By Barry Janoff
March 30, 2016: Social media has been part of sports almost from the first tweet on Twitter, the first conversation on Snapchat and the first "like" on Facebook.
More recently, however, athletes have been using social media as a powerful tool to share their thoughts, break news, sign deals and promote their brand.
When Kobe Bryant revealed that this would be his last NBA season, he did so via a poem on The Players' Tribune, a site formed by MLB icon Derek Jeter after his retirement in 2015. Calling itself "The Voice of the Games, it also is populated with first-person stories from the likes of C.C. Sabathia ("My Struggle With Alcoholism"), Sue Bird ("The Information Shortage In Women's Sports"), Colt McCoy ("My Journey To The NFL") and Brayan Pena ("My Escape From Cuba").
LeBron James and friend/manager Maverick Carter, with the backing of nearly $16 million from Turner and Warner Bros. unveiled last year the multimedia site, Uninterrupted, intended to "provide platforms and open connections for athletes to mobile, Web, social, TV and film." Last week, projected No. 1 overall NBA draft pick Ben Simmons broke news via the site that he had signed with the Klutch Sports Group, the most recent in a series of postings from such stars as Rob Gronkowski, Ronda Rousey, Draymond Green and, of course, James himself.
In March, NBA MVP Stephen Curry launched Slyce with businessman (and personal friend) Bryant Barr, a social media platform "enabling influencers to more effectively interact with fans and partner with consumer brands." The site came with a built-in audience: Curry has some 5.4 million likes on his Facebook page and 4.9 million followers on Twitter.
Cycle, a global media network creating content with more than 2,500 of the world's top influencers and professional athletes, with more than 50,000 pieces of original content each month that generate, by their estimate, three billion views.
Cycle is under the auspices of Wasserman Media Group (Team Wasserman), a leading global sports, entertainment and lifestyle marketing and management agency, led by Casey Wasserman, that represents brands, properties and talent on a global basis, which acquired Cycle last April.
Among those in the Cycle network are NBA All-Star Anthony Davis (pictured left), skateboard icon Ryan Sheckler and U.S. Women's National Soccer Team star Sydney Leroux (pictured above).
Among the brands that have executed ad programs with Cycle are Nike's Jordan, Beat by Dre, Holiday Inn, Starwood, Michael Kors, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Amazon, Walt Disney and AT&T.
In a series of videos, "AD All Day," Davis, a Nike endorser, talks about overcoming odds on and off the court and helping other young players to reach their goals.
To help launch LG’s V10 smartphone, Cycle partnered with skate star Ryan Sheckler (pictured below) and more than 30 other multi-platform social influencers to shoot and share original content using the device. (View them here.)
Following a serious injury, Leroux and Cycle used LG’s Tone Active technology during rehab as she trained to get back into shape. According to Cycle, a one-day production resulted in 20 videos and 50 photos, "driving over four million video views across Sydney’s and LG’s channels." (View them here.)
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Mike Mikho, who has been the CMO of Cycle since 2014, overseeing new business and marketing and working with both brands and athletes to identify collaborations and leverage social media to drive business results.
NYSportsJournalism.com: What are the key factors that drive athletes to use and connect with brands on Cycle, and vice-versa?
Mike Mikho: A number of factors have to come together in order for it to make sense. Brands often will come to us with a business goal and a desire to reach key metrics. So we'll review those factors and come back to them with some key influencers who can help them reach their goal. It depends on the size of the audience, the sport and the type of content an athlete creates. But most often it depends on the actual interest of the athlete. They are all spectacular athletes. But what story do they want to tell? Then we work with the athlete to find a story that is authentic to them and to their audience, but is also highly relevant to the brand and their business objectives.
NYSJ: How important is it for athletes to be honest when telling their story and/or becoming a brand ambassador?
MM: The last thing we want to is post something that entirely serves the brand but is seen as fake or inauthentic by the influencer's audience. Similarly, we don't want to post something that is all about the influencer but has nothing to do with the brand. So it is collaborative. Often, the athletes will start the conversation and say, for example, I'm interested in talking about a passion I have, be it technology, fashion, food, the community. Or they'll say, I'm taking a trip and I'm interested in documenting the journey. And when that happens, we can look at the brands with which we work to see who makes sense to partner with this athlete, and also see what brand we can bring into the mix to make the story better. Our end goal is to make sure that the finished product is extremely authentic and relevant to all parties, including, and most importantly, the audience.
NYSJ: What has been the drive to raise the quality of production and content above most of what has been created by athletes?
MM: The quality demands of social have grown as the importance of social has grown. Early on, when broadcast still owned eyeballs, brands responded in kind. Now, social media is how people consume the vast majority of their content. We know that's where people are getting entertainment, so it's our responsibility to make sure that the content we put out is premium quality. Brands have been working with athletes for a long time. When it comes to social media, in the past, brands would send an athlete a product, the athlete would take a picture with their phone and post it. It might be blurry. It might be grainy. Not a good representation of their brand. At Cycle, we produce premium content. Professional quality content. And it is authentic and native to social media. Something the brand and the athlete can be proud of.
NYSJ: Do you work ahead looking at the sports calendar, this year with the Olympics, for example?
MM: We do. We work with athletes who are aiming for the Summer Games and want to tell their Road to Rio story. And we tell the platforms with which we work what we are doing, so if they have brands they work with that want to be associated with the content, we can collaborate. And brands also approach us about major events, such as the Olympics or the Super Bowl.
NYSJ: Do you consider sites such as The Players' Tribune from Derek Jeter or LeBron James' Uninterrupted as competition or helping to build the category?
MM: It's fantastic to see what LeBron, Jeter and a number of people are doing. Social media removes barriers for athletes to reach fans and influencers that previously existed in the the media. For a long time, people knew athletes mainly from their highlights. Now you get to see them off the playing field. You see pictures of their family on Instagram, you see them on Snapchat celebrating the holidays. Their personal messages on Facebook. So it allows athletes, content creators and influencers to forge direct relationships. Athletes are seeing the business value in that. Yes, brands will pay them to collaborate, and there are great stories to be told in that. We see that all the time. The stories told between brands and athletes are better than the stories they can tell apart. They also are recognizing the value of that engagement with users. There is a huge value in having a major social community looking for your insight, your authority, your influence. And it's been great to help facilitate that.
NYSJ: Are you able to tell what types of reactions athletes are getting from people?
MM: There are tremendous metrics and analytics behind the work we do to understand how many people we are reaching, where we are reaching them, how many people are engaging with them. Are they viewing it. Are they liking it. Are they sharing it. So we can share with the athlete and the brand what sort of reaction they are getting. We are seeing overwhelmingly positive conversation. I mean 95%-plus when we deliver authentic relationships between athletes and brands. The same goes for influencers and brands. When you work with an influencer or athlete, you start with what's relevant to them, what is their interest. You have a million followers, why are they following you? Is it because you're funny? Because you post photos of your workouts? Because you post comments about your charitable contributions? If we can tap into that, amplify that, have a brand make them funnier or more charitable, more fashionable, the audience will be elated with the results.
NYSJ: What negative comments have you seen?
MM: The only time we see that, and it is not something we are engaged in, is when it is a forced relationship. A brand wants an athlete to post something that the brand created but is not relevant to the athlete. Then it comes across as a sales pitch and not a strong relationship.
NYSJ: What do you see as the biggest impact in what you are doing and in what athletes are doing through your company?
MM: The biggest thing I'm seeing is the continuous flock of people moving away from traditional media and toward mobile and social media. And that is being driven for us in the content that athletes are putting on social media. These athletes are spending more time on social media and are devoting more time to engage their fans and followers, and that is leading to people spending more time with us and with social media destinations. There are new platforms emerging, and we are continually evolving the way we are leveraging social media sites. The trend over the next few years is that people will continue to move to social media as their primary content consumption vehicle. And that gives all of our athletes a huge opportunity to have greater control of their story, the brands they work with and what they put out in the market.
NYSJ: What about the impact in the way brands connect and work with athletes?
MM: Brands pay for reach. Athletes reach a lot of people. We structure the relationships around guaranteed reach. If an athlete is posting on your behalf, there is a huge value. And we help them to quantify that in a way that is recognizable, measurable and familiar throughout their organization. And more brands are seeing the value in that.
Back to Home Page