The Rise of the Athlete on Social Media

After watching the presentation in class on the Golden State Warriors Twitter account a few weeks ago, I found myself scrolling through my own Twitter feed and thinking about how my own favorite teams were trying to curate their own brand online. What I found more interesting than my favorite teams, however, was how my favorite athletes were using their social media accounts to connect with their fans and formulate their own public image.

As a non-Patriots fan, it hurts to say this, but one of the athletes that has used social media the best (in terms of furthering his own brand) is Tom Brady. Brady, who has his own social media team, has used social media masterfully to promote himself and his TB12 brand. From posting self-deprecating photos to releasing a new edition of the “TB Times” after each Patriots victory, Brady has carefully constructed a persona online that has resonated well with fans across the world.

isys21

While some athletes view social media as an opportunity to cultivate an image, others view it as a way to just let people see who they really are. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has lately been subject fodder for tabloids and hot-take tweeters due to his brother’s appearance on The Bachelorette, and his relationship with actress Olivia Munn. He recently has become more active on social media, including joining Instagram, “Just to be understood a little bit more.” For Rodgers, it is less of a desire to cultivate an image or brand, but rather more of a way to express his true self and let his own words get out there without being paraphrased, opinionated on, or misconstrued.

A third way that athletes use social media is simply to connect with fans. Younger athletes in our biggest sports are using social media much less formally than athletes of previous generations. A great example of this comes from the sport of golf. Older golfers typically use social media very professionally,

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 6.07.51 PM

while younger golfers, such as Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas, use social media much more freely. This shift in the way that golfers have used these platforms has benefitted the game of golf, helping to change the image of the game entirely. Golf is often portrayed as an old man’s game, exclusively for country clubbers and business meet-ups. With personal content on platforms such as Twitter and Snapchat, newer professional golfers are helping to make the game trendy, cool, and relevant on social media for the younger generation.

isys23

By generating authentic content, these players are keeping golf relevant in a social media scene that could easily leave the game behind.

Not all athletes are entirely successful on social media. The age of social media lets us send out our thoughts in an instant, so that athletes and others may send out messages in a moment of frustration that they could come to regret later.

isys24In addition, incidents have occurred on several occasions on social media, such as Draymond Green’s Snapchat story of his private parts, or Laremy Tunsil’s video of himself smoking marijuana out of a gas mask, that have gotten athletes into trouble. While theoretically the dangers of social media for athletes are no different from the dangers of social media for you or me or anyone else, the exposure that athletes, for better or worse, are given, can cause these posts to blow up and spiral out of control. In addition, these posts could have a significant financial impact for players. For example, it is estimated that Laremy Tunsil lost an estimated $10 million due to the changing of where he was taken in the NFL Draft after the release of the video.

So how can athletes use their social media accounts to improve business? For some, like Tom Brady, it can be used to cultivate an image and build a brand. This brand, in Brady’s case TB12, can be monetized through products, shirts, hats, etc. For others, its use can be more personal. In the case of Aaron Rodgers, it is to control his narrative a little bit, and let his real personality show. In the case of Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, it can be used to gain exposure for themselves and their sport. Personal exposure is good for business in terms of gaining popularity, and the sponsorships and advertisements that come along with it. Exposure for their sport is good for business as well, because a larger interest in the sport means more ticket sales, better TV deals for the PGA Tour, and therefore more prize money for the winner of every tournament. Social media, for us, is largely for fun. For many athletes, however, it is a business, and business is booming.

10 comments

  1. whitmcdonald2 · ·

    Really cool take on the different uses and affects of social media for athletes! After reading this, I started thinking of other advantages social media has brought to the table, but more for the organizations and leagues, rather than the individuals. I think social media has brought attention to a lot of major problems the NFL that were once not talked about. Things like domestic violence and the major concern of concussions have been brought to the surface and therefore addressed all thanks to the new platforms, the power to share to millions and change opinions, and the new levels of responsibility for actions that come with being completely public. Again, cool take- thanks for sharing!

  2. It is very cool to be able to feel like you know one of your favorite athletes through their social media posts. I follow a few professional athletes and have noticed them using the social media space to curate a brand and show their followers a little more about themselves. Obviously, as we all know well, there is also a great deal of strategy that goes into these posts and when there is not, at times this is when athletes can get themselves in some trouble.

  3. sejackson33 · ·

    I have been thinking a lot about celebrities’ personal brands on social media. I always find myself being more of a fan of someone if they are more transparent and personal on social media than if they take a more professional approach. I am also more likely to follow them. For example, there are plenty of artists I like more than Chance the Rapper, but I follow him for the cute videos of his daughter and his other instagram stories. I think Tom Brady is an interesting example because even though he has a social media team, they find a way to make his Instagram account very personal while still pushing his TB12 brand.

  4. cgoettelman23 · ·

    I don’t follow a lot of athletes on social media just because it sometimes seems forced, but the two I actively follow are Tom Brady and JJ Watt. They both, in different ways, have used their social media channels to build their brands, and their content is both entertaining and informative about who they are and what they stand for. Great article!!

  5. chloeshepard18 · ·

    The distinction you made between older and younger athletes on social media is very interesting. I completely agree although I had never noticed it before I read this blog. I think it is very important for athletes to show their humorous side on social media. I follow many athletes on social media that keep things interesting (such as Tom Brady and Gronk) and I think it ultimately does help them with their brand and their image because they are more relatable and in touch with their fans.

  6. Nice post. The topic of sports and social media has come up alot in class over the years. It’s interesting to see how the various leagues have developed policies for their athletes. Even more interesting to think about is how the interests of the athlete, the team, and the league are often at odds with one another. Creates some interesting tensions at times.

  7. Hilary_Gould · ·

    As a big Boston sports fan I definitely love Tom Brady’s social media presence and I definitely agree (although I’m bias) that he’s one of the athlete’s who is better at using it. Another thing I talked about this week in my sports analytics class this week was how there are two types of sports fans– sports fans who love the game and the numbers and the stats and those who love the players. With the rise of teams and athletes being on social media, there are more fans feeling connected to the athletes. This can lead to a whole other aspect of being a sports fan. For example, my mom LOVES Rob Gronkowski because she thinks he’s hilarious on Instagram… now she claims she’s a big Pats fan and pretends to be interested in the games when my dad watches even though she could care less about what is actually going on on the field. Definitely an interesting change in how people root for teams and players.

  8. Great job! I really liked how you overviewed a bunch of different ways that athletes are using social media & the requisite impacts of their usage. Plus, the shoutout to my presentation was pretty cool :) As you could’ve probably guessed, I’m really interested in the intersection of sports & social media, so I definitely love when other people in the class can teach me new things about it! I had never really looked into how golf has changed via social media, but you make a really compelling point that the “less professional” use of social media by younger golfers has increased golf’s relevance among younger generations. You also included photos/links really well, overall awesome work!

  9. camcurrie99 · ·

    Nice connections here, Brian. As a big TB12 fan myself, I agree that his social media team does an excellent job of connecting him to his fans. However, as you point out, some athletes without large and developed teams have found their way into trouble, both at college and professional levels. To Professor Kane’s point about the athlete, team and league being at odds, this is something particularly visible in the NFL, where diverse interests among the three different groups has caused tension. One example of this was during the infamous Deflategate investigation, where the Patriots used social media to defend themselves while other teams and the League made it clear they were going to let nothing slide.

  10. mgiovanniello · ·

    This is an interesting application of social media. I also know that artists and bands also use social media to not only promote themselves, but also to connect with fans. For example, I have Lollapalooza (the music festival in Chicago) on Snapchat, and as the yearly festival gets closer, performing artists will post to the festival’s story to get their fans excited. And of course, they’re also active on places like Facebook and Instagram throughout the year to reinforce themselves and what they represent. It’s cool to see this concept in action in the sports world as well, with an even greater emphasis on brand recognition.

%d bloggers like this: