Does Influencer Marketing Belong in the Sports Industry?


Last week Twitter went a little crazy over an ad from Manchester City Football Club asking for influencers to attend their home games and to try to recruit more fans for the team. A little embarrassing to say the least, it led me to think – can influencer marketing work everywhere?

I know there are already football influencers such as those on YouTube or Twitter that review games, teams, commentate and the like but can someone online really influence the team you support? What happened to one life, one club? 

I may post a ton about Liverpool online, but I don’t think my posting about them would convert more Liverpool fans – it probably has more of the opposite effect. Man City have been a bit of a laughing stock for the past while and aren’t too well liked aside from their own fans so this was just the icing on the cake that they had to appeal for influencer football fans. (We won’t even get into the fact that it only asked for male influencers). 

We know about all of the fashion, beauty and gamer influencers, but is there really room for influencers in the sports industry? The sports stars themselves can of course be influencers with their sponsored ads, but they fit moreso into the celebrity category rather than the influencer category. So where does influencer marketing play a part in sports?

The 20×20 Women in Sport Campaign

One of the best examples I could give for influencer marketing in sport, comes from my own emerald isle. The 20×20 campaign is all about women in sport and improving numbers of participants, spectators and media coverage. 

One of my favourite PR/Influencer Marketing quotes comes from Gossip Girl: “You’re nobody until you’re talked about,” aka you need to be present, you need to be seen and you need to be the topic of conversation or you really don’t matter. The 20×20 campaign motto is something similar, “If she can’t see it, she can’t be it.”

The people behind this campaign are aiming for 20% more media coverage of women in sport, 20% more female participation and 20% more attendance at women’s sporting events all by the end of 2020. They want to increase the visibility of female sport in Ireland, and hopefully by doing so, will encourage more participation by females in Ireland. 

To help achieve these numbers, they have Irish female sports ambassadors such as Leona Maguire (Irish professional golfer), Laura Twomey (Dublin camogie player) and Louise Quinn (Irish international and Arsenal soccer player) promoting the campaign and acting as role models for future females of Irish sport. 

Boss Bottled x 2018 World Cup

A campaign that I actually worked on myself was one of the rare times when we paired soccer with fragrance. As Hugo Boss works a lot with football stars in their suits department (mainly Liverpool), it wasn’t anything new for the fashion house to branch over into the sporting industry, but it was for us who looked after the fragrance department. 

We were working with Harry Kane at the time who was one of the faces of the brand, but it was up to us to find soccer influencers who would also want to work with Boss Bottled and create sponsored posts. We worked with three YouTube influencers who’s followers/subscribers were all in the millions (which soon taught me that there are a lot of sports fans out there on social media who are also very engaged). 

Tying an influencer campaign with a huge sporting event can work really well, and it definitely did for us during the World Cup as England progressed until the Semi Finals.

Just as Hugo Boss is known for its formal wear, Lacoste is known for its leisure wear and firmly associated with tennis. This made it quite easy to tie the Lacoste fragrances to the French Open (as it is a French brand) and take influencers to the tennis and also promote the new fragrances. 

The fitness industry

The fitness influencer world is gigantic. I doubt it will be long before it takes over the fashion and beauty influencer markets. I follow a lot of fitness influencers on Instagram and know that there are tons more out there also killing the game.

Just look at Grace Beverly (formerly Grace Fit UK) who was an undergrad at Oxford that also sold bands online and workout routines who now has a million dollar business and has just rebranded and released a line of bands with Jordyn Woods in Los Angeles. How nice it would be to have just graduated from Oxford and bought your first house in London at the age of 22.

Others I follow are mostly living in Bali or Australia living their best lives, traveling the world and getting paid a lot from providing online training to those of us stuck in 9-5 office jobs back in the UK/Ireland. Their ‘jobs’ do appear very lucrative, and would influence anyone to take up training or CrossFit in the hopes of emulating the same lifestyle.

Most fitness influencers are brand ambassadors for the likes of GymShark, My Protein and Women’s Best that are mainly online sportswear brands. It seems to be that most of these influencers make their Instagram money via affiliate links and pushing ‘swipe-up’ links rather than sponsored posts, but I think this actually works very well for the fitness industry. Discount codes for supplements, protein powder and gym gear does seem to go down very well with audiences interested in fitness.

Right now, there is definitely a huge market in the fitness industry in terms of influencer marketing and commissions. It seems everyone and their cousin wants to be a fitness influencer, but I can definitely see the attraction – free gym gear, free protein/supps/food and making cash from others using your codes. Plus, you’re getting fitter at the same time – why wouldn’t you want to be a fitness influencer? Ah yes, because not all of us can train for hours on end every day.

GAA stars

Back to Ireland we go. The GAA has baffled me for quite some time and moreso, recently. In the world of male Gaelic football, those that play for their county as well as their club, dedicate hours upon hours to the sport and everything that comes with it, yet don’t get paid a penny for doing so.

Now imagine asking a premier league footballer to play out of love for the sport and nothing else. It just wouldn’t happen, would it? I do want to dive into the whole ‘should we start paying GAA players’ topic but that’s a blog post for another day. What I do want to talk about, is GAA players and paid posts on Instagram.

These GAA players are your local primary school teachers, accountants and labourers. They aren’t social media experts or top content providers, but they have an audience and a specifically targeted audience – mainly Irish, interested in Irish football and more than likely are from the same county that the footballer plays for.

So it only makes sense that we now see the main stars of the county teams posting sponsored Instagram posts and ads in partnership with local companies and businesses. For example, Aidan O’Shea of Mayo has a running partnership with Audi, David Clifford (even though he is only 22 years of age) already has a running partnership with Aherns Motors even though he isn’t on Instagram but instead has to drive around the with company name on the side of his family wagon.

The only thing about these GAA players advertising on Instagram is that they don’t know how to. They aren’t disclosing ads, using #sponsored or even disclosing any form of payment. But we know this is as much the fault of the influencer marketer as it is the Instagram account owner.

So should influencer marketing belong in sport? Absolutely, since there is a huge market for it. However, a lot of sports stars and fitness experts don’t go into social media with the intention of being an influencer and so don’t know about sponsored posts, declaring adverts and the like. It’s up to the marketers for these companies to step up and make sure their influencers are abiding by the laws.

@LFC if you ever need influencers to go to home games and show support, I’m right here!


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