Influencer Marketing and the Sports Industry – Part 1

influencer marketing and the sports industry

This is the first part of the two-part series on influencer marketing & the sports industry. It talks about the importance of influencer marketing to sports brands, and highlights examples of companies that have partnered with long-tail influencers to promote their offerings.

Every few months, a new Nike advert hits the scene. Featuring Cristiano Ronaldo, Rafael Nadal, Kobe Bryant and other high-profile stars.

They make it seem like if you don’t own Nike’s workout gear, you’re missing out, in the sense that you’re not reaching your full potential.

This is a classic case of influencer marketing. Nike leverages the power of celebrities to get their marketing message across worldwide audiences. But it’s nothing new; sports brands have been leveraging the star power of celebrities since decades. These campaigns don’t intrigue me, to be honest.

What does excite me, however, is the presence of peer-to-peer influencers (aka. long-tail influencers) in sports marketing campaigns. Peer-to-peer influencers are key individuals who’re partnering with sports brands on young digital media channels like Snapchat, Vine and Instagram. Sports brands are working with them to reach niche audiences, even though they don’t have a big following. 

Sports Brands Are Realizing the Opportunity in Long-Tail Influence

It is the power of relevance and word-of-mouth that has allowed peer-to-peer influencers to create a successful business model on Vine, Instagram, Snapchat and other digital media channels. The niche darlings have a high affinity with “sports lovers”, which is why they resonate so well with the audience.

Sports brands of all kinds – activewear companies, sporting goods brands, sports equipment manufacturers, etc. – realize that peer-to-peer influencers can have a significant impact on the performance of their respective marketing campaigns. Flywheel Sports, for example, partnered with a new mother to showcase the results its products can deliver.

the sports industry

The before-and-after image became the most popular Instagram post for the sports brand in 2016. The influencer showed how she used a Flywheel Sports’ product to achieve a personal goal. The brand tagged the influencer to send traffic to her Instagram account, and used relevant hashtags to gain traction for its own Instagram account, a smart co-marketing tactic.

Using the influence of normal people, like in the example above, results in a powerful legitimacy. It works best on platforms like Instagram, where the influencer/brand can post images and videos of a sports offering in action.

Apart from sporting brands that target the usual sports-loving audience, extreme sports brands are also using influencer marketing to connect with their target audiences. GoPro (can be considered as a brand that targets extreme sports lovers), for example, sponsors long-tail influencers to record footage of their extreme sporting session. The brand partners with extreme sports influencers in different segments, from snowboarding to kayaking.

Here’s a GoPro sponsored video:

What GoPro does better than other brands is that it takes the time to pick influencers in different extreme sports disciplines and then reaches out to them with a partnership offer.

Another aspect to note about GoPro and other extreme sports brands is that they’re asking niche influencers to spread the word through digital media channels as they’re cost-effective for the brand. As for the niche influencer, any video or image he/she shares will likely be seen by his/her followers immediately because of deep relationship he/she shares with them.

Billabong is another example of an extreme sports brand that is utilizing the influence of extreme sports enthusiasts to reach global audiences. It has the hashtag #billabongwomens for promoting its female activewear line. Niche influencers are sharing images and videos while wearing Billabong sports attire along with the hashtag on Instagram, Facebook, and other digital channels.

influencer marketing sports

Billabong women are females of different ages who show they’re feeling great in the brand’s sports gear. The company uses that to its advantage to target new customers.

Conventional advice in influencer marketing says that brands should choose experienced influencers, but brands like GoPro and Billabong are proving that peer-to-peer influencers add credibility to the marketing side of the sports industry and offer a decent reach.

Also, what is apparent in the majority of influencer marketing campaigns involving long-tail influencers is the use of hashtags. Sporting brands are creating their own hashtags or co-creating them with influencers to help the audience of the influencer discover their brand. Sports companies are also taking advantage of the fact that any hashtag mentioned by a peer-to-peer influencer would come off as a genuine recommendation rather than a promotion.

Clever brands like Under Armour recognize the relationship element between the consumer and the influencer, which can’t be replicated by any other form of marketing and so they’re working with influencers on digital channels to create influential campaigns.

sports industry

The hashtag #teamUA has been used by a variety of long-tail influencers, including sports teams who have a small, but influential presence on platforms like Snapchat and Twitter.


Such posts are creating a lot of goodwill for Under Armour. In some instances, the brand doesn’t even reach out to the team to offer them a chance to be a part of its influencer marketing campaign. It’s the other way around, with niche influencers chasing Under Armour for an opportunity to co-create marketing campaigns.

What’s The Takeaway Message?

The key differentiator between influencer marketing and other tactics is that the former doesn’t take the “armchair” approach. It gives brands the ability to really touch the heart of consumers through people that hold the same passion as them about a particular sports, rather than through the motivational utter of celebrities. Influencer marketing brings them closer to the real sweat and experience, as people influencing them aren’t someone with skills like Roger Federer or stamina like Usain Bolt.

In the second part of this series, you’ll learn how to properly execute an influencer marketing campaign for a sports brand. Till then, tell us what you think of the examples given above. 

fabrizio perrone

Fabrizio is one of the Buzzoole's founders. A serial digital entrepreneur, he is visionary, dynamic, a perfectionist, tech passionate, a social media expert and an Influencer Marketing Pioneer. You can get in touch with him at @fabrlzio.

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