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How Athletes, Teams & Brands Can Benefit from the New Era of Athlete Marketability

Updated: Oct 15, 2023


50MM Athletes Logo

A NorthStar Solutions Group White Paper

By Tom Malkin, Practice Lead of Business Intelligence, Analytics & Insights Solutions



As NorthStar shared in last year’s 50 Most Marketable Athlete’s Methodology, the way athletes are being looked at from a marketability standpoint is significantly different now than in the past.


Historically, athlete marketability was largely based on in-sport performance. What was missing that was incorporated into last year’s 50 Most Marketable Athletes (50MM) was a more complete picture of athlete marketability. It thus combines an athlete’s performance with the most relevant societal values contributing towards the marketability of an athlete today, such as authenticity, gender equality, diversity and inclusion, citizenship and social and environmental causes.


With this combination of on-field performance and off-field factors d


riving today’s athlete marketability and 50MM going forward, there are three questions this white paper is going to address:

  1. How can athletes at any professional, amateur, college or high school level engage with audiences to discuss topics that contribute to athlete marketability, and how is this engagement impacting their athlete marketability?

  2. What were the key topics identified among last year’s top 100 Most Marketable Athletes towards athlete marketability (download the Top 100 SportsPro list)?

  3. How does this combined on-field and off-field approach to measuring athlete marketability affect the interrelationship among athletes, teams and brands?


How can athletes at any professional, amateur, college or high school level engage with audiences to discuss topics that contribute to athlete marketability, and how is this engagement impacting their athlete marketability?




As pointed out in a recent NorthStar article on the future marketability of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, The Knockouts before the Knockout, social media channels such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok enable athletes of any age to engage with their local communities or expanded global digital audiences anywhere in the world, at any time, on topics contributing to athlete marketability such as the causes they advocate, challenges they face on and off the field or interests they’re passionate about.


This type of engagement impacts athletes’ marketability in the form of the number of followers they gain on each of these social channels, also known as their social influence or social currency. These followers thus become an asset to an athlete that can be further grown and nurtured during the athlete’s career, as well as in their retirement, whether that be shortly after high scho


ol or well into their collegiate, amateur or professional careers.


Furthermore, the social followers of these athletes will likely, over time, include a demographically diverse audience, some of which were not even involved with an athlete’s sport. This is because the social media channels themselves become a platform not only for an athlete’s voice to be heard on issues, concerns and interests they care about as human beings, but also as a platform for people to soak up the athletes’ wisdom on how to be winners on the field as well as in the game of life.


What were the key topics identified that contributed towards athlete marketability among last year’s top 100 Most Marketable athletes?


Based on integrating best in class data science, machine learning and AI capabilities with qualitative and quantitative research methodologies, NorthStar identified 67 conversational topics discussed by the top 100 Most Marketable Athletes on one of the key social channels for social engagement - Twitter.


The key topics discovered that contributed towards athlete marketability were family, community outreach, diversity & inclusion, nutrition, training, education, gun violence and mental health.


Among these key topics discovered, family was the most talked about among the top 100 Most Marketable Athletes. This discovery made sense as about 47% of the top 100 Most Marketable Athletes are married. Furthermore, approximately 56% of the 50 Most Marketa


ble Athletes have more than one child and 38% of the next 51-100 Most Marketable Athletes have more than one child.


NorthStar also looked at 45 quantitative data fields related to the topic of family and learned that approximately 85% of the top 100 Most Marketable Athletes have pets, with about 90% of these pets being dogs.


How does this new era of athlete marketability impact the interrelationship among athletes, sports teams and brands?


New era of marketability for Athletes: Increases the Number of their Followers in Social Media and thus their Social Influence or Social Currency


This combined on-field and off-field approach encourages athletes to expand their reach by growing both a local and global community of followers, of sports and non-sport


s fans alike, across multiple social media channels. Athletes that successfully increase their online community of followers will create greater sponsorship opportunities within their sport even if they are not the starting player, open up their global reach and recognition even if their sport doesn’t provide global viewership, and create new and potentially unforeseen long-term career paths.


Additionally, this combined on-field and off-field approach guides athletes to leverage data insights to measure and grow their number of followers. For example, based on the insights from this article alone, athletes have learned that there is a global relatability to athletes who share familial and pet experiences that can drive social influence or social currency to complement other topics contributing to athlete marketability that are important to them.



New era of marketability for Sports Teams: Drives Attendance, Viewership and Engagement to their Live and Broadcast Events and Digital Brand Assets


This combined on-field and off-field approach also encourages teams to leverage data insights to find new and different ways to understand the values of their own athletes as well as their target audiences and relate their athletes’ values to those of their fans to drive higher attendance, viewership and engagement.


For example, using the insights from this article related to families and pets, there is an opportunity for teams to further engage with pet-owning families that watch and attend their events and digitally engage with their brands, by making the connection between the pets of the families following the teams and the pets belonging to the athletes performing for their teams.


As an example, the idea of sports teams doing a pet-themed event such as a Dog Day or “Bark at the Park” to drive attendance, viewership and engagement is not new. One


NFL team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, has taken the family pet theme to new heights by being the first team in the NFL to offer an actual dog park, Pet Paradise Park (which according to their website has raised over $108,000 for local charities).


Thus, if teams have already been making this connection with their fans who are pet-owning families, our recommendation is for them to take that extra step and relate the families and pets of their athletes to the families and pets of their fans as well.


Ideally, the two would be bridged by having the athletes bring their pets (most likely venue-friendly dogs) to a pet themed event sponsored by the team. For those fans or team athletes with non-venue-friendly pets such as cats, birds or reptiles, they could be shared on a team’s digital assets in a variety of entertaining formats including fans in-stadium voting for the best TikTok of a family and their cat, bird or reptile.


New era of marketability for Brands: Expands the Measurement of their Sponsorship ROIs and Enables them to Capitalize on Potentially Missed Opportunities


Another benefit of this combined on-field and off-field approach is that it encourages brands to look at athletes more holistically and longer-term from a sponsorship ROI standpoint.


Thus, an athlete who may not be a starter may have a tremendous local, national or global social following on an issue that resonates with the values of a brand such as environmental, social & governance (ESG) or diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI). Such an


athlete may yield a greater sponsorship ROI that in the short-term gives the brand access to new activated audiences because the values of both the athlete and athlete’s followers align with the brand. Longer-term, the sponsorship ROI would take into account not only the athlete’s on-field and off-field performance during the athlete’s sports career but also potentially the decades that follow an athlete’s on-field retirement.


Yet another benefit of this combined on- and off-field approach is that it encourages brands to leverage data insights to capitalize on potentially missed opportunities particularly from a marketing messaging and creative standpoint.


For example, using the insights from this article related to families and pets, there is an opportunity for family-oriented brands targeting families with kids as well as pet-oriented brands targeting pet-owning kids, single adults or families to further reach their target audiences through marketing opportunities with the athletes and/or teams (e.g. athlete or team sponsorships, advertising on a team’s digital or venue assets, etc.).



Specific to the top 100 Most Marketable Athletes, it was observed that man


y family-oriented brands were not currently sponsoring these athletes, thus creating an opportunity for the following brand categories to sponsor athletes and/or teams: health & wellness, DIY (Do It Yourself), travel, toys and games, family-oriented entertainment brands and housewares & appliances.


Moreover, there was not one pet brand retailer or manufacturer sponsor observed for any of the top 100 Most Marketable Athletes despite the fact that the pet industry is $103.6 billion as of 2022.


Finally, in this new era of on-field and off-field athlete marketability, brands of any size can sponsor athletes at any level in any community and, yes, even sponsor their pets! For example, in February 2022, the Richmond Road Veterinary Clinic in Lexington, Kentucky signed the first-ever college basketball player-pet NIL deal with University of Kentucky collegiate player, Davion Mintz, and his dog, Ghost. Stay tuned as brand sponsorship of athletes and their pets may be an emerging trend!





About the Author: Tom Malkin is the Practice Lead of Business Intelligence, Analytics & Insights Solutions for NorthStar Solutions Group. In 2022, SportsPro Media and NorthStar Solutions Group entered into a long-term partnership to reimagine and build a comprehensive, holistic data-driven model that paints the most complete picture of athlete marketability in the sports industry. In addition to an athlete’s on and off-court relatability and social influence, the model has taken into account an athlete’s citizenship, risk profile, demographic reac



h, consumer perception and sentiment, market demand, proactive engagement with social or environmental issues and growth potential.


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