The athletes challenging the traditional brand sponsorship formula

Last month entertainment trends dominated headlines, but this month we saw an influx in sports-related conversations. From Roger Federer’s 19th grand slam title, to Aaron Judge’s Home Run Derby victory, to Lonzo Ball’s Summer League debut, July has been jam-packed with both veteran and rookie talent.

While all three of these stars are breaking records in their sport, they each have a vastly different approach to brand sponsorships. We explored the 3 athletes differing approaches to branding to discover which method is most effective.

The traditional brand-athlete sponsorship

Federer has created an entire luxury persona based on the brands he aligns himself with such as Nike, Rolex, Mercedes-Benz and Moet & Chandon to name a few. Although Federer has his own brand, he has a mostly traditional partnership with sponsors.

Usually superstars accept sponsorships by companies they themselves use and approve of. He always wears Nike gear when he plays tennis and can usually be spotted wearing a Rolex as he lifts his trophies. In other words, Federer is an ideal brand ambassador for his sponsors.

As a result, the brands he most closely aligns himself with are mentioned more when he starts winning. For example, during July while Federer went on a run to win Wimbledon, Nike was mentioned 5.3 times more by his fans than the general population. Likewise, Mercedes-Benz, Rolex, and Moet & Chandon are at least two times more likely to be discussed by Federer fans than the average consumer.

Why does this matter? On 23 July, all four brands received a conversation boost when Federer won Wimbledon. Most notably, Nike and Mercedes-Benz got an 157% and 100% volume conversation lift, respectively, from the tennis legend's victory. Clearly both he and his sponsored brands are mutually benefiting from one another in this format.

The sponsorless athlete

On the other side of the spectrum, we have Aaron Judge. Judge is a rookie for the New York Yankees and has brands lining up to sign him, yet he continues to opt out of any deals to focus only on baseball. His only brand affiliations are Under Armour for his cleats and Rawlings for his glove. People who talk about Judge are also more likely to discuss Baseball, Ice Hockey, Football, and Basketball making him an appealing and versatile brand sponsor for large sports companies like Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour.

If Judge changes his mind regarding brand sponsorships, Under Armour would be a no brainer for Judge as his fans are 10.7 times more likely to discuss Under Armour than the average consumer.

Does it matter that Judge doesn’t have sponsors yet? Not really in terms of his likeability – he’s discussed positively 58% of the time. However, he’s missing out on a rather substantive payday that could be beneficial for both himself and the brand of his choosing. While being a sponsor free agent doesn’t hurt him, it certainly isn’t helping.

Lonzo Ball’s Big Baller brand

Lonzo Ball’s NBA Summer League debut, where he won the League MVP, lived up to the immense conversation volume surrounding the young star. Lonzo first made headlines for his passing ability as well as his loud-mouth father LaVar Ball and their Big Baller brand. In fact, Lonzo and Big Baller Brand are so synonymous that people who mention Lonzo Ball are 27 times more likely to also mention Big Baller brand.

Perhaps because of the emphasis surrounding Big Baller brand, the media became fairly obsessed with which shoes Ball would wear during the Summer League debut. He seemingly gave the audience what they wanted, wearing his own brand, Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour.

Interestingly, he performed the worst in his own brand and the best in Nike. Again, do these stats have any correlation with his branded shoe? Probably not, but Lonzo has managed to force the media to discuss him in comparison to every popular sports brand.

Essentially, Ball gets aligned with each brand without the brands getting anything in return. His method is unconventional to say the least, but rather innovative when it comes to dominating conversation volume. Federer is discussed 91% more often than Ball, however Ball is mentioned 40% more than Aaron Judge.

Branding definitely helps drive conversations and revenue, but brand sponsorships are going to have to adapt to meet the differing requirements to keep engaging star athletes.

Top five trends of the month

Although sports moments dominated July news, here’s a list of the top five trending topics based on online conversation volume.

Amit Avner is chief executive and founder of Taykey, a real-time audience data company

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Amit Avner

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