Athletes and Entertainers as Brands

On November 17, 2011 Shaira Springer of The Boston Globe wrote an article on a class being taught at Harvard’s Business School by professor Anita Elberse.  Excerpts from the article were highlighted in the Sports Business Daily, a sports industry trade publication, and Yahoo! Sports.  The class is entitled “Strategic Marketing in Creative Industries”, and focuses on the power of athletes and entertainers as brands.

Similar types of classes exist across colleges and universities, as I recall a section in my sports marketing class at the University of Michigan focusing on athletes as endorsers.  What makes this class unique is the partnership between the “brands” and the professor, allowing students to study the likes of LeBron James and Lady Gaga.  While I studied the connection between NIKE and Michael Jordan, and had countless professionals “teach” about how brands use athletes, this courses provides an inside look at how athletes see and present themselves as brands.

The idea of an athlete as a brand isn’t a new one; it’s just taken on a greater importance.  In 2009, Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat made the important decision to leave Converse and sign with NIKE’s Jordan brand.  His rationale for doing so was his desire to “continue to build his brand”.  While athletes and entertainers take the reigns of their own personal brand, one thing should be of note: someone needs to teach athletes and entertainers on the do’s and don’ts in this world of 24/7 media attention.

In this age of social media, in particular Twitter, consumers have unparalleled access to their favorite athletes and celebrities.  This platform provides them with the chance to communicate with fans directly, bringing them closer to an everyday reachable person.  This method of communication puts the power in the hands of the entertainers, for better or worse.  Brands have been built AND destroyed.  Examples include:

-Sheer number of followers for athletes and entertainers: Kaka (Real Madrid) 5M+, Shaquille O’Neal 4M+ and Kim Kardashian 11M+


-Backlash on Ashton Kutcher’s tweets that followed Penn State’s firing of head football coach Joe Paterno.  Which ultimately resulted in Kutcher hiring a PR firm to manage his tweets moving forward


-Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back Rashard Mendenhall lost his endorsement deal with Champion due to his tweets in the aftermath of the Osama bin Laden death


-PR disaster for FIFA when their president, Sepp Blatter, downplayed the “lack of racism in soccer”

I’m guessing soon enough leagues, teams and entities such as Creative Artist Agency (CAA) will teach courses on Twitter much like all the media training athletes and celebrities undergo.  As compelling as professor Elberse’s class may be in building an athlete’s brand, I’d like to ensure the inverse is being discussed as well.

To read the original article, click here.

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