How Sperry Entered The World Of Athlete Influencers

It’s easy for a major advertiser like Allstate Insurance to pay up for a mega athlete like Aaron Rodgers.

But if you’re a smaller brand, such as the shoe manufacturer Sperry, it can be difficult to find the right athletes who won’t break your budget, but who still have the cachet to boost your brand.

Sperry used to invest in men’s style influencers, but never saw the ROI, said Melissa Romig, the company’s digital director. So Sperry decided to test athletes as influencers, even though Sperry isn’t a natural fit for sports marketing (except, perhaps, for sailing races).

During the fourth quarter last year, Sperry took a risk. It ran a marketing program with the sports publication Bleacher Report, assembling a campaign that spanned NFL players such as the New England Patriots’ Justin Bethel, the NBA star J.J. Barea, a minor league baseball player and Olympic athletes in luge, skiing, gymnastics and more.

It was Sperry’s first sports marketing effort, and it saw some of the best returns for any campaign that year, Romig said.

Athlete sponsorships are typically out of reach for brands that aren’t hammering out deals with agents and managers. And it can be tough for a brand like Sperry to know which athletes relate to its product. How could it have predicted that Justin Bethel, who plays for the NFL’s New England Patriots, or Olympic gymnast Josh Dixon would drive strong engagement for men’s duck boots?

Sperry used a platform called OpenSponsorship, designed to connect athletes with brands.

OpenSponsorship lists 6,000 athletes from 160 different sports, said founder and CEO Ishveen Anand. Similar to other influencer platforms focused more on style and shopping, brands post campaign opportunities and the creators, in this case pro athletes, submit proposals for sponsored posts.

The service offers new revenue lines for athletes with marketing value but who aren’t necessarily in line for national brand sponsorships or endorsement deals.

And it introduces new kinds of brands to the world of sports marketing.

The company doesn’t work with some of the prominent categories for sports deals, like insurance, auto and financial services, Anand said. Instead, the focus is on verticals and brands that athletes themselves are interested in working with.

Children’s brands get high response rates from sports stars because athletes, like everyone else, like to post shots that include their kids and families, Anand said. Pet brands likewise have been early adopters because athletes (again, like everyone else on Instagram) can’t wait to post pictures of their dogs.

OpenSponsorship charges a monthly fee for the platform and sometimes can have performance incentives, like a cut of sales driven by campaign posts, or broker a more traditional endorsement deal between a brand, an athlete and his or her agent.

But more than 90% of revenue comes from the subscriptions, Anand said. “It’s a recognition that we have software and the tech platform.”

For Sperry, the ease of use made it easy to gear up for another round of athlete influencers – it is already working on its next athlete influencer campaign, Romig said.

“Now the bigger barrier is there are NBA players we would choose to work with but we don’t make shoes in their size,” she said.

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