The primary aim of a Sponsor brand using social media around sports is to increase their audience affiliation and connect with fans & followers. But it’s not just a numbers game, it’s about how strong the connection is with the right people.

Sponsors in the sports world have a big advantage over brands in other industries looking to create a powerful social media impact: players. Star players or athletes are the greatest brand advocates any business could ask for, with identifiable names and their own devoted set of followers.

Putting players front-and-center on social media can help fans connect to their favourite team members or sporting heroes and set the stage for exciting, shareable content, which can help enhance your brand’s profile. Players and Athletes are key in enabling sponsors connect with the audience in a way that doesn’t seem like a sales pitch, this way people are more receptive to the message.

Here we look at our Top 10 examples of the use of Sports Stars to impact Brand Sponsorship across Social Media for 2016- Sports social influencers

1 – Adidas & Lionel Messi

Adidas work in partnership with perhaps world football’s most recognisable global star: Lionel Messi. During the World Cup in 2014, the brand sponsored both teams who made it to the final (Argentina and Germany) as well as having the rights to design and sponsor the tournament ball.

However, it is their continued relationship with Messi that has pushed them almost to the top of sports apparel market. Boot and clothing sponsorship are of course important to promoting the brand, however the German company went one step further setting up the Twitter account @TeamMessi, which by their own admission is “The official twitter account of Team Messi – a global fan movement founded by adidas to celebrate everything Messi.”

The account shares information about the latest Messi releases and strives to make the brand inextricably linked to the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.

2 – Tag Heuer & Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo is the most followed athlete on social media with 160 million followers accross Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, 65 million more than Messi and Neymar who have the next biggest following. His endorsement/posterboy deal with Nike is well documented but here we will look at how his social media presence delivers for his next biggest partner Tag Heuer.  A great example of this can be seen when last year he posted 6 times on Facebook over two days regarding the watch brand’s “Don’t Crack Under Pressure” ad campaign. The posts were viewed 35 million times with 2.4 million “likes” over two days. The posts generated an estimated value of $380,000 for Tag, according to research firm Repucom.

3 – Under Armour & Jordan Spieth

This year Jordan Spieth became the world’s number one golfer and in doing so catapulted his sponsor’s brand, Under Armour (UA), into the public sphere as real contenders. UA are one of the fastest growing sports brands in the world, representing the Welsh rugby team at this year’s world cup and NBA’s Most Valuable Player, Stephen Curry.

Campaigns such as #IWill and #TeamUA unify their efforts on social media and bring together followers of different sports under the one brand umbrella.

4 – Reebok & Conor McGregor

The Ultimate Fighting Championship has one of the highest numbers of signed athletes on some form of social media (over 90%). Conor McGregor is probably the most high profile athlete in the sport at the moment and brands have looked to him to promote their products. His impressive 13 second K.O of previously undefeated Jose Aldo has set him up to reach unprecendented earnings by a UFC fighter.

He has already endorsed Monster energy drink, mobile app Game of War and significantly has a personal sponsorship deal with Reebok, who are the predominant apparel supplier to the UFC.

McGregor is set to become “the UFC’s first $100 millionaire,” according to ESPN. This figure would be from fight earnings, bonuses and pay-per-view revenue alone.

The Nevada Athletic Commission disclosed that McGregor was paid $40,000 from Reebok for the fight against Aldo. In addition he receives royalties on any of his Reebok merchandise sold. It’s estimated this is worth 20-30 per cent of the sale price. Now relative to the other deals we cover here this is very small but it’s only really the beginning for McGregor and his skyrocketing brand.

Get my new custom @Reebok #FuryLite shoes & new Precision & Timing tee (US only, for now):

A post shared by Conor McGregor Official (@thenotoriousmma) on

5 – Lexus & Vernon Davis

Vernon Davis joined the Denver Broncos from the San Franscisco 49ers in November, in February he won the Superbowl with his new team. Fans will get an insight into his move to Denver via a new 3-part digital series on AOL called ‘The Ultimate Crossover’, in partnership with Lexus. Davis has got 889,000 followers on Instagram, 1.96 million followers on Twitter and 686,000 likes on Facebook. Sponsors are tapping into his 3.5 million reach.

In this endorsement deal, Lexus use Davis’ digital prowess to reach new customers — even if that means focusing on a different subject than the product. Lexus is using “The Ultimate Crossover” to show that its RX line has evolved and is redesigned, similar to Davis’ story. While Lexus is the sponsor of “The Ultimate Crossover” and the car is shown in some scenes, ultimately the series focuses on what Davis wants to do.

6 – Samsung & LeBron James

LeBron and his team have created “Strive For Greatness”, a five part mini-series following the basketball superstar through the tireless process of training for yet another championship campaign. Each of the five episodes is shot with a 360-degree camera intended for viewing on a Virtual Reality device, but also watchable through Facebook’s 360-degree video experience, allowing viewers to drag the frame from side to side, giving them an all-encompassing look at LeBron’s workouts. James and his team, long time partners with Samsung, designed the series to be experienced through the company’s latest release, the Samsung Gear VR, a virtual reality headset available for only $99.


7 – Puma & Usain Bolt

Bolt was sidelined in 2014 for much of the year by injuries as he raced at only three events. Prize money is almost non-existent in track and field, but Bolt ranks among the world’s best-paid athletes thanks to sponsorships and appearance fees that are dramatically higher than any other track star. Puma is his chief sponsor in a deal worth $10 million a year through the 2017 World Championships, which could be Bolt’s swan song to the sport. He has a global ambassador deal in place with Puma in retirement worth as much as $4 million a year through 2025.

My New Usain Bolt collection is in @puma store near you #Blessed #BuildingTheBrand #SecuringTheLegacy #ToDiWorld

A post shared by Usain St.Leo Bolt (@usainbolt) on

8 – Gatorade & Serena Williams

Serena Williams will arguably go down down as the greatest female tennis player of all time having already won 21 grand slam titles with a few more surely to follow. For her success on-court and the uniqueness of her story off-court, Serena has been a huge commercial success. Williams is building a big presence away from the game, Forbes estimated her off-court earnings at $13 million in 2015.  In terms of endorsements he’s not at Maria Sharapova levels, yet, but is closing that margin. She has a number of high profile sponsors but the Gatorade deal caught our eye as it features some clever ads like the ones below.


9 – IWC Watches & Lewis Hamilton

The British Mercedes Formula 1 driver is one of the most marketable sports stars on the planet but he is limited in how much he can capitalize on his marketability with Mercedes controlling much of his sponsorship opportunities via its team sponsors like UBS and Blackberry. Hamilton’s new Formula 1 contract is expected to provide him with more opportunities to secure endorsement and licensing deals with Mercedes F1 loosening the constraints on categories he can target.

While Mercedes pays the lion’s share of his annual salary, Hamilton also receives a healthy income from his personal sponsors, which include watchmaker IWC and Bombardier Jets. Forbes estimate that various off-track sponsorship deals raked in additional $3 million for Hamilton in 2015 and that figure has increased markedly since his third World Championship last year.

A night out with our #iwcwatches family. Always a great time! @iwcwatches

A post shared by Lewis Hamilton (@lewishamilton) on

10 – Moët & Chandon and Roger Federer

Federer is the endorsement king of tennis with deals with a number of premium brands. Federer’s place as tennis’ leading brand ambassador is well-earned. He’s on the short list of the greatest players in tennis history, with a record 17 grand slam titles and nearly $100 million in career prize money. With more than a decade of on-court dominance and a jovial personality that exudes calm in pressure-packed moments, Federer is still a fan favorite, even as his on-court skills have waned slightly.

Federer has parlayed the support he enjoys from American fans into several massive, high-profile endorsement deals. Aside from his exclusive, personalized line of Nike apparel, Federer has agreements with premium brands like Rolex watches and Mercedes-Benz vehicles. More recently he has become a brand ambassador for Moët & Chandon.

The key for sponsor brands is to connect with the audience through social media and listen to how they respond. Ensure your brand is prepared to maximise the benefit from the live sports events you invest in!