The Impact of Personal Branding in Sports

The summer of 2020 looked set to be an exciting time for sports fans, with football’s European Championships, the Olympics, a new season of Formula 1 and Wimbledon to look forward to. But, with the global pandemic COVID-19 forcing the cancellation of these events, the wider impact is unprecedented.

Branding and Sponsorships in Sport

With each of these large-scale events it’s hard not to notice the role branding and sponsorship plays. Many businesses want their brand or product to be associated with (and profit from!) the world’s most widely viewed sporting events. And increasingly, the athletes/players that take part in them.

With the ever-growing brand association in sport, it’s no surprise that more and more professional athletes are opting to have their own personal brand identity.

In the past, logos in sport were restricted to the clubs/teams themselves, but having a clear personal identity is becoming increasingly key as a professional athlete.

In general, the career of an athlete is relatively short, so building a strong brand and identity can be a major step to creating a long, successful career beyond sport.

Personal branding is one of the most powerful tools for an athlete to access their targeted market. It determines how your fans, sponsors and the professional sports world perceive you, and how they remember/recognise you both during and after your sporting career.

Sponsorships

The idea of an athlete being associated to a particular brand through sponsorship is by no means a new concept. As far back as 1974, Dutch football legend Johan Cryuff was so aligned to Puma with an exclusive deal that he removed one of the Adidas stripes on his Netherlands football strip in their World Cup final match. Somehow, we don’t think a footballer could get away with that in today’s game!

It’s one thing for an athlete to have an association with a brand, but another entirely to have their own brand identity. The modern-day athlete, performing at the highest level, can expect to grace TV commercials, print advertisements and appear on red carpets. With this added attention, it’s no wonder they seek to create their own brand identity/logo.

Air Jordan

Through history, the most iconic example of this has to be Michael Jordan’s, Air Jordan logo. Jordan, who has recently had success with the Netflix series The Last Dance, has been one of the most globally recognisable stars, and this is due not just to his success on the court, but off it to. The Nike owned ‘Jumpman’ logo stems initially from a promotional photograph of the basketball star in 1984.

Through time, the identity has become one of the most recognisable contemporary cultural icons. So much so, it’s gone far beyond its initial intended use in basketball merchandise.

The longevity of the logo was shown in 2018 when it was used by football club, Paris Saint-Germain, across both their home and away jerseys during their UEFA Champions League campaign, and also across training and lifestyle products. It expanded the club’s long-term relationship with Nike, and in doing so, crossed sporting sectors.

Following Nike’s early success with the Jordan brand, Reebok had a brand partnership of their own. It was also in the world of basketball, with their partnership with Allen Iverson and his I3 identity in the ’90s onwards.

Beckham’s Trademark Free Kicks

Within football, David Beckham’s affiliation with Adidas was prominent across the 2000s. He launched his own logo in 2004, ahead of that year’s FIFA World Cup. Similarly to Jordan’s, the identity shows the player in a classic pose, this time inspired by Beckham’s trademark free kicks.

Notable Nike Partnerships

Other notable brand partnerships include Nike’s long-term collaborations with Tiger Woods and Roger Federer. Federer’s distinctive RF logo has only recently been re-acquired from Nike by the tennis star in the last month.

More Personal Brand Identities

Previously, it was just those who performed at the very top of their sports who had a personal brand identity – the most globally recognisable athletes. But with social media now a prominent part of everyday life, the idea of an athlete having their own identity is becoming more important.

More recently, premier league stars Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard both released personal brand identities, with Lingard using his goal celebration across various merchandise, available on his personal website.

Last month, after being interviewed wearing an “SM10” cap, it was revealed that Liverpool star Sadio Mane has trademarked his name.

Mane will likely lead the way among Liverpool players benefitting commercially with brands looking to be associated with the current Premier League table-toppers, proving that success on the pitch can lead to success off it, in terms of marketability.

It’ll be interesting to see how things evolve once the sporting calendar resumes!

Get creative with your own branding

Got a project in mind? Get in touch and our team will be happy to talk about your ideas over a nice cup of coffee.