Rarely is the power of individual footballers more evident than in the late European summer.
With the club season young and the main transfer window still open, leading players command the stage. Those who have switched teams are closely scrutinised for the effect they have on their new employers’ fortunes; many of those who have not are in even higher demand, as fans and pundits speculate about the needs of top sides around the continent.
When players do move, it gives analysts a rare opportunity to register their popular profile. Historically, that might have been recorded through spikes in season ticket and replica shirt sales. More recently, the draw of digital media stories and social media posts provides its own empirical, if broad, measure. The transfers of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi last summer - from Juventus to Real Madrid and Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain respectively - were evidence of that effect at its height.
Rarely, if ever, would clubs be motivated by that impact in making a signing - the sheer cost of recruitment means that transfers have to pay off on the field above all else - but the arrival of any new star would be factored into the plans of in-house media and commercial departments, as well as those of official partners.
Rising athlete influence is a clear and crucial factor in men’s and - increasingly - women’s football. For set pieces like kit launches, the stories of individuals are woven more carefully into those of their clubs.
Yet teams are now beginning to consider the role of influencers far beyond their first elevens. Those might include club legends, fan media, famous supporters, or representatives of local business and community groups. Their relationships to each other can open up other avenues for creativity and communication, and they are all relevant to the conversation around the club.
In July, Premier League side Arsenal signed a sponsorship agreement with a new official hydration partner. Prime Hydration is a brand co-founded by KSI and Logan Paul, YouTube content creators with over 23 million subscribers each, whose activities have extended into boxing and a host of other media experiments.
KSI, an Arsenal fan, described the deal as a “dream come true”. For the club, who will sell Prime drinks at their Emirates Stadium home in north London, it will serve as an intriguing case study. The announcement drove a spike in online interest around Arsenal as KSI and Paul’s young followers checked in on their latest adventure. That underscores the potential multiplier effect of bringing together different audiences and fanbases - a phenomenon that athletes and their teams are also able to exploit.
Meanwhile, Arsenal and clubs like them will be watching to see how products like Prime perform. The company has sold over ten million bottles since launching in the US at the start of the year, and has distribution contracts in place with retailers like Target in North America and Asda in the UK.
As influencer marketing moves from advertising and endorsements with established brands to building startups - Logan Paul’s brother, Jake, raised $50 million in August for small-stake betting service Betr - it is worth taking stock of the entire marketing landscape. Some commentators - such as Andy Marston, the author of the Sports Pundit newsletter - have suggested that teams and athletes might explore their own options in product categories where they are relevant and credible.
As the media ecosystem continues to change, new possibilities are sure to emerge.
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