From Athlete Marketing to Icon Marketing

No better time for major change than the start of the new year. So as of January 1, I’ll no longer be serving my longtime role as CMO at BDA Sports Management. After 15 years, it’s time to move on. And this site is now “Icon Marketing Guy”.

Why now? Why shake things up after so many years? Because as a marketer, I’m appropriately insecure and paranoid. I believe that any marketer who thinks that he or she is an “expert” is really a dinosaur looking for a tar pit. Marketing is constantly changing. And as the “expert marketer” gets older, the clients and their fans do not. So I feel that to stay relevant, and to remain ahead of the pack in the world of talent marketing, I need to continue to grow. I’ve been marketing NBA players for 15 years. It’s time for a new challenge. And the opportunity to learn from the amazing people at PMK-BNC was simply way too exciting for me to pass on.

But I’m also very aware of how the marketplace is changing. When I started, endorsement deals were primarily dominated by professional athletes. Aligning with consumer brands was frowned upon by traditional celebrities, and athletes had the lion’s share of the opportunities. Then came Kobe in Denver, Tiger in Florida, Lance in France (see how I rhymed that?) . Mount Olympus came crumbling down. Couple that with a major recession, and you have a sponsorship landscape full of brands cutting spending and afraid of athletes.

In the meantime, the game also changed in film, television and music. In film and scripted television, studios cut their “above the line” budgets by surrounding superstars with supporting casts of up and coming (and inexpensive) newcomers. Well known, but “b-level” actors began losing work. And turning to commercial work. In music, artists started connecting directly with their fans, and record company revenues plummeted as they didn’t foresee the importance of digital downloads. Artists no longer could rely on record deals to pay their bills. They started to focus even more on live performing. And on sponsors. Finally, reality television created a whole new class of celebrities who had absolutely no reluctance to pitch products.

So if you fast forward from my first day in the business until 2014, you have a completely changed landscape. Brands are more reluctant to hire athletes. And they have a plethora of alternatives. Brand work now goes to actors, musicians, comedians, reality stars and also to a select group of charismatic, trustworthy athletes. The cream of the crop in each of these verticals gets all of the work. No longer do athletes dominate the sponsorship world. Need proof? Jennifer Aniston works with Aveeno and Vitamin Water. Nuff said.

Another very exciting trend has also emerged. Equity deals. This is very big picture thinking that requires a tolerance for (calculated) risk. At BDA, we helped launched a very successful wine company for Yao Ming, and a chain of health clubs for Steve Nash. I believe there are unlimited brands looking for a boost from credible celebrities. These relationships are much more profound (and evergreen) than traditional endorsement deals. When they work, they can be very rewarding. This is very enjoyable work, and I wanted to be in a place with a roster deep enough to allow me to participate in more licensing and new venture work.

So it is out with the old and in with the new. I leave BDA feeling blessed to have so many wonderful years there, and to leave with lifelong friendships that I know will continue. When I’m asked by college students for career advice, I always suggest they work at places where they respect the people. And I head to PMK BNC knowing I’ll be surrounded by a group that is known for their work ethic and their character. I know they will teach me a ton, that I’ll give it my very best, and that I’ll be positioned to learn, grow and contribute. Can’t ask for more than that.

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About Bill Sanders

SVP of Personal Brand Management at PMK*BNC. Helping icons from all walks of life to connect with their fans and monetize their brands.
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One Response to From Athlete Marketing to Icon Marketing

  1. What an excellent post and recap of how brand marketing has changed over the years. It has happened so gradually, you don’t even realize it until you read this. Thanks for putting all the time into summarizing it, as well as telling us why it makes sense to make the move. Good luck with this exciting new opportunity! I look forward to reading and learning more.

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