Athletes are the new influencers and strategic assets for Clubs


Last year, the transfer of Neymar to Paris Saint Germain was massive because PSG managed to have more followers in Brazil than in France. Surprised? Personally not, as this is the change and the evolution. Going a bit in depth that was not a move for the media or to claim that they made the biggest transfer of the year. It was a strategic investment because it is a World Cup player and we should not forget that the owner of PSG linked this move with the World Cup in Qatar in 2022 to show globally that Qatar is ready to make viable this World Cup. Therefore, it is a strategy with a real global business plan which was boosted,

These are the words from Frédéric Longuépéedeputy chief executive of PSG, on the work plan:

“We will also be increasingly present in the US to develop the brand internationally, alongside the sports project, to ensure that PSG grows in the world and broadens its fanbase. Moreover, this is an opportunity to allow the brands that follow us to have the players at their disposal”.

In this evolving era, fanbase and footballers are strategic assets for sports companies! Why?

During the last decade, social media has evolved dramatically, increasing both its presence in our lives with impact on our culture and economy. Thus, Sports Industry is a concrete example of those consequences. Personally, a fundamental element of these new tools is the most ancient way of advertising: word of mouth. From there, in an exponential process, the message/content become viral. Most of you will think, no investments in adverts so things are changing.

But these changes with what focus on the goals?

From reading several opinions this scenario is emerging and evolving. And here is how influence comes into play which is real in that case. They have the ability to convey the message with honesty and credibility so as to enhance and represent the values. Definitely, we need to consider the relationship between sports media companies and fans, the transformation of athletes due to social media as well as the economic side. It is true that before social media no one was expecting that power with staggering rewards. However, player’s economic weight is important as they become real brands.

Sports Influencers for definition with digital touchpoints for vision. They are attracting people and is no longer about just branding and awareness….it is about a structured strategy. 

Because they are actors, constantly on the stage and behind the scenes fully exposed, with clubs and brands investing in them. Thanks to the spectators, they are in front of the screen, physically, digitally and virtually which simply leads to progressive involvement and personalization gathering data and generating positive ROI.

Like a Nation, always in Action

I do not see anyone better than me. No player achieves things that I am not able to do alone. There is no player more complete than me. People have the right to prefer Neymar or Messi. But I insist: there is no one more complete than me. I am the best player in history, for better or for worse”.

Cristiano Ronaldo on the pages of ‘France Football’, the day after the conquest of his 5th Ballon d’Or.

I am not sure whether he speaks of completeness or he also thinks about his social media numbers. A few years ago, Facebook urged Ronaldo to open a Facebook page. ” You can potential reach 10 million followers,” they said and he replied, “it is impossible, that is the population of Portugal!”. Despite his answer, it was created in 2009 and in few months he had more than 10 million, and at the moment he has 122 million which is approximately the population of Mexico. Impressive?? In my opinion is the admiration for him is the ace in the hole. Can you imagine what it means on a commercial level?

He is not only famous as a player, he is indispensable for Real Madrid, and he is a precious athlete in the world for the companies that he represents. However, we should not forget his value depends on how successful he is on the pitch. His successful media management is immaculate as the content strategy and organisation around his image allowed him to make recognizable the CR7 brand.

Other examples…Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Usain Bolt etc: common aspect for them is the followers through smartphone and tablets.

Brands, Teams and Sport Influencers

Everything is questionable, and even the data must be interpreted. But the idea is a relationship that is increasingly directly proportional, between the popularity of the teams and that of the athletes who are part of it. Few elements to prove that

  • ranked first among the most popular clubs on social media — with 187.4 million fans — is Real Madrid with the presence of an unrivaled asset like Ronaldo, which, between Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, brings together no fewer than 302.7 million followers;
  • in second place Barcelona — with 182.3 million supporters — who, compared to last year, lost the top spot in the standings — albeit only slightly — despite Lionel MessiAndrés Iniesta and Luis Suarez are in the top 10 of the most followed social standings. The reason? Probably the departure of fan idol, Neymar, second in the ranking of top social players, who moved to Paris Saint Germain. Who, instead, recorded a growth of 1.78% compared to a fan base that is currently 48.5 million followers;
  • on the third step of the podium Manchester United, with 109.4 million fans and, coincidentally, two recent and very social purchases, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba, respectively eighth and eighteenth in the ranking of the most followed players, and who together, make up almost 100 million followers;
  • a curious eighth place in Liverpool. 44.4 million fans of a team that has always enjoyed a very loyal fanbase, but a number of them can be traced back to another very special asset: the coach Jurgen Klopp. A subject of memes and viral videos, the former German footballer with a larger than life temperament receives the consent of many fans.

The way a footballer manages their social image, their ability to engage fans, to resist pressure, to offer the public an image as balanced as possible, but in some cases also pleasant and fun — within certain limits — has become so important that many teams, before engaging a player, evaluate their own reach. Also tracing a psychological profile and with a new dynamic that — in many ways — is an inspiration.

Identifying potential communication targets.

The language used, any scandals — posts of a racist or compromising nature –, the approval of the public, the degree of engagement generated, the type of follower, if excessively linked to the team to which they belong and, therefore, not very monetizable : everything is being examined by experts and — for better or for worse — makes its weight felt when it comes to choosing.

The importance of athletes as sports influencers is well summarized also in the case of Nike Football. Nike has a Facebook page dedicated to football, perfectly curated in graphics and with a good following — over 45 million fans — but in which posts are not frequently published. Strange right?  Instead of focusing on that page, Nike has sought a more active role on the personal channels of its players. A short video, published on the Instagram account of Cristiano Ronaldo, is seen millions of times. The same applies to those published on the accounts of other Nike footballers, such as Anthony Martial, Joe Hart, and Kevin De Bruyne, to name but a few. Charlie Brooks — Vice President of Communications Nike Direct, Retail, and Digital — explained:

Before producing anything, we identify the players who adapt well to the campaign, from the point of view of the game, the personality and the social media perspective. These insights start with our local teams who regularly work with athletes in the field. So, we present our ideas directly to the player. Therefore, we can create tailor-made content for each athlete and discuss when, where and how, we — or they — could publish this content of our campaigns. We also have relationships with players from other brands: this approach allows us to exploit these partnerships while creating mutual value for our brand communities and the communities of our athletes”.

Clubs and Athletes=Brand and Media

In the pre-social media world, in relative terms, even a popular sport like football had often struggled to monetize its fans. Clubs like Manchester United or Real Madrid could already boast millions of supporters or sympathizers around the world. However, they could not visit the company headquarters. Could never enter the locker room, see a game at the Stadium.

Social media has literally overturned this situation, enabling disintermediation. The clubs are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on other platforms, gaining new followers by the minute, which is not surprising, thus becoming the basis of the new strategy. Invite them to the show. Repeat it, unpack it, and spread it on platforms, in ever-varying formats and angles. Spend as much time as possible with them. Understand their preferences and capitalize.

Fans are the centre of everything, and the Sports Industry evolves to make them true protagonists and to reach global engagement. That’s why the big European clubs, after years of proclamations, are finally conquering fans in China, India, the United States and Indonesia. Together, 45% of humanity.

So, why clubs organize their own channels? Because it is a scenario that sees them in direct and constant contact with more and more involved viewers. In order to attract, seduce and fascinate, the players become not only important but fundamental. They capture the attention — and therefore the time. They no longer need journalists to reach their audience. If they must communicate with followers, they can do it directly.


They have their own team, they control their official channels, they manage their image. They increase the reach daily and earn money directly from the sponsors.  Promoting their products by choosing these increasingly vertical accounts, compared to the generic and analog advertising a few years ago.

The digital athlete, therefore, changes the models of Sport. He is a hyper-connected sportsman, a perfectionist because:

  • produces content, from changing rooms, on workouts, in private life, in an endless storytelling;
  • interacts directly with their fans in a constant dialogue;
  • exploits technology, from Virtual Reality to IOT systems, to improve themselves and acquire data that monitors and disseminates;
  • and from there, start again: the performances, the news, the polls, the contests.

They entertain the fans, make them feel important, show them their real and charming side. In an exchange that sees them glorified as heroes for their actions on the field, admired as an idol in which to identify themselves in everyday life! Which, with the right tools, with a media hub available, can take advantage of their image and start a process of monetization through the data. Developing a solid relationship with the community and stimulating interaction. Turn the athlete into a brand.

Because, in fact, the data do not lie, they increasingly point to and aim at the same clubs, in a management strategically designed and coordinated to make the most of these new assets from the unstoppable flow. In my opinion, contracts will soon include clauses for sharing the content published on the official social pages of the clubs. With mutual benefits:

  • more fans will be reached: an audience enlarged by the fans of the player, perhaps depending on a particular language or nation — those of the athlete — or privileged catchment areas: very young, female audience (another hot topic, as we will see);
  • more and more precise databases will be structured, collecting and crossing invaluable data on which to base strategies and advertising campaigns, as well as to use as input to improve the fan experience;
  • fans will be entertained through the second screen, in moments of maximum emotion and involvement: those in contact — virtually — with their favourites;
  • the acquired followers will become loyal and, if the strategy is right, it will be possible to maintain their loyalty even after the collaboration with the player has ended;
  • the athletes, in turn, will have commercial skills even after their career has ended.

Concluding, all this because social media are no longer a novelty. For example, over 82% of the millennial target lives on these platforms with multiple accesses every week. But above all it has allowed us to establish intense and lasting relationships with those who are far away, thanks to the new televisions (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube).

You can read more at our author’s blog here.