Big data has been tossed around the marketing and tech world for the better part of the last five years, but it is just now starting to become an invaluable tool to help brands determine their roster of sponsored athletes. To date, sports marketing programs have  involved finding the most famous or successful athletes your budget could afford and hope this affiliation would yield some positive influence and, ultimately, sales.

In today’s world, fans have direct access to athletes via social platforms, providing immediate feedback to those who are tracking the reach, engagement and overall earned media value generated from sponsored athletes.

In the first installment of this three-part series, we are going to explore how you can take a data-driven approach to determining which athletes you should invest in and who on your current roster is not delivering.

Before we go to deep into how you determine which athletes you should enlist, let's first touch on the shift that has happened in the last decade for fans. When we wanted to get up and close to our favorite athletes, it mostly happened over a broadcast or a live event. Fans would show up early to catch batting practice or watch their favorite rider turn a few hot laps and then stand in line to get a poster signed. This was about as close as we could get to "knowing" our favorite athletes.

Fast forward to the age of on-demand content, self-publishing and social media where enjoy instant access to athletes with a tap or click. Athletes are also aware that their communities are following along— sometimes with audience sizes that rival some of the largest traditional publishers.

The motive for brands endorsing athletes is still the same as it was a decade ago. However, the ways to evaluate an athlete’s value to the brand have fundamentally changed.

The good news in this changing landscape of fan engagement from mostly broadcast and offline to digital-centric is that we can measure almost everything to provide report cards to help you understand which of your athletes is generating the kind of value you expect. 


One of the only tools I know of that has spent time developing a formula to assess the earned media potential and actual value of athletes is Hookit. If you are in the process of evaluating your current roster of athletes, you can use their platform to analyze your athletes’ social posts, total fans, new fans, total interactions and how many posts were promoted. Once this analysis is done, you will be able to see which one of your athletes, or prospective athletes, has the most potential for earned media value (EMV).

One of the things I like the most about the way Hookit evaluates EMV is that their algorithm breaks down a post into multiple parts and assigns a value to how well the post meets these criteria. Here is an example to illustrate the depth of analysis.

Suppose you have a top athlete that posts a grainy photo on the podium wearing your helmet, but fails to mention you in the copy or to tag you in the picture. The resulting EMV will be lower than had he posted a professionally shot photo with a clear view of your helmet, tagged you in the picture, and added your branded hashtag.

Having this level of understanding can help you make decisions on whether to invest all your eggs in one basket or spread it out across multiple athletes who might have less celebrity appeal but a higher overall engagement rate.

In the next installment, we are going to share some practical tips to help you assess how well your sponsored athletes are promoting your brand and complying with the guidelines you have established.