On Tuesday, the Guardian pointed out an interesting example of athletes managing their brand via Twitter: Wayne Rooney revealing his hair transplant on the platform. The article pointed out the Manchester United soccer player uses Twitter to remedy his rollercoaster relationship with the press, superceding the media by giving fans direct gossip from his life. Sports marketing experts see the platform as a way to soften the image of sometimes crude players, and there are also opportunities for brand sponsors to learn about their audience.
Though he may be the first athlete to write about his still-bloody scalp, Rooney is certainly not the first athlete to use Twitter to bolster his “good guy” image. Last year during the Australian Open tennis player Andy Roddick bypassed the media and issued an apology for on-court behaviour after a verbal fight with the chair umpire in a tweet. Often controversial pro golfer Ian Poulter said he uses Twitter to set the record straight when the media convulates his opinions. “I get pissed off if I feel someone hasn’t written the story in the way that I tried to explain because people’s and fans’ opinions of me get swayed one way or another by what they read in the papers,” he told the Guardian in May. “With Twitter I am in control of whatever it is I want to say.”
Twitter doesn’t only help athletes shape their own image, it’s also a useful source for the brands that endorse them. Tim Crow, CEO of sponsorship consultancy Synergy, says for a company that endorses Rooney, his Twitter followers are a good indication of the demographic they should cater to.
“Sponsorship is all about leveraging assets to engage and connect with customers and Twitter and other social media are simply provide more tools to do that,” says Matt Akler, a professor of sport management at Durham College in Oshawa. “In fact, they are becoming some of the best tools because of their interactive ability and the seemingly authentic nature of the communication directly with a prominent athlete.”
He says marketers can go so far as asking athletes to subtly weave references to their products in tweets, but gives the caveat the effort can’t be blatant. “They need to be clever in incorporating their message into the personality of the athlete and what he or she stands for,” says Akler. “That strengthens the link between product and athlete and thus with the consumer as well.”
Somewhere, a hair-thickening spray company is kicking themselves for not seeing opportunity in Rooney’s bald head and loose hands.