For obvious reasons, athletes have always been role models for athletic achievement. We look to them and want to be just as strong, as fast, as successful in our given sport. But their status as role models has the potential to expand far beyond the sports world, and we’ve seen that trend accelerate in recent years.
Student and professional athletes have begun, on a large scale, embracing activism with the same amount of determination they bring to their on-the-field craft. Some of the biggest names in sports like Colin Kaepernick, Renee Montgomery, Megan Rapinoe, LeBron James, Naomi Osaka, and many more are driving the conversation on a number of key social issues like voting, racism, sexism, equal pay, and more.
At MarketPryce, we love looking at topics like these from an athlete marketing perspective and, believe it or not, sponsorship and activism are pretty closely related. To talk more about this, we sat down with John Balkam, who we work closely with at MarketPryce. Balkam is the founder of Third Win Group, an independent agency that works with athletes and artists who serve their communities and protect the planet.
“Athletes are not just competitors and entertainers. “They’re also complex human beings who care about a bunch of different things,” Balkam said.
Ten or fifteen years ago, talking about these non-sports topics or using your platform to take a stand on them was frowned upon. While the “stick to sports” narrative still exists today in the dark corners of the internet, the tide has swung for the most part. Fans are interested in what athletes care about and so are brands!
“I tell my clients that you don’t have to sacrifice your personal values to make good money in marketing deals. You can be yourself, Balkam said. “Today’s brands want to associate themselves with you when you are more than an athlete.”
These ideas are much more than hypothetical. We’ve seen marketing deals with activism at the core play out on MarketPryce. Through our site, Balkam connected with Olivers apparel on behalf of his client Jeremy Casebeer, a professional beach volleyball player and climate advocate. The pair partnered to promote the brand’s recycled cotton and earth-friendly clothing in a deal that included an interview, a photoshoot, and multiple social media posts.
There are athletes with a natural predisposition to embracing cause-based activism, but there are also athletes to whom it comes less naturally, and that’s ok! There are definitely non-sports topics you feel strongly about, you just might not be aware that there is an element of activism to that topic. Politics and the environment are two of the biggest subject areas, but there is plenty to be said and worked on in areas like education, international affairs, gender equality, and more!
“What I encourage athletes to do is pick one to three causes, and go deep into those areas,” Balkam said. “By going deep in a few of those cause areas, that will help you establish your brand outside your sport and it will define who you are and what you stand for in the minds of your fans.”
For athletes, the bottom line is this: Don’t forgo your beliefs and opinions for a sponsorship deal. Your interests and the causes you support make you who you are, and they also make you a better marketing partner.