For the past two years, Hookit has played a contributing role in informing SportsPro’s 50 Most Marketable list, but while the company's Promotional Effectiveness (PE) Score is just one factor in the decision-making process, there are a whole host of data points which are interesting in and of themselves.
For this year’s list, SportsPro and Hookit embarked on a special project to produce an alternative top ten focused on the social media elements of athlete marketing. In keeping with SportsPro’s rationale for 50 Most Marketable, Hookit’s data was harnessed to provide a snapshot of athletes who are deemed to hold the greatest commercial potential.
Drawing from the database Hookit creates for SportsPro to help draw up the main list, the company’s spontech team added a couple of additional metrics designed to judge athlete marketing potential. Factored in the selection were social media follower growth rate over a set period and a minimum post engagement rate, with a hard age cap of 33 set for qualifying athletes.
For Hookit, follower growth is one good indicator of marketing potential because it shows how quickly an athlete’s persona and profile are increasing. More followers means more fans will see the posts from that athlete. This, though, is not enough alone - engagement is key.
Follower growth can be very high, but if those followers are not engaging with posts and branded content, it does not help the brand the athlete is representing. If a brand can snare a young athlete with a high follower growth rate, the brand can typically sign the athlete for a fraction of what it would cost to sign a well-established star. The brand can then support the athlete’s growth, propelling them into becoming an established ambassador.
The results of the additional metrics produced a list of 69 names to which the SportsPro team then applied its usual criteria - age, home market, charisma, willingness to be marketed and crossover appeal. The final ten make up the table below and provide a snapshot of the sporting landscape.
The first takeaway from the Hookit list is the shortage of female athletes, which says much about the visibility issues women’s sport still faces on social media. However, the data also backs up the decision to rank Naomi Osaka at number one on the main list.
The Japanese tennis star’s following has exploded on social media since she won the 2018 US Open; her follower count has grown by 58 per cent in the year up to 1st June. Since then, that number has only increased as she has become an increasingly visible presence in promotional campaigns for major brands like Nike.
Including Osaka, there are six names that feature on both lists, with swimmer Adam Peaty, tennis player Alexander Zverev, baseball star Cody Bellinger, footballer Saquon Barkley and soccer player Lieke Martens joining the 2019 number one.
The names thrown up from Hookit’s data that did not make main 50 are also intriguing. Ben Simmons, whose social media profile was certainly raised by his relationship with reality TV star Kendall Jenner, was overlooked on the SportsPro 50 in favour of Philadelphia 76ers teammate Joel Embiid, who enjoyed a more impressive year on the court.
What is notable about Simmons is his engagement score, which is just four points shy of the available 100 maximum. Engagement is highly valued in advertising, and especially on social media. While reach is a straightforward measure of how often a promoted post is seen, it reveals little about how many people noticed it. Engagement, conversely, requires interaction on the part of the consumer, with Simmons’ high score a clear sign that he produces noticeable content that can convert a follower into a brand fan or a buyer.
Another athlete who scores well on engagement percentage generally - but perhaps not so well on his promoted posts judging by his 77-point grading in that category - is Callum Hudson-Odoi. It is the staggering growth in his profile that sees the emerging Chelsea and England soccer star marked out for the Hookit ten.
Despite seeing limited game time for his club to date, the 18-year-old has been heavily touted, with German giants Bayern Munich attempting to prise the player away from Stamford Bridge. A combination of intrigue, talent and news coverage has seen his follower count spike by 443 per cent over the last year, while he also remains a relatable presence, counting a general post engagement rate north of seven per cent – the second highest of the ten.
The highest scorer across the board, meanwhile, is Mitchell Marner. Depending on what you read, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ wing is either the most overrated player in the National Hockey League (NHL) or the future of whichever franchise he signs for. What is clear is that Hookit rates the 22-year-old Canadian as an extremely effective marketer on social media. A PE Score of 91 is a full six points higher than anyone else in this list and would have seen Marner placed first in the SportsPro 50 had it been ranked on PE alone.
As a composite grade out of 100 that looks at posting habits, content creation, and fan/follower engagement on promoted content, the PE Score is a way to compare entities on a level playing field. Hookit examined the quality of Marner’s promoted posts, their frequency, as well as how his promoted content performs relative to the rest of his content, and identified a very strong brand ambassador. His posts show logos or mention the brand prominently, while being singularly focused but also engaging.
While Marner is already a very reliable partner for his brands, Hookit’s ten also identified a more up and coming name with big potential. US skateboarder Chris Joslin was not in the SportsPro 50, but was picked out by Hookit’s data as having a chance to grow his profile.
Joslin has already confirmed he would like to compete as skateboarding makes its debut on the Olympic programme at Tokyo 2020, so for brands there is an interesting and unprecedented opportunity to activate. By assessing his PE Score, potential partners are better able to understand which entities could promote their brand the best and which have room to improve. For Joslin, the aim would be to work on the share of voice by decluttering his social media marketing, as diluted posts offer diminished opportunity to interact with the main partner.
While the list throws up some figures that are interesting to marketers for different reasons, what is clear is that social media’s role in assessing athlete marketability is only going to grow. For athletes, it means the ones that are most effective at utilising their platform will ultimately be best-placed to reap the benefits.