Working with Sports Influencers: Answers to Everything You Ever Wanted to Ask

We sat down with Luca Rimoldi from 90/24 Media to discuss how brands are leveraging athletes for their influencer marketing campaigns. See what all marketers can learn from the digital media company specialized in fostering relationships between commercial sponsorships and football athletes.

1. You work with thousands of athletes with huge fan bases - how do you choose which ones can be influencers for businesses?

Businesses aim to leverage the strong connection between the athletes and their fans in order to reach and engage with highly targeted audiences – either global crowds or regional pockets – with the final goal of achieving their business objectives. In fact, when looking for an athlete/high-end influencer, businesses look for profiles possessing fan bases with specific requirements in terms of demographics, geographical distribution, interests and behavior. Finally, the athlete must fit and reflect the business’ brand values and positioning (or aspired positioning).

For this reason, at 90/24 Media we use data at the heart of our decision-making framework. We work with Socialbakers to analyze not only social media performance such as reach or engagement, but also extract deeper audience and content insights to understand the most we can about fans and their behavior. On top of that, we leverage proprietary data technology to develop athletes’ personas and estimate how ‘commercially appealing’ he or she could potentially be.

2. The World Cup is now behind us, did you notice any brand that stood out in particular by leveraging the influence of athletes?

Mega-events such as the FIFA World Cup always offer great case studies and learnings. To pick one, did a great job with the #TimeOnYourHands campaign, leveraging a mix of top athletes playing in Russia (Neymar, Pogba) and some whose national teams didn’t qualify for the World Cup such as Buffon, Van Persie, Bravo, Howard and Bale.

90/24 Media worked closely with as an end-to-end strategic partner to ensure a solid campaign set-up, clear objectives and tactical usage of social and digital channels. The choice of the athletes was crucial to the final success of the campaign - in this phase, we leveraged our expertise and data to help with both their choice and procurement. Finally, we supported with content production.

The storytelling explores what non-qualified footballers do during the World Cup. It was creative, strong and very engaging – data confirms it was one of the most successful World Cup campaigns. It’s a very good case study of how an influencer marketing campaign can be data-driven and fully integrated across channels to engage fans in a genuine way.

3. Businesses and sports stars - is it a good idea and what should you keep in mind when you start?

After a phase in which micro-influencers seemed to take over, businesses prefer to collaborate with high-profile, globally recognized personalities, mainly from the sports and entertainment industries. The reason behind this is simple: brands and media companies are very much aware of the powerful (emotional) bond between sports athletes and their fan bases.

Finding the perfect match requires strategy, experience and data. First of all, we work closely with businesses to define their objectives and what their brand stands for. Then, we leverage Socialbakers and in-house data science to marry the opportunity with those athletes who offer engaged audiences, the right demographics, and an interest in what the business has to offer.

Finally, with a blend of experience and data, we make sure the athletes we propose add value in terms of brand image, either to reinforce it or change it, in accordance with business objectives. Ultimately, our data-driven approach is aimed to make sure the final content and messaging resonate with the fans and lead them to engage.

4. Is influencer marketing measurable? How do you measure it - especially during an event like the World Cup?

Anything is measurable, with clear goals and a solid methodology. Influencer marketing is becoming increasingly more transparent: social media data, tracking pixels, affiliate links and Google Analytics are great tools to measure the impact of a campaign. Furthermore, business can now leverage built-in functionalities promoting both engagement and measurement – think of polling or swiping on Instagram Stories, for instance.

The biggest challenge here is to define S.M.A.R.T. goals that reflect the role of influencer marketing within the business’ marketing strategy. For instance, it’s common to set generic campaign goals such as “generate engagement” or “drive conversions”, in the context of a global event like the World Cup. The point is: What type of engagement? How much? On which channel? What do you define as a ‘conversion’?

As it’s impossible to prove what success looks like without specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely goals, we put a lot of effort in defining goals and the way we measure against them. Socialbakers offers a very clean API and insightful visualizations that enable us to start the reporting process on a solid basis; whether the final objective is to generate video views or drive traffic towards an external digital framework, we have the right tool in hand.

Influencer marketing can be seen as another type of partnership. And, as per any partnership, measuring the intangible association between the athlete and the business through an image, is challenging. However, using different data sources and various approaches, including market research or a solid social media listening strategy, it’s possible to get good insights and answers into that too.

5. What are some of the most common mistakes businesses make when partnering up with athletes?

Generally speaking, we see two common mistakes:

1) Influencer marketing should be an integrated part of the overall business marketing strategy and too often it’s seen as a standalone function achieving its own, disconnected objectives. This often leads to the creation of non-authentic content which confuses users and doesn’t achieve any specific business goal.

2) Often, businesses struggle to clearly define campaign objectives – for instance, non-specific and non-measurable ideas like “increase awareness” should be replaced by goal-oriented objectives such as “increase Instagram following by 15% by Q3” or “increase the average engagement rate by 10% by the end of the year”. This would allow an easy process when proving the success of the campaign.

In particular, when it comes to businesses partnering up with high-end influencers like athletes, the biggest challenge we see is around creating authentic content. Too often, businesses leverage the athletes and create non-genuine content, with salesy and static product integration, ending in poor campaign results. This is why at 90/24 Media we have a solid, thorough and data-driven approach when it comes to helping businesses both choose the right influencers and create exclusive content with them – it’s a crucial component to determining the success or failure of a campaign!

Luca Rimoldi is the Head of Data and Innovation for 90/24 Media. With 10+ years of experience in the sports and entertainment industries, he’s leveraged data and insights to drive business success, innovation and decision-making. Before 90/24 Media, Luca worked at Nielsen Sports and several brand engagement agencies in London UK helping major brands understand and optimize their partnerships with global right holders including Premier League, NFL, Olympic Games, Formula 1 and European Tour.

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