• Daniel Trösch

Learn More About Athlete-Based Influencer Campaigns with Blake

Updated: Jan 24, 2020

If you want to learn about how to engage athletes for influencer marketing, Blake Lawrence is the perfect one to talk to.

As a former college football player he knows how famous athletes think. With opendorse.com he founded a company which makes the life of marketers super easy working and creating social media influencer marketing campaigns with athletes.

I was in the office of opendorse and talked with Blake Lawrence, CEO and Founder of opendorse.com. I wanted to hear his opinion on 2016 and his thoughts for 2017.

Blake, thanks for your time. Why don’t we start with an intro about opendorse?

Opendorse is in its fourth year and based in the US in Lincoln, Nebraska. Opendorse connects marketers with athletes through social media campaigns. We have a network of about 1,700 professional athletes that influence 350 million sport fans every day.

Through our network we are helping marketers, brands, teams, leagues and athletic departments tap into the power and influence of professional athletes and leverage them in social media campaigns.

Opendorse not only provides access to the influencer but owns the technology to manage the influencer marketing campaigns efficiently in the athlete endorsement space.

That’s right. Working with athletes – they have a tremendous amount of influence in the world of sports and sports fans are attracted to working with athletes.

But when marketers attempt to organize big campaigns – or even small campaigns with athletes – it starts to become difficult.

One problem that arises is the ability to work around the athletes’ schedule. Working with athletes is much different than working with other types of influencers.  Athletes are involved in events that are taking much of their time. 

Because of this opendorse.com created technologies that guarantee distribution of content for a marketer anywhere, anytime, on any platform where we can manage the direct access to the social media accounts of the athletes.

That gives assurances and confidence on both sides – the athletes and the marketer.

That is fantastic. Looking at 2016, it was an outstanding year in terms of opportunities around athlete based influencer marketing campaigns, a lot of sporting events happening. Would you agree to that?

Absolutely. The Olympics was a big one this year. In the US, Copa America was big too.

A common denominator for all these events was that there were athletes at the center stage. 

Especially the Olympics, which is one of the few times where you could see these individual athletes step onto the big stage and compete.  Influencers and individual sports – those things go hand-in-hand. There’s a lot of great activation that occurred in the Olympics.

Right, as well looking outside of North America and Brazil –  the Euro 2016 in France, big sporting event in Europe…

…European soccer players own the world of social media and sports. They are the biggest influencers in the world and it is great to see that more and more European based brands are investing and partnering with those athletes and tapping into that social media influence.

Looking on a market perspective – what for you were the mind blowers in athlete activation in 2016?

I was impressed with how the US Olympic sponsors used the athletes. The sponsors did a great job of working with their athlete ambassador’s. They had many different athletes to choose from. They started creating original content with these athletes way before the Olympics, establishing a relationship which continued all the way through the games.

Let’s take as an example Smuckers. One of their products are Uncrustable Sandwiches – which is a great in between event type sandwich for any young athlete. A great fit for the Olympics. When that relationship was firmly established, they were asking their athletes to send content of them during the games consuming Uncrustables and kicking that content out to their fans.


The other US Olympic sponsors did some great stuff as well.  Examples are JIF or Gillette. Gillette did some things which wasn’t really original content. They were asking Gaby Douglas to take a photo of her in competition and saying” Thank you Gillette for getting me here“.


So it was less about original content for them but more about affiliating themselves with an athlete at the peak of her engagement and influence in the world sports.

Right. That’s interesting. Would you say, that on the one side using the power of influence during the event was important. But on the other side what made it very powerful was actually having a positive relationship with the athlete who in turn would be motivated to keep putting out interesting content?

Yes. That is where most marketers start to fail. They look at influencer marketing as a one-and-done. You know it’s just one thing and it is one post and that’s the end of the relationship.

But the most successful influencer marketing campaigns – not just in sports but in all influencer marketing – revolve around a consistent relationship. This is not just a one-time cooperation but it is an engagement throughout the entire year.

That allows you to pick up and increase activity around an event. If you keep that relationship active around an entire season or year with a sports athlete, then it allows you to be more authentic. Because you engage that influencer and then their fans can see that it is more authentic as well.

The one that comes to mind for that is Von Miller. Von Miller won the NFL Super Bowl MVP most valuable player last year and after that every NFL sponsor wanted to work with him. Von Miller is one of our favorite players to work with at opendorse.

Old Spice brought Von Miller into commercials. He is in all their TV ads. But they’re doing so many things with him on social media outside of that. They have a series of tweets that they can have sent out from the Old Spice account that features Von Miller and original content in the game. So if he makes a big tackle Old Spice will send out a message and then promote it to all NFL fans. They are using these relationships to create great content and leverage that influence not only through the influencer account but through their own account as well.


That’s interesting. Looking at opendorse, what were your key takeaways as a team from 2016?

I would say that the industry of sports sponsorship and sports marketing is starting to realize that athletes are a powerful way to reach and engage sports fans.

There’s all the buzz about decreasing viewership or the question mark in sports media: Where are the fans going? How do we reach and engage the digital sports fans?

The traditional methods of delivering content in advertising is starting to miss the younger sports fan as well.

And if you look at who those fans are engaging with and what they’re looking for – they’re looking for bite-size original content from multiple sources in real time.

That puts a lot of pressure on these media companies. Teams and leagues are realizing that they’ve got a large audience they’ve established and they can create that type of content.

But if you look at the numbers – we ran the numbers yesterday – today’s professional athletes globally have almost 6.5 billion total social media followers.

If you include E-sports athletes and even micro athletes, the number is 9 billion – and that is compared to around 3.5 billion for all teams and leagues.


Source: opendorse.com

So these guys (athletes) continue to be a large amount of the influencers. The reason being, that that not only have followers, but they have an extremely engaged audience as well.

Once again, running the numbers: we looked at the NFL over the last 30 days. The average engagement with an athlete post in the NFL is .5%. Now that may not sound high – but it in the world of influencer marketing and especially in sports it is high. The average engagement with a team – .05%. With the league .01%.

NFL athletes – their fan base is 50 times more engaged than the league’s fan base. 10 times more than the team’s fan base. The trends are pointing towards athletes as a major distributor of content, whether it is sponsored content or any piece of sports media content in the future.

Right, that is a great opportunity to tap into. Looking at 2017 – it might not look as exciting as 2016. There are no major sport events, no Olympics. There is the Confed Cup in Europe, smaller events but regardless there are a lot of opportunities. What would you say are events you encourage marketers to use?

I’m a little biased towards football. I played American football in college and we partner with the NFLpa, working with a lot of NFL players. One of my favorite trends is the increased viewership and engagement with the NFL draft – or any sports draft. This is the time before these guys go professional, where they are not members of a union and are not limited and restricted in what brands they can talk to.

You can see the NFL players and their face which is why this is ideal for a marketer that may not be an official sponsor of the league or team. It allows them to work with the up-and-coming star all the way up until they become a professional. 

A great way to kind of skirt the rights and sponsorship rights and group licensing right that come along with these athletes going pro. So in my personal opinion, I think anything around draft time is good.

Because there are no National or global sporting events, I think this is the year were E-sports takes on a new role in the marketer’s mind. The budgets are there, however, because they’re not being allocated towards activation at five different events throughout the year why not test out E-sports and understand: what is it about this rapidly growing industry.

You know it’s in the US it’s going to be over a billion dollars – I don’t have the numbers right in front of me. But there is a stat we have here, that by 2020 in North America more money will be spent on sponsorship of a e-sports events than Major League Baseball events. So E-Sport Events might be a big trend this year.


Source: Newzoo

Thanks Blake for the interview!