It was recently announced that the most decorated American gymnast of all time, Simone Biles, would be parting ways with Nike to become the face of Athleta, a comparatively smaller women’s activewear company owned by Gap Inc. In doing so she becomes the second Olympian to join the brand, with track and field sprinter Allyson Felix joining Athleta in 2019 after also parting ways with Nike.
Even with Atleta being owned by Gap, the athleisure company has a fraction of the global brand awareness that Nike has, yet they still poached an incredible ambassador. Connecting athletes and agents with brands of all sizes is what we do at MarketPryce, so we LOVE this move by Biles, but it’s also a big event for the entire industry. Here are three reasons why Biles’ move to Athleta is great for sports sponsorship
1. There's Room For Smaller Brands At The Table
In leaving Nike for Athleta, Simone Biles joins a number of star athletes in recent years that have joined smaller companies and become faces of their brands (see Dwyane Wade and Li-Ning, or Klay Thompson and Anta). With Athleta, Biles will not only have the opportunity to collaborate with a design team to develop her own personal apparel line, but the company will also be funding a gymnastics exhibition tour for Biles following the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.
While larger brands will likely continue to have a leg up on attracting prominent athletes from a financial standpoint, it is becoming abundantly clear that smaller brands can offer just as much, if not more value in partnerships.
2. Shift Towards Identity-Based Sponsorship
Shortly after announcing her decision to join Athleta, Biles took to Instagram to comment, mentioning that her new partner shares a “passion to help girls rise and own their limitless potential.” She also added that Athleta’s commitment to diversity and inclusion were important to her when making the decision to make the switch.
In recent years, with athletes becoming more and more outspoken about values and issues that matter to them, we are beginning to see shifts in sponsorship that reflect just that. Athletes are looking for brands that not only create quality products that they genuinely love, but ones that align closely with their personal brands and identities. A pro athlete is more than just the sport they play and their sponsorships often reflect that.
3. Extension Beyond Sports
To follow up on athletes beginning to partner with brands that extend beyond their respective sports, Biles has touched on just that in a recent interview. “I feel like they (Athleta) also support me, not just as an athlete, but just as an individual outside of the gym and the change that I want to create, which is so refreshing.”
Biles’ unparalleled success in the gym is impressive, but so is her desire to make her sport, and sports in general, better and more inclusive. At just 24 years old, she has clearly developed in a business sense, but also as a person that will better gymnastics and the world for years to come. Athleta’s full support of her efforts is not only great for Biles, but also for brands in how they approach future relationships with athletes.