Rio 2016: After Team GB’s gold rush, the case for social elevation

After the Rio gold rush, Team GB’s athletes have returned to face a different sort of challenge.

While success may well breed success, the law of supply and demand means that British medal-winning athletes, who might have expected their podium moments to open the door to myriad sponsorship deals, have a new battle to win if they are to parlay their athletic success into an income.

The fact is that Team GB has become so successful, that the number of medal winners now outstrips the number of corporations willing to pay serious – they might say sensible – money for their services.

Over-supply of any commodity inevitably drives prices down and athletes are sure to feel that basic economic law at work in terms of sponsorship deals and in other areas like fees for motivational speaking.

That wasn’t the case when GB athletes routinely delivered only a handful of medallists – and when golds were so rare that the winners became household names even when they had triumphed in sports which, under all other circumstances, were roundly ignored by the public and media alike.

Today, things are different. A hard-earned Olympic medal may once have been a fast-track to lucrative sponsorship deals but right now it simply puts medal-winning athletes in competition with each other for the deals.

Of course, every medal-winner will have more or less automatic marketing value in their own individual spheres. A winning kayaker is likely to be feted by manufacturers of kayaking equipment and, possibly, by businesses based in their hometowns where they are local heroes. Those are the areas in which their personal brands are strongest.

What is more difficult is to break into the corporate big time. Banks, supermarkets and others who would normally be expected to bend over backwards to drape their colours over an Olympic medal winner are faced with more choice than ever. That means it is up to the athletes themselves to differentiate themselves and build their personal brands into something which elevates them above the run of the mill jock-for-hire, with the same old stories of how unswerving focus, hard work, guts and sheer determination got them to where they are today.  That’s not to belittle those achievements in any way, it is simply that the stories are generally similar and their impact is seriously diluted when there are 67 of them rather than five or six.

The sudden gold glut is good news for brands, if not for the athletes. Now they have a choice: they’ll be able to select talent that looks good and feels natural selling their products rather than simply making do with what what’s available.

In many ways these issues highlight fundamental changes taking place in sponsorship, changes which are being driven by social media. The old hierarchy, which equates sporting success to marketability, may not have been banished entirely but it is under threat in an era where athletes are able to build their personal brands and engage with massive audiences by having something different and important to say.

The most successful will be those who are able to work with brands to deliver something fresh and add value across social as well as other forms of media.  Those who can take a lead, who are natural communicators, who have ideas and opinions and may even be able to go beyond sport, are those who will thrive in the new era of sponsorship and endorsement.

In a way, the standards have been set by a new generation of stars who don’t come from sport or entertainment but are the progeny of social media itself. Some are now among the most marketable and influential people on the planet.

That’s the bar that’s been set for athletes looking for a slice of the cake as sponsorship evolves. Athletic success gets you so far but something extra is needed to really crack the big time.

It’s a change which is beginning to gain traction, and it’s why at SnapRapid we have been working on and investing in the development of proprietary athlete image recognition technology which uses ‘Deep Learning’ to be able to recognise an athlete, player or personality’s image whenever or wherever it appears in images and videos across 11 social media networks, as well as hundreds of thousands of websites and digital channels worldwide.

No matter how engaging and successful a personality may be, in social media it doesn’t mean a thing unless you know where and when they are being seen, in what context and amid what surrounding sentiment. That’s why we track athletes as well as brands, providing data that not only enables proper values to be attributed to exposure but which aid the elopement and delivery of more sophisticated social and digital strategies.

And so far, as we are concerned, knowing the value of both athletes and brands on social and digital, and understanding what works and what doesn’t, really is pure gold.

Russell Glenister is the founder and chief executive of digital sponsor tracking service SnapRapid.

Originally published in SportsPro, 26 August 2016

OlympicsRio 2016Team GB

Russell Glenister • 1st September 2016

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