By Marianna Kazazi, The Sports Financial Literacy Academy (SFLA), Nicosia, Cyprus
There is no doubt that high-performance athletes become naturally recognizable as they catch the interest of spectators, finding themselves in the spotlight due to their athletic accomplishments.
Great field performance draws the attention of sports fans as they admire star athletes and are keen on discovering more about them. As a result, fans may closely follow their favorite athlete on social media to keep up with their daily lives. This certainly plays an important role and contributes to the development of the athlete’s personal brand and its value and marketability.
Having phenomenal athletic performance is possibly the most important factor in attracting the fans’ attention and creating a positive image, as perceived by the public, at least at the beginning of an athlete’s sports’ career.
A great example is Greek-Nigerian professional basketball player, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who plays for the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis can be described as a basketball legend, winning multiple awards and honors but also the support of his fans, worldwide. It is said that Giannis has actually put Milwaukee on the world map and he has made it known to billions of people!
Sportsmanship is another significant performance-related factor that can affect public perception.
It is linked to the athlete’s behavior towards their opponents, the respect they show on the field, and graciousness in winning or losing. Being respectful, supportive, playing fair, and practicing self-control are considerable traits that positively impact the public’s perception of athletes.
A well-known example of an athlete showing poor sportsmanship is that of tennis player, Nick Kyrgios, who made headlines around the world for all the wrong reasons at the Montreal Masters, where during a game with Stan Wawrinka, he expressed his anger of losing the first set by saying disrespectful things about his opponent’s girlfriend. This caused great social media backlash and negative buzz around his name. Having strong values and morals, therefore, is crucial for athletes in maintaining a good public image.
Regardless of their professional career successes, athletes are admired or scrutinized for their off-pitch actions as well.
An example of this, is Gerard Piqué. Piqué used to play as a defender for one of the greatest football clubs worldwide, Barcelona, when a cheating scandal came to the surface, revealing his affair with another woman whilst being in a marital relationship with music artist Shakira. After that, the footballer not only lost one million followers, but also announced his withdrawal from his soccer team through his social media platforms.
Performance is clearly not the only component contributing to the commercialization of the athlete’s brand name, image, and likeness. Attractive manners and appearance, as well as marketable lifestyle, are vital contributors to the influence athletes have on people. In fact, nowadays, it is common for athletes, who may not be the best in their respective fields, to attract an impressive amount of audience, due to their attractiveness and engaging personal style which transforms them into symbols, or due to their off-field marketing features.
Even though the perceived success of athletes is originally measured by their personal accomplishments on the field of play, athletes need to understand that public perception goes beyond sport. Thus, they need to be constantly working on their personal brand strategies to build and maintain a strong and valuable and marketability public image.