Marvin Amankwa-Dei, CEO of The Sweat Experience, has written an article about the power of storytelling with athletes...
Sports is a universal language, in fact it is one of the few languages that resonates with everyone and brings people together. Within this language, the core communicators are athletes. Athletes are driven competitors, they use their goals to pursue sporting adventures, are willing to travel the world in search of their dreams all the while striving to be the best version of themselves. They are the epitome of breaking both physical and mental barriers, through this - inspiring the world.
Fans are the lifeblood within any professional sports, and in essence, some could argue the main reason why anybody in the sporting world succeeds. Fans develop an emotional and long term attachment to a sport, a team or a specific athlete, an attachment which usually happens through family influence, personal sport preferences, and most importantly the media. Broadcasting allows fans to relate to athletes on a personal level, and this has traditionally served as a vehicle to celebrate, support and illustrate an athletes journey.
The traditional means used to highlight athlete's performances in sports has mainly been through television broadcasting, where sports networks such as Sky Sports, ESPN and Eurosport have given athletes a platform to showcase their achievements, and in essence, their journey. They have therefore served as the link that has connects the athlete and the fans through initiatives such as interviews, which allows the fans to relate to the athletes on a more personal, and somewhat meaningful way. Documentaries have also served as vital in terms of highlighting the athlete's journey throughout their career, giving sports fans a greater and more in depth insight into the “people” behind the athletes that they love and support. A prime example of this link between athletes and fans is Sky Sports Footballs's Greatest Series which covers the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi & Zinedine Zidane, as well as ESPN's E:60 documentary covering the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady & Cam Newton & Steph Curry. All of these have played an invaluable role in enabling sports fans to develop an emotional connection with these athletes, by strengthening their understanding of their story. This link is further supported by written media, which all work towards solidifying the link between the fan and the athlete.
In addition to the media, sports brands and sponsorship have played a prominent role in narrating an athletes story, and thereby building on this link. Nike Co-Founder Phil Knight identified athletes as storytellers early on, placing the first Nike shoes on the feet of athletes at the Olympic trials in 1972, with the understanding that the legacy and the growth of athletes would become perhaps the most powerful tool to use when selling their products. The power of the athlete's appeal is ever growing, and brands recognize this, creating powerful leverage tool that benefits both parties. Influential sports athletes have a special connection with fans – a connection that can be used to both athlete's and the brand's advantage, and deliver maximum impact for both. Understandably, this directly impacts and strengthens that relationship between athlete and fan. Fans follow athlete's stories, wear their products and therefore maintain and fortify that relationship. Meanwhile, companies benefit from the powerful tool of the athlete's journey and the fan's attachment.
With the world embracing transparency, social media has given athletes the power to make the transition from being talked about to being their own journalist. The way we connect with the world has changed drastically through social media. News now reaches us the moment it happens, there no need to search for a newspaper to find out what has happened today, in every spare moment we are more focused on a screen- be it our phones or tablets, than anything happening around us. The amount of time spent on smartphones/tablets/digital media has increased dramatically and has become one of the main vessels for news stories reaching us.
Athletes have always been one of the most effective and profitable ways for companies to relate to and reach consumers. Sport brings out passions, promotes well being, is a prime illustration of sacrifice, commitment, hope,and creates in essence a monopolised fan base that no other industry can replicate.
There is no more effective way to beat competitors, than linking some of the world's top athletes with the product, and using social media to strengthen this has become a fundamental tool - again bringing the athlete to the fan's level, creating a personal and emotional relationship and thereby strengthening that bond further. Social networks are in many ways, the shortest most efficient means to deliver an athletes message to the fan. A renowned sports athlete serves as a credible and inspirational figure. The athlete therefore delivers to the sponsor, a customer base of millions of people who every minute of every day are interested in what they have to say, what they feel, what is going on in their lives, and even what they had to eat that day. There is therefore no need to visit a shop to see the latest trainers that an athlete is wearing, when millions of customers can see through one tweet, and wearing these clothes or using these products only goes to further cement this relationship between the athlete and the fan, as well as saving companies millions in advertising costs. It has never been easier to receive on the spot information about your idol, and companies have recognised and used this to their advantage in promoting their product.
As discussed, sponsorship plays an intrinsic role in an athlete's career. Creating this direct relationship between athletes and aspiring athletes means that from a commercial perspective, it would provide clarification and validation amongst potential sponsors, thereby providing greater access to the athlete while strengthening their understanding of the athlete's achievements, milestones and future goals. This would inevitably make athlete discovery a more unique experience, both commercially and on a personal level. Imagine being able to connect with your inspirational athlete for advice, being able to ask questions, share ideas and become a stronger athlete because of it. Having the support to start that journey, with the maximum impact, inspiration and drive. Building a lasting legacy - that would surely be the ultimate impact of the journey.