The Future of Personal Branding in College Sports - by Sarah Daren

From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."

Sarah Daren is a featured writer on the Today Show website and has been a consultant for organizations across a number of industries including athletics, health and wellness, technology and education. When she's not caring for her children or watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach.

Sarah Daren
Sarah Daren

On the field, performance is the only thing that distinguished one college athlete from another. Off the field, the story is quite different. Skill still matters, but so does personality, fan engagement, and general public perception.

Much has been made of the contradictions surrounding college athletics over the past several years, an industry where the money is big, but not so equitably dispersed. As the story of how, when, and to what extent student-athletes can be compensated continues to unfold it becomes ever clearer that the best way burgeoning athletes can take advantage of their talent is to take matters into their own hands.

A strong brand impacts public perception, wins you new fans, and can even help attract the attention of professional teams.

What Is Personal Branding for Athletes?

Personal branding is the foundation of a long-term, lucrative career in athletics. In the digital age, athletes cultivate their reputations through any number of off-field avenues, including social media, podcasts, blogs, and more.

The process of personal branding is complicated by the marriage of concrete factors, such as the athlete's performance, the success of their team, their logos, etc., and intangible but equally relevant components such as likeability and public perception.

Stir in rampant competition and the plot thickens. The proliferation of social media at once provides student-athletes with the opportunity to shape how sponsors and fans perceive them, while also generating a crowded, highly competitive avenue for getting attention.

The Benefits of Using Social Media for Branding

On the college level, social media is a potent way of presenting student-athletes in a compellingly human light. Fans are ostensibly given around-the-clock access to the players they admire. In exchange, the athlete, and the franchise behind them receive free marketing, and the opportunity to carefully sculpt their image.

Through channels like Instagram or Twitter, franchises can interact directly with their fanbase, providing highly personalized branding that no other avenue of marketing can match.

Of course, the benefits are equally lucrative for the athlete, even if their career isn't destined to continue beyond graduation. While not every college athlete makes the leap into professionalism, there are still significant benefits to having a strong social media brand. As the issue of likeness rights continues to be kicked around, student-athletes may potentially be able to better monetize their persona if they can leverage a large network of fans.

Public awareness can also generate other opportunities for athletes. For example, an extremely talented swimmer might be able to set high rates for lessons if they can boast a degree of fame.

Tips for Growing Your Personal Brand

While kings and queens of controversy enjoy a degree of public appeal, their success is often short-lived and dampened by tumult. For the most part, the public prefers positivity. Team leaders who can demonstrate a commitment to their franchise and the other players around them enjoy high levels of likeability, and, of course, the marketability that stems from it. Listen actively to your audience. Focus on providing motivation and support. If honey attracts flies, upbeat tweets attract money.

Articles by Sarah Daren