Athletes Are Often Lagging Compared to Celebs in Creating a Stand-Out Brand on Social Media

Traditional sports agencies lack specialized skills in branding and content creation

Steph Curry in his Warriors uniform during a game; he is on the bench since he has a towel on his head
Stephen Curry is someone who has done a great job of creating a personal brand for himself. Getty Images

Pro athletes. Musicians. Hollywood stars. In our culture, famous personalities are the center of a nonstop cycle of action and engagement. Hobbies, friendships, family life, social causes and business ventures all lead to moments captured and shared on social media. When done correctly, this process makes the personal brand of a celebrity even stronger, which pays off big when it comes time to partner with a corporate brand or launch a business of one’s own.

But athletes aren’t keeping up with their celebrity peers when it comes to building personal brands. Too many leave the job for traditional sports agencies. The consequences are major: an amateur effort will lead to an amateur personal brand and squander potential audience interest. To develop effective personal brands and create the kind of content that engages social media followers, athletes must hire creative marketing agencies with expertise in brand building and content management.

A different type of talent

Athletes don’t come to the fame universe the same way performing artists do, even though the public looks at them with the same level of fascination. The very nature of their profession poses challenges when it comes to finding success as influencers.

An athlete doesn’t have to be a star to build a star brand.

Charisma is an old-fashioned way of talking about a strong personal brand. Both Hollywood and the music industry are in the charisma business. If you can prove you have it by cultivating a social media following, you can break in and stay in, as long as you keep your audience. But there isn’t any amount of creatively-deployed personal style that will get you into the NBA. Sports is about tangible, quantifiable metrics: height, weight, speed, scores, hits, shots.

Musicians and actors can’t become successful without knowing what sets them apart from everyone else. Their fame comes after they’ve figured out how to be unique in a way that captures people’s attention. Most elite athletes don’t know this, and why should they? But a skilled marketing team can work with the athlete and the people who know them best to draw out authentic interests and distinctive qualities that form the basis of a compelling personal brand.

As barriers fall, opportunities arise

In the old days, most pro athletes had stats, not brands. What the public knew about 95 percent of them was limited to their game day performances. The only way for an athlete to convey more than that was through a media interview or an endorsement deal, and those were only offered to the top performers. From the public’s side, it was no different. Fans could buy posters and apparel to show loyalty to the star of the season, but how could they engage with the lesser-known majority of pro athletes?

When digital and social media came around, they obliterated the gatekeeping roles of traditional media, ad campaigns and the national sports leagues. Suddenly athletes could share personal, unfiltered content: videos on YouTube, random thoughts on Twitter, playlists on Spotify, pictures on Instagram, livestreams on Twitch.

There’s enough interest to go around

Every pro athlete breathes rarified air compared the average American, and anyone who has made it into the elite world of pro sports will find an audience with the right content. An athlete doesn’t have to be a star to build a star brand. People are wildly curious about the lives of pro athletes: their diets, training regimens, motivations, musical tastes.

Personal content trains fans to act on their interest. It rewards them for engaging with an athlete’s social media presence, and when their attention is quantifiable, as is often the case on digital media, it can be leveraged. Look at JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the NFL, he’s one of many talented players, but in the global world of gaming, his Twitch livestreams have made him a white-hot star with a six-figure endorsement deal.

Creative resources are key

Brand building is a creative discipline, and sport agencies lack the experience to perform successfully at every level of the process. They don’t know how to pull resonant emotional narratives from a biography. They don’t know how to elevate a message through content. They don’t know how to edit and shape that content—be it blog post, photo or video—so the end product is professional and scalable.

Athletes who want to make the most of their playing years need to get help from marketing agencies with experience building brands, creating digital properties, curating and shaping content and managing content platforms. And the earlier into their careers they do so, the better. Over half of NBA players face financial crisis within five years of retiring, and the numbers are even tougher for athletes coming out of the NFL. A strong personal brand is a solid foundation for building a vibrant post-playing life full of adventures and options.

Mark Morse is the founder and CEO of Morsekode.
Darren Glover is the brand and culture marketing lead at Morsekode.