There was a time when being loyal to your fanbase meant signing autographs after a game or posing for a quick snapshot, but social media has drastically changed the playing field for athletes. Initially, social networks were an extension of this; an opportunity to connect with fans and build excitement for the team. However, as fans and followers have grown, platforms like Facebook have been cashing in on these captive audiences—targeting the athlete’s fans with ads to suit their demographics. It wasn’t long before a few savvy entrepreneurs caught on that they, too, could be profiting from their ever-growing fanbases. Now, athletes with as little as a few thousand followers are able to increase their earnings by monetising their digital platforms. Here’s how they’re doing it.
Celebrity status draws fans in, but what keeps them coming back for more is authenticity and a chance to connect directly with athletes they admire. Take Manchester United footballer Jesse Lingard, for example. He’s well-known for chatting fans up on social media and resharing their posts. Just last month, he shared a six-piece mural on Instagram. When pieced together, the image was clearly Lingard in his trademark pose, yet upon closer investigation, it was made up of hundreds of photos of his fans doing the same. A total of369k Instagram likes and 30k Twitter likes later, it was clear he had an audience.
Arsenal Ladies footballer Leah Williamson has a more modest following, but she’s working on it, and certainly has authenticity nailed. One of her recent posts features a couple in a picturesque scene, with the man on bended knee. “Watching the sunset in Santorini last night and captured this but wasn’t able to get the picture to the couple, so twitter do your thing,” she said. It’s worth a cool 22k likes so far. “As a professional footballer, you have to accept that you have a dual responsibility,” Williamson told Vogue magazine in a recent interview. “Not only are you there to be a footballer and for people to come and watch, but women footballers have a massive responsibility to grow the game.” She’s reaching a broad audience with posts like the above and introducing them to world of women’s sports once they’re engaged.
Because of his engaged audience, Lingard struck a deal with Adidas which doubled his salary. Whilst this does include engagements beyond social media, Lingard’s certainly doing the brand justice there too. One of his recent posts—a simple image of Lingard pulling on his shoes, decked out in Adidas wear—garnered 307k likes on Instagram alone. Leah Williamson has found similar success with Nike, though details of their arrangement are in short supply. Her branded post on Instagram is coming in at just shy of 10k likes at time of posting.
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