By Gabriela Gutiérrez M.
Influencers have become a major force in sports and soccer marketing. Mexico’s Chicharito is just one example. Leading executives from Nike, H K Strategies and Fluvip provided Portada insights on how to make the best use of the soccer influencer market.
Soccer runs through Javier’s veins. His dad used to joke that his son first kicked a ball before learning how to walk. At the age of nine, he enrolled in the Guadalajara Deportivo club’s youth league in Mexico. Twenty years later, Javier Hernández Balcázar is now known worldwide as “El Chicharito” and his 8.3 million followers on Twitter make him one of North America’s most important soccer influencers on that platform, above the Mexico National Team, with 5.4 million followers.
The boy from Guadalajara was sponsored by multinational brand Nike for seven years, an athlete’s dream come true.
TV hosts used to wield the most influence over public opinion on basically any subject, including soccer. For millennials, however, these personalities do not have the last word. For digital natives born between 1980 and 1995, Internet is their main source of information. Brands are increasingly interested in being able to take advantage of the connection that influencers have with their audiences.
“According to Nielsen, 92% of people trust other people’s opinions ̶ even if they do not know them ̶ over brands. Brands need stories to be told by people, or influencers. Brands need people to share their experiences with products and services,” says Sebastian Jasminoy, CEO of Fluvip, an influencer and content marketing group that specializes in connecting influencers with brands.
Although the term influencer is now all the buzz, its function is not: five years ago, they were known as brand ambassadors; 10 years ago they were known as celebrity endorsers. “The language has changed, but the accompanying principles that make for strong and powerful connections with your customers, or potential customers, has been a dynamic in marketing for the last 40 or 50 years,” says Andy Sutherden, Global Head of Sports Marketing + Sponsorships at H+K Strategies.
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“What has never changed is the brand’s appetite for identifying the right player, and once identified, to find very powerful and relevant ways in which that player can make relevant connections back to the company’s business,” adds Sutherden.
Soccer Influencer Marketing Rules
For brands, the first golden rule in choosing a soccer influencer is making sure the player shares a credible and authentic link with the brand’s business, such as pairing Cristiano Ronaldo with fashion brands, or David Beckham with personal care brands, explains Sutherden.
Denis Meyer, Director of Sports Marketing at Nike Mexico, agrees: “We select our influencers according to future projections, performance, image, and relationship with consumers. We expect these ambassadors to make the most authentic connection of products and brand exposure with our market.”
Five years ago, measuring this type of return on investment for brands was very difficult. Now, with proper social media or digital marketing for e-commerce, a sponsorship deal is expected to deliver sales
The second rule is to get the most out of the loyalty of the influencer’s fan base: “Loyalty can turn into commercial benefits.” To do this, several aspects are evaluated: the size of the soccer player’s fan base or number of followers on social networks, the depth of engagement between that fan base and the influencer, and if available, the historical evidence of the impact the influencer’s support had on past campaigns.
“Five years ago, measuring this type of return on investment for brands was very difficult. It all boiled down to awareness and brand equity. Now, with proper social media or digital marketing for e-commerce, a sponsorship deal is expected to deliver sales,” says Sutherden.
The third rule is summed up in an old popular saying: “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.” The [sponsorship] contract must be very clear regarding reasons for termination and should consider the sponsored influencer’s behavior on or off the court, as his image will be linked to the brand.