December 24, 2014 @cvbelieve

The rise of self-publishing and the athlete influencer

The power of social media to provide voice and perspective to an individual or a movement is a phenomenon unlike any other. Whether its an oppressed group looking to share their story or a celebrity providing a glimpse of their personal life – the ability to go viral commands attention. In our business you hear time and time again that content is king – now more than ever you can move the needle with simply a disruptive tweet, a humorous YouTube video, or an impactful Instagram image. The professional athletes that can create a voice on these outlets are often the most followed, most influential, and have the strongest endorsement potential. And because this strong business interest exists companies are innovating left and right to profit in one way or another. The next big wave in this social sphere is self-publishing.

This past year we have seen athlete self-publishing take form in both SportsBlog and The Players’ Tribune. Kevin April SportsBlog COO told me that “Readers are attracted to authenticity and don’t want marketing/PR speak… they can see through that easily. If a fan is reading an athlete’s blog, they expect unfiltered, honest thoughts straight from the legend.” That seems to be the key for self-publishing whether its microblogging in the form of Twitter or more traditional long form like with Sportsblog for example. “The most popular pro athlete blogs typically come from the athletes who offer a genuine behind-the-scenes access and personal perspective, on a fairly regular basis” said April. He went on to explain a few examples – the NBA’s Charlie Villanueva for instance documented his time during free agency and the content series quickly went viral.

Authenticity is key for both consumers of the content and brands looking to tap into that connection. From a sellable perspective, an athlete with an engaged social following is a persuasive value proposition when endorsements are thrown into the conversation. Blake Griffin, who is listed as a Senior Editor on the Players’ Tribune is a genuine superstar with a reputation as a comic relief that is largely due to his social activity. He has been able to use his social presence as both a personal branding play and justification for high endorsement figures (he has deals with Nike, Kia, Subway, to name a few).

Whether its Griffin pushing Players’ Tribune content to his near 3 milllion Twitter followers or Charlie Villanueva’s SportsBlog series getting national media and viral attention — it all goes back to content being king. When you have athlete icons in the mix you accomplish that attention grabbing content goal quite easily. That ultimately is the play with athlete self publishing platforms like SportsBlog, The Players Tribune, and any future competitor.

“Fans want engagement, and while we all like to see the bold and brightest names voice their opinions, the truth is there is a niche for any athlete on a stage who has a voice to create content that can be compelling to an audience, whether he or she is in the WNBA or the NHL or playing for the San Francisco Giants is somewhat important, but in an age where voices can be created if there is a personal message, having a platform like what has been created is very important,” said Chris Lencheski, a longtime sports marketer now working with the Back 9 Network as well as other projects through his company, Phoenicia. “Sometimes its the lesser stars who have the most compelling stories, and storytelling is what we are all about today.”

It’s like Players’ Tribune founder Derek Jeter wrote in his inaugural post on the site “we want to have a way to connect directly with our fans, with no filter”. This genuine perspective on the superstar level yields the highly sought after yet rarely accomplished viral content — that again is king. Enter big business as the smartest brands know how to attach to an athlete influencer. Next, just ride the viral wave.

Credit: Tanner Simkins, iSports Times
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