Halftime Thoughts: Athletes, brands, and the real deal

To widen their reach, companies often ride on the fame of talented athletes who they recruit as endorsers.

Sports remains a captivating business venture for different brands all over the world.

Companies desire to ride on professional athletes’ glorious fame and appeal for eager supporters to patronize their products. But despite the presence of many talented athletes, known corporations tend to prefer one over the other as brand ambassadors as only a few of them turn into global icons, with endorsement deals acting as stepping stones in their prominent careers.

Now more than ever, athletes’ performances are scrutinized by their fans and respective teams and by multinational companies wanting them to be part of their line of endorsers.

On marketability

According to Forbes, LeBron James ranks fifth in the world’s highest-paid athletes this year. The future Hall of Famer earned almost USD96.5 million after receiving multiple partnerships from the Pepsi Bottling Group and purchasing a small stake in Fenway Sports Group, which owns the sports teams Boston Red Sox and Liverpool FC. Aside from a lifetime deal with Nike—who granted him an array of sneaker lines and commercial advertisements—James debuted as a Hollywood star in the movie Space Jam: A New Legacy.

Perhaps his personality makes him stand out, being the sole basketball player in the top five of Forbes’ list. Many sports enthusiasts also admire his rise to stardom because of him being a role model to his teammates and a true champion for his family on and off the hardwood. Apart from being a beloved figure in the world of basketball, he is also a well-respected family man.

Naomi Osaka is a four-time Tennis Grand Slam champion who partners with Nike, Nissan, and Tag Heuer. Recently, the 23-year old opened up about challenges with her mental wellness, saying that “athletes are humans” and should not always be under scrutiny by the media. After announcing her withdrawal from the French Open, her sponsors acknowledged her courage and publicly backed her. Although companies aim for athletes to chase success, their show of support for Osaka reveals the new change in long-term relationships between athletes and profitable companies. It proves that these businesses are also willing to take a stand with athletes and their advocacies.

But maintaining ties is more than just for support. Tapping a celebrity athlete to be an endorser helps boost popularity and patronization through fanbases. These serve as crucial elements for companies as they aim to promote their products within different cultures worldwide. An example is superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, the most followed person on Instagram with more than 315 million followers—far greater than what other prominent athletes across all sports have. The Portuguese athlete has clearly left a mark in the world of sports, garnering massive deals with Nike and Tag Heuer and even putting up his own brand, CR7.

Meanwhile, in the local scene, a few notable athletes are starting to catch the attention of different brands. While there is still a disparity between the jaw-dropping deals that James and Ronaldo garner, our Filipino sports superstars are reaping the seeds of their hard work that they deserve.

NLEX Road Warrior Kiefer Ravena recently signed an elusive deal with the Jordan Brand to become the first Filipino in its roster of young, elite players. Meanwhile, Olympian Margielyn Didal secured a contract with New Balance’s skateboard line, giving her the chance to release her own design in the brand’s latest skateboard sneaker series, the Numeric 272. It is promising that such huge companies promote our very own, but local brands and even the government should invest in them a great deal.

The fame of a brand endorser benefits both sides, as it provides a consistent clamor for their products. Especially in this era of social media, athletes are considered to be influencers, whether they like it or not. Different platforms allow them to engage with their fans and give them the chance to increase their earnings. But beyond that, these star athletes also have the power and voice to influence not just fans or the sports community but the entire world.

Becoming an advocate for a specific brand requires commitment and trust. Athletes have the luxury of adding to their greatness the merchandise made in honor of them. Corporations are rewarded by attaining a larger audience and becoming associated with renowned athletes. While not all brand deals yield promising outcomes, a handful of them become golden opportunities that last a generation. A prominent example is Michael Jordan, whose honored name has become an unceasing presence in almost every sport there is and even outside sports.

Outside of basketball, the amazing, raw talent of other athletes should be recognized and awarded as well to boost their confidence and morale. Along with support and praise, it is an important factor that they are given a chance to be the face of both their games and their chosen brands.

Maintaining standards

In 2016, sportswear giant Nike ended its ties with boxer-turned-senator Manny Pacquiao after he made derogatory remarks against same-sex couples, saying that it was against his religious beliefs. Nike officials then released a statement claiming that they “strongly oppose discrmination of any kind.” While different companies focus on their business goals and brand, they also emphasize the values that they stand up for. That, to me, is respectable given that athletes put their heart and soul into their beliefs and values.
Throughout the years, athletes have become vocal about what they believe and fight for. Whether it involves racism, gender equality, or LGBTQ+ rights in sports, some companies merit these values and beliefs, which is why certain personalities appeal to them even more.

Amid all the bittersweet triumphs, heartbreaks, and unnoticed hard work, athletes also take care of their reputation to avoid a tainted image that can rob them of sponsorship deals. Endorsements, after all, are all about projecting a likable, positive image for others to look up to. Thus, having attributes that others could follow is a huge factor that companies look into before considering who to promote locally or globally. One must be easily relatable and welcoming, especially in the area of sports where people treat them as illustrious celebrities.

Apart from their driven and determined approach to the game, athletes are also sought after for their character toward life. This is why both they and the brands need to market themselves as champions of the people, with their convincing values and purposes aligned.

Thus, we must acknowledge that behind the astounding accolades and seemingly perfect records, athletes are humans, too. Though it is a side of them we barely see, they face the pressure of maintaining their standards and that of what teams, fans, and even brands expect of them. The endorsement deals and brand apparels they acquire are merely a cherry on top of their fabulous careers. What they believe in and stand up for transcend the borders of their sports.

After all, athletes and their signature merchandise have the ability to positively impact and bring people together. They carry with them the responsibility of being influencers of positive change and advocates of humane perspectives and values.

Jeremiah Dizon

By Jeremiah Dizon

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