. And this doesn't just apply to the top athletes. Any athlete with an online presence and some type of attention surrounding them can get a piece of the pie as well, whether they're really talented or not.
As long as you can create attention, you have an opportunity.
These large companies will always have the capital and name because they have brand equity and have been around so long, but that doesn't mean that they will always hold market share.
More athletes are realizing this and taking advantage of this internet age. In a world where attention is money and athletes have the attention, why not capitalize off of it to create an empire for yourself?
What Does The Future Hold?
I truly think that more athletes will continue to build their own personal brands and slowly shift away from permanent partnerships, endorsements & sponsorships with these larger companies.
It only makes sense.
In this day and age where athletes can control how people perceive them and can connect with anyone in the world, they virtually control their own destiny.
These big brands don't necessarily have to have an impact on how much money they make off of the playing field because they can now go straight to the fans, who adore them the most, and instead of contributing to both the athletes and the large brands, these consumers would be solely supporting the athlete.
When the middle-man no longer applies, you take back power.
On the other hand, there is definitely no way that any professional athlete can manage every aspect of their brand and perform to their best ability on the playing field. That's just not practical by any means.
This is why it is crucial for athletes to surround themselves with people who have their best interest in mind and want them to succeed, especially in a world where almost everyone is trying to take advantage of them.
Athletes are businesses and they need brand managers, business managers, assistants and financial advisors who want what's best for them and who will help contribute to the growth of their brand for the sake of the athlete.
When building an empire or anything for that matter, you have to start with the foundation and that begins with the people that you place in your corner.
If an athlete does choose to start developing their own personal brand, it will without a doubt be a long, and arduous journey and you might even experience some major setbacks. Nothing different than what it takes to get to the professional level in sports.
Not every athlete will generate millions and millions of dollars through their own brand, but if freedom and independence are what you value, then I definitely think it's worth a shot.
As we've seen with the Ball family and the Big Baller Brand, if you're good enough at what you do and can make almost all of the right moves, then you might just go down in history and everyone will have no choice but to respect the hustle.
Doesn't matter whether they love you or they hate you.
Malcolm Lemmons is an athlete turned entrepreneur, author and speaker. He focuses on helping athletes brand themselves to prepare for life after sports. To check out more from Malcolm, visit his website at www.malcolmlemmons.com or connect with him on Twitter & Instagram