Interest in wellness, exercise, and sports is at an all-time high. CNN reported that high-intensity training (HIIT) will be the big trend for 2018, along with sports-specific training, group training, and wearable technology. The sports market is also growing financially, with around $620 billion spent annually in the category. The surge in interest in sports, physical activity, and wellness has led to a surge in interest in the people who do those things — from pro athletes to yoga instructors and beyond. Savvy brands and marketers in the sports and fitness industry can take advantage of people’s trust in athletes and trainers through sports influencer marketing.

What Is Sports Influencer Marketing?

Even before the recent increase in interest in getting active and being healthy, athletes and personal trainers had a lot of sway and influence over people’s opinions. Brands have been using athletes for marketing purposes for decades.

For example, baseball players, football players, and Olympic stars have been making appearances on Wheaties cereal boxes since the 1930s. Nike produced its Air Jordan sneakers for basketball player Michael Jordan back in the 1980s, and the sneakers remain popular today, even though Jordan has long since retired.

Today’s sports influencer marketing moves the action to social media. Brands might still partner with athletes for the production of specially branded shoes or clothing, and they might still sponsor athletes, having them appear in TV and print ads. But it’s no longer just the professional athletes who are getting the attention of sports companies. Today, a high-profile high school basketballer or a personal trainer with a devoted following can often be featured in a marketing campaign.

Sports influencer marketing involves using the influence or social charisma of people (in this case, usually athletes or trainers) to convince someone (the influencer’s audience) to take a specific action.

Why Does Sports Influencer Marketing Work?

Why does influencer marketing work? It all comes down to trust. As a study from Nielsen demonstrated, the majority of people trust the opinions of others that they come across online.

Sports influencer marketing also works because of what’s known as the diffusion of innovation theory. You might also call this a trickle-down effect.

Influencers are either innovators (the very first people to try something out, whether that something is a new pair of sneakers or a new yoga mat) or early adopters (people who are constantly looking for new ways to change or improve).

Ideally — and thanks in part to the influence of the innovators and early adopters— the product eventually makes it way into wide use, and is adopted by the majority of people.

Case in point: Air Jordans. When Nike introduced the sneaker back in 1984, it was only intended for Jordan to wear. By the end of the year, though, the brand had made the shoes available to the wider public.

Who’s Using Sports Influencer Marketing?

Brands that produce gear for athletes to use while playing their respective sports, brands that make foods and drinks that appeal to athletes, and even brands that have little to do with sport itself have all tapped into the influence of athletes and trainers and made use of influencer marketing. Here are a few examples:

UnderArmor Sports Influencer marketing

Under Armour

Fitness and sports clothing brand Under Armour has a knack for partnering with up-and-coming sports influencers who might not have the household recognition of stars like Kobe Bryant or Cristiano Ronaldo. The brand signed a 4-year deal with tennis star Andy Murray in 2014, and also has partnerships with Misty Copeland, a ballerina.

Gillette Venus Sports Influencer Marketing

Gillette Venus

You might associate Gillette with mainstream sports, but the brand also partnered with gymnast Gabby Douglas during the 2016 summer Olympic games.

Nike Sports Influencer Marketing

Nike

One way that Nike has used sports influencer marketing is by partnering with soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo has well over 100 million followers on Instagram, making him one of the most followed people on the platform. Nike’s deal with Ronaldo is worth $1 billion, and is supposedly for life.

Smuckers Sports Influencer Marketing

Smuckers Uncrustables

Pre-made, crust-free sandwiches might not seem like a product that’s ripe for sports influencer marketing, but Smuckers partnered with athletes such as April Ross during the 2016 summer Olympics, and also worked with figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi back in 2011.

How To Find Sports Influencers

So, partnering with sports influencers or athletes seems like the right move for your brand. How do you go about finding and partnering with the right sports influencers? Unless you’re a big brand like Nike or Adidas, you can’t exactly call up a pro athlete out of the blue (and it’s likely even the biggest brands don’t do that).

You have a few options for finding sports influencers.

DIY

One option is to start searching on social media. Choose a platform (such as Instagram or YouTube). Then search for hashtags that are relevant. Look for ones related to your product or the sport you want to connect with.

You’ll likely end up with a list of people using those hashtags. Those people might or might not be athletes, and they might or might not be influencers. You’ll need to do a bit more digging to find out.

Look at the person’s follower count and engagement rate (are people liking or commenting on their posts?). Also pay attention to what they post. Are they strictly focused on one sports or fitness program? Or, Do they post about other topics as well?

Sports Influencer Marketing Platforms

Another way to find sports influencers is to use an influencer marketing platform. Sports influencer marketing platforms exist. And many platforms or marketplaces feature influencers in a range of niches or subject areas.

When you use a marketplace or platform for influencer marketing, you’re going to streamline your search. You’re no longer searching for an influencer in a haystack. Instead, potential influencers stand out from the crowd. It’s up to you to find the one that best meets your needs and brand.

You don’t have to be a sports brand to benefit from sports influencer marketing. Once you find the influencer who’s an excellent fit for your company and your campaign, you’ll have the chance to see how well influencer marketing can work for you.

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