Brand building today in no way resembles that of twenty years ago, and that’s good news for everyone reading this book. Two decades ago a person could clearly identify the most popular and most influential athletes in sports. Typically those positions correlated directly with performance. The most talented athletes tended to also be the most talked about: Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Charles Barkley in the NBA and John Elway, Jerry Rice, and Deion Sanders in the NFL. These athletes dominated the conversation because the media set the public narrative and television dictated content consumption. Essentially the media played puppet master in prescribing what we talked about and whom we rooted for.
The advent of social media has changed all of that. Power has shifted from the networks and news outlets to the individual. To you. The possibilities presented to this generation of athletes are infinite. Celebrity attainment has been revolutionized and, according to the Huffington Post, it doesn’t appear that we’ll ever go back to the way things were: “With fewer young people watching TV, the internet is the new place for overnight stardom.”
Two athletes that have leveraged the digital era as well as anyone are Tim Tebow and Nick Young. Tebow and Young may not have the athletic stats to put them in their respective halls of fame, but they have brands that will keep them culturally relevant for a long time. Not only did Tim Tebow have more followers than any active player in the NFL at the point of this writing, he also had more followers than any player in Major League Baseball. Including those of Mike Trout, Anthony Rizzo, and Bryce Harper combined. And Nick Young’s brand has been long in the making—he was the subject of a documentary before he was in the NBA. If I were the director of marketing sitting across the table, theirs are the resumes I’d want to see.
Both are examples of “instafamous,” defined by the Huffington Post as celebrities from platforms like “Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, who are raking in fans by the millions and winning proportional paid sponsorships.”
Young and Tebow each agreed to deals with adidas at points in their careers when few brands would invest in them. Those other brands were relying on stats like passing yards and points per game to identify which athletes to sign endorsement deals with. Meanwhile, adidas had been at the forefront of the social media movement for years, putting as much emphasis on social influence as athletic performance. The lesson here is that stats do matter, but in today’s world your just as likely to earn an endorsement deal for your follower count as you are your home run count.