Academic journal article IUP Journal of Brand Management

Brand Management throughout Professional Athletes' Careers

Academic journal article IUP Journal of Brand Management

Brand Management throughout Professional Athletes' Careers

Article excerpt


Companies select professional athletes and other celebrities as endorsers or testimonials for their products because they want consumers to pay attention to their products and hope that the positive athlete image spills over to the product image (McCracken, 1989; and Till, 2001).

Most endorsement studies take a company perspective and focus on topics such as celebrity selection, celebrity-product fit and celebrity usage (e.g., Kamins, 1990; Miciak and Shanklin, 1994; and Hsu and McDonald, 2002). Recently, academicians have begun to emphasize the athlete's perspective and have focused on how to develop athlete brands (Arai et al., 2013). This is triggered by two phenomena: (1) The growing importance of sponsorships and endorsements as an income source for professional athletes (Renard and Sitz, 2011); and (2) The acknowledgment by professional athletes or their management that active athlete brand management is crucial for an increase in athletes' commercial revenues (Wilson and Liu, 2012).

Arai et al. (2013) particularly investigate the brand image of professional athletes. Because an athlete's career duration is limited, they make a plea for further research that investigates athlete brand management throughout the athlete's career: "[...] a systematic understanding of athlete brands using their product life cycle may help develop an effective brand strategy for an athlete in any stage" (Arai et al., 2013, p. 400). We address this plea by incorporating a long-term perspective to understand how professional athletes can optimize commercial (i.e., sponsorship and endorsement) revenues throughout their careers. Special attention is given to athlete brand management, particularly balancing Brand Building (BB) and Brand Selling (BS).

Because of scarce knowledge about long-term athletes' perspectives, particularly toward athlete brand management and strategies to optimize their Accumulated Commercial Revenues (ACR), this paper is conceptual in its approach. It is not intended to yield exact numbers or definite instructions on which commercial offers an athlete should accept or reject. Rather, it offers a conceptual framework regarding the dynamics of athlete brand management throughout an athlete's career, which may be a valuable tool for advertising companies and for professional athletes. Moreover, the paper aims to trigger further empirical research on athlete brand management.

The paper is structured as follows: Initially, we propose four key determinants for the optimization of athletes' ACR by reviewing the related literature: (1) Absolute and relative brand equity; (2) Associated risks; (3) The length of athletes' careers; and (4) The rate at which brand equity is converted to commercial revenues throughout athletes' careers. This is followed by a discussion on the tradeoffbetween BB and BS, and a demonstration of how athlete brand management can actually affect ACR optimization. We further propose a number of contingencies related to an athlete's situation and environment that determine appropriate athlete brand management strategies at different stages of the athlete's career. Finally, we outline a typology of brand management strategies based on the previously-defined contingencies and apply it to the brand management strategies of famous professional athletes. The high-level framework is shown in Figure 1. More detailed parts of the framework are introduced in subsequent sections. The paper concludes with a brief summary, implications for companies and athletes, and directions for further research.

Literature Review

Determinants of Athletes' Accumulated Commercial Revenues

An athlete's ACR is the sum of all sponsorship and endorsement revenues throughout the athlete's career. One might simply say that sporting success is the most important driver for ACR and that in some cases, such as soccer player David Beckham and tennis player Maria Sharapova, a certain glamor factor may boost ACR even more. …

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