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Last month, tennis star Serena Williams and her fashion brand S by Serena released a sequin jacket that could only be purchased through Instagram’s checkout feature, and in the week that followed, Instagram drove more than 50% of sales for the overall S by Serena site per The Wall Street Journal.
With 11.8 million followers, Serena Williams is part of the growing pool of sports-based influencers popular on the social media platform. And Instagram, which has recently been investing in its social commerce capabilities, understands the unique opportunities this category of influencer can offer in terms of attracting advertisers and brands to the platform.
Most professional athletes and their affiliate teams already maintain an active and popular social media presence with characteristics that make them attractive to advertisers. The most-followed person on Instagram is Portuguese soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo with 191 million followers. As of October 2019, the average media value of one of his Instagram posts was $928,000 dollars, per the InfluencerDB.
With ongoing exposure from their teams and leagues, athlete-influencers already have a preexisting and often loyal fanbase to drive user engagement. Moreover, operating in the contract-heavy world of professional sports, most athlete-influencers are experienced with maintaining a professional relationship with the brands and sponsors they work with, which could provide some welcome reliability in the influencer industry.
However, marketers should be aware that consumer perceptions of the unique relationship between athletes and advertisements may impact their effectiveness as influencers. Athletes have been a prominent part of the advertising industry for decades, from TV sponsorships to branded jerseys. As a result, most consumers are already familiar with the fact that athletes engage in promotional campaigns.
That could be a problem in the world of influencer marketing, where authenticity reigns supreme: According to a panel conducted by ExpertVoice, 54% of respondents were concerned about payments that celebrities, athletes, and influencers received for their recommendations. For brands interested in working with athlete-influencers, as with traditional social media influencers, precautions should be taken so that partnerships do not come across as artificial.
One potential solution to that problem could be on the horizon, as the NCAA is expected to allow college athletes to engage in sponsorships and promotions in the near future. Not only will that swell the overall pool of available athlete-influencers, but student-athletes could come across as more relatable and authentic than professional athletes.
As a result, college athlete-influencers will likely become an effective way to provide more localized advertisement to smaller audiences of students and alumni: In fact, Tyler Farnsworth, founder of August United told Forbes that his agency would be looking to partner with athletes with at least 10,000 followers on Instagram — a much smaller count compared with some professional players.
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