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Licensing Leadership Summit: How Social Media Has Turned Athletes into Digital Influencers

The NFLPA’s Terése Whitehead highlights the influential role athletes can play in branding and licensing.

Social media and fantasy football have fundamentally changed how fans interact with sports. From fans knowing the people under the helmet to them rooting for players that don't even play for their favorite team, the rise of online platforms has fundamentally changed fans' relationship with the NFL.

According to a 2019 report from the NFLPA and the Morning Consult, 79 percent of NFL fans root for a player who doesn't play on their favorite team. The study also found that about 47 percent of Gen Z respondents are likely to purchase a product endorsed by their favorite player.

That connection with players instead of just teams can provide a valuable opportunity for licensees and retailers. To examine the rise of the athlete influencer and highlight strategies for taking advantage of player fandom, Terése Whitehead, Senior Manager, Sponsorships & Operations, Player Services, NFLPA, will be hosting a session at the upcoming Licensing Leadership Summit.

License Global caught up with Whitehead ahead of her upcoming session. During our conversation, share shared what she plans to speak about at Licensing Leadership Summit, how the industry has changed over the last five years and the advice she would give herself if she could go back in time.

License Global: What are you hoping people get out of your talk at the Licensing Leadership Summit?

Whitehead: I’ve seen the evolution of sports marketing and licensing through the rise of social media during my 20 years in the business. The combination of athletes and social media has created a new field for competition. Professional athletes are more than just “players” – they are content creators, influencers and collaborators.

While brands have become more knowledgeable and sophisticated in working with players, I’m looking forward to providing additional insight on how they should cultivate and view these relationships with athletes as powerful social media influencers. More than other influencers, athletes can help brands turn up the volume and provide a direct gateway to consumers with unmatched sincerity and credibility. The more companies partner with the right mix of athletes, the more targeted and authentic the reach and influence becomes, delivering instant and often sustainable results.

What has been the biggest change you’ve seen in the licensing business over the last five years?

There is substantial growth and innovation across digital. I’m anxious to see how this unfolds from new products to unique forms of athlete marketing. Advancements in technology have also created ingenious ways for brands to connect with consumers. For example, the NFLPA’s exclusive trading card licensee, Panini America uses blockchain as a way to authenticate virtual trading cards, and they are also using virtual/augmented reality to create fun and memorable digital experiences for collectors. 

What is the biggest trend or industry disruption that you see on the horizon that not enough people are talking about?

The licensing of athlete biometric data is a disruption that I’ve kept my eye on over the past few years. Data analysis from performance, sleep, recovery and nutrition is now a commodity and could revolutionize how we play and consume sports.

It is truly amazing how data aggregation has extended beyond wearables to things like beds, apparel, helmets, and even video games. Once players become more familiar with market value for this information, I anticipate that the endorsement and licensing landscape will be redefined.

What advice would you give yourself if you could go back to the beginning of your career?

Write everything down! Life moves so fast. Don’t forget to record the memories and funny stories that stay with you; the volumes of wisdom you receive and interesting people you will meet; and most important, the problems you will encounter and how you solve them –  and what you learn from them if you aren’t successful.

As a manager, you’ll want to share these moments to let others know that life is less about how hard you work, it’s more about what you learn along the way and the resilience you build through adversity and how you triumph because of it.

How has social media impacted sports licensing?

Paid social media advertising, whitelisting, and shoppable posts are a few key drivers that have increased brand discovery and the ability for licensees to attract new fans and convert them into customers. In the era of “see it, like it, buy it,” the ability to purchase direct through social platforms has resulted in immediate sales opportunities, almost eliminating the need to drive traffic to websites and outside the social ecosystem.

Social has allowed licensees to better target and reach a community of fans and engage with different demographics.  Brands can also gauge how receptive consumers are to types of messaging through immediate metrics like shares and likes and it gives them a platform to capitalize on hot moments through the virality of a story, play, or post. 

Learn More

To hear more from Whitehead and other licensing thought leaders, register to attend this year’s Licensing Leadership Summit, taking place on March 16 and 17, 2020, in New York City, New York. The reimagined executive-level conference and networking event will present a comprehensive program that covers industry-focused topics shaping the licensing world.

The Licensing Leadership Summit is organized by the Global Licensing Group at Informa Markets, the organization behind leading trade shows Licensing Expo, Brand Licensing Europe, Licensing Expo China and Licensing Expo Japan, as well as License Global.

Sponsors of Licensing Leadership Summit 2020 include JPatton, an industry leader in providing innovative, customized solutions that combine patented brand-protection products and services with unrivaled consumer engagement opportunities; Dependable Solutions, which delivers the latest financial management and creative approval systems and services to agents, licensors and licensees by experienced specialists who have licensing, creative and royalty backgrounds; Trevco, which helps materialize the brand vision of more than 800-plus licensed brands through the manufacturing and sales of licensed consumer products with a focus on apparel and accessories; and Future State Brands, a global consumer goods and marketing company with a mission to lead cannabis from the black market to the supermarket.

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