A recent New York Times article featured a story on New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, who shut down so many receivers that teammates started calling his turf Revis Island, where opposing players were inevitably marooned. Soon after, Mayor Michael Bloomberg jokingly renamed Manhattan Revis Island. Not surprisingly, Revis sought protection for the term “Revis Island.”
This story illustrates how a growing number of professional athletes are seeking trademark protection for their names, slogans, nicknames and even their catchphrases. This is a good thing. Today’s world-class athletes are becoming more business savvy and brand conscious then ever.
As many former professional athletes continue to struggle in their post-career endeavors – yes even recent millionaire retirees – finding ways to capitalize on what is often a brief playing career and short-lived celebrity brand is essential in maximizing earning potential.
So what are the ways professional athletes can leverage, extend and capitalize on their brand and name recognition? Understanding that everything you say and do shapes and impacts your brand image, we share our top branding strategies, tools and tactics that can help maximize your earning potential during your playing career, and beyond. And for former athletes and elite executives, many of these brand enhancement and career management suggestions will apply to you.
By the way, “Personal Branding” is not just a buzz word. It is not just about building an image to portray to the public. It is about understanding your unique values, passions and skills. It is about knowing yourself and telling your distinctive story so you will stand out, so you will be remembered long after your last game.
Brand Yourself As ‘More Than Just An Athlete’
The unfortunate reality is the vast majority of athletes' stock plummet sharply once their playing days are over – but it does not have to be this way. As an elite athlete, you are a recognizable identity, often with a very compelling story to tell an engaged audience.
Your goal is to create a sound brand exposure strategy to define you as more than a professional athlete. To do so, you must uniquely position yourself as a "Mover & Shaker in the Game of Life," thereby optimizing your multiple talents and increasing your demand, which in turn allows you to selectively choose your opportunities. The goal is not to seek every opportunity in the marketplace like the others, but to have the best-fit opportunities seeking you. The end goal is to stand above the rest, not blend in.
You have a chance to introduce and promote the various aspects and dimensions of your life and interests, reach new audiences, showcase a personality with depth that extends beyond the game, and build a brand that will continue to hold its value and resonate with audiences, even when you retire from the game.
Before You Brand – Plan
You wouldn’t show up at training camp without completing an extensive off-season conditioning program. Yet most professional athletes try to market themselves without thinking about the big picture, without preparing and strategically planning their branding campaign for life success. As you work on your game, start working on positioning your brand for life.
Here’s an incentive to "get branding." Research shows that active athletes who proactively grow and extend their brand, and explore business connections and options as active players, enjoy a higher in-game performance and consistency that can result in a longer player career. Their confidence and optimism about life after sports possibilities allows them to better focus on the game at hand.
Brand New Game
Don't let the media shape your image; instead proactively craft your own. Celebrity is a marketing vehicle you must leverage now, while you are in the spotlight as an active player. There are many steps you can take towards building a strategic brand that will stand the test of time and enable you to realize your potential as a business entity.
In addition to being a world-class athlete, you can be an entrepreneur, elite executive and a philanthropist. These roles can be explored and developed by taking small action steps, some can be completed in-season, others during your off-season. A comprehensive and strategic brand plan can be effectively integrated to present you as more than just an athlete. This dynamic brand is then promoted to teams, leagues, governing bodies, sponsors, corporations, communities, media, etc. Every time you are in the spotlight – press conference, interview, speech, sponsor or charitable appearance, networking, golf outing – becomes an opportunity for you to promote your multi-dimensional brand and to positively influence others.
A Brand for Life
With a strategic plan and professional communications campaign, supported by synergistic marketing tools and tactics, you can get the word out and highlight your new personal brand through a variety of ways:
Use online social media – Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin – to join the conversation and chat with your fans and develop a business network. Proactively market yourself and focus on establishing a life brand. Share your thoughts on non-sports related interests and issues, always keeping the dialogue optimistic. Maintain control of your emotions when there is adversity and learn not to take things personally, and last but not least, have some fun.
As a marketing tool, blogs offer great potential for those who have a brand to promote as nothing facilitates conversation and community the way that blogging does. As you share your world, your ideas, your personal perspectives on topics that you are passionate about, you drive your credibility and exposure up.
The web is not just a marketing tool – it's a business tool that helps you target audiences everywhere. Get your brand online, with your own website, and create a "More than a player" presence for life. Tell your distinctive story and showcase your many talents beyond your sport to drive multiple revenue streams.
· Player–Celebrity Brand
Get to know existing team corporate sponsors and seek out meetings with organizations of interest that share your values in order to drive endorsement deals or secure speaking engagements and partnership opportunities.
· Elite Executive Brand
Create and implement a strategic business networking plan – engage and learn from business leaders, grow your business skills through off-season mentor opportunities and consider short-term internships. Identify possible best-fit alliances and post-game careers of interest and strategically reach out to individuals and businesses that are recognized leaders in their fields. For instance, if "staying involved in the game" after your playing days is of interest, job shadow someone in broadcasting, spend a day in a life with your agent, or meet with team management to plant a seed for a future in coaching or management.
· Entrepreneur Brand
Begin to realize your potential as a business entity, by exploring off-season, start-up business possibilities. Some of today’s business savvy athletes earn more off the playing field than on it. Seek these athlete entrepreneurs out and others like them and learn from them. Explore what your passions are away from the game and surround yourself with experts in their fields. Begin to write a plan for your business venture so your time and money investment pays off.
· Philanthropist Brand
Align your name and your image with a foundation or charity – a cause that is close to your heart. Philanthropic branding is about giving back and making a commitment to your community. It is about being dedicated to a cause related initiative or starting your own charitable foundation. "As you give, so shall you receive." Improving the lives of others keeps your brand relevant long after your sports achievements have passed.
Find A Coach For A Brand New Approach
Seek professional advice and access a "brand coach" for the same reason you have coaches in your sport – someone to help develop your talents, formulate strategies and positively influence you and move you towards an optimal point of performance where lifelong growth and goal attainment happen.
Hopefully, these tips, tools and tactics help. With a little effort as an active player, you can fully utilize your elite athlete brand potential and ensure your future "life after sport" is that much sweeter.