Shaq’s Social Media Retirement A Potential Landmark Deal In Sports Marketing

Lots of good coverage so far of Shaq’s retirement-via-social-media and the boost it’s given to social media startup Tout. Good takes from Forbes, GigaOm and the Digital Royalty blog. But I want to dig a little deeper and connect the dots here for how this could, or should, be a game changer in the sports marketing business. This is a great deal for Shaq, for Tout (disclosure: Tout CEO Michael Downing is a friend) but also for Amy Jo Martin and Digital Royalty, which has been managing Shaq’s social media strategy.

A big theme here at Sportology is how the sports business world, as a whole, doesn’t seem to understand just how significantly the Web is disrupting the industry and how unprepared most are for what’s about to smack them upside the head. So to put the Tout/Shaq partnership into perspective, note that megastars like Tiger Woods and Alex Rodriguez have both reaffirmed or changed marketing or agent relationships to continue having their marketing interests managed by people and firms with little to no credibility on or understanding of social media marketing.

This is not to knock Steve Loy of Gaylord Sports Management (ARod) or Mark Steinberg formerly of IMG (Tiger) personally at all. I’m sure both have been great at what they do but the fact remains that “what they do” has changed and they will need to start adapting, like, yesterday. The Sports agent and marketing incumbents are as vulnerable to social media as traditional media companies, which at least acknowledge that they are feeling the heat from these emerging threats.

On the Gaylord Sports Management website, it lists three bullet points under “what makes Gaylord unique”:

  • Gaylord staff seeks out appropriate corporate partnerships and media opportunities
  • Expertly negotiates industry setting contracts
  • Advises clients with an eye towards their future on steps necessary to enhance their careers

With that stated value proposition, how is it possible for sports agents and sports marketers to be competitive without real social media expertise in today’s world? (And no, having a Facebook and Twitter account does not qualify as expertise). Athletes like Shaq and Lance Armstrong have made the full transition to social media and an athlete like Chad Ochocinco has his own mobile app. How many sports agents and sports marketers can advise their clients on the benefits of developing their own iOS app versus an Android app versus an HTML5 app? Or how to use that app to increase fan engagement and marketing opportunities? My guess would be very few.

As an example of an Agency out front on this, see Goodwin Sports Management’s hiring of Nate Jones (@JonesOnTheNBA) with the title of Digital Media and Professional Athlete Marketing. Nate manages the social media strategy for Kevin Durant and Candace Parker and maintains a high profile on Twitter with more than 8500 followers and a Klout score of 69, proving that he’s got real influence. It won’t end there either. Just as Barack Obama hired a CTO for a re-election campaign, any agent or firm in the marketing profession will need to be able to establish a coherent digital and social media strategy not only as a service to clients, but as a core competency needed to succeed in a data-driven world.

As a marketing agent, Digital Royalty just helped to deliver a home run deal for Shaq as a client. Not that Shaq, or Tiger Woods or Alex Rodriguez for that matter, need any additional income or career assistance, but the Shaq/Tout deal accomplishes the following:

  • Shaq gets an Advisory Board role and stock options in a promising Internet startup company. Michael Downing is an experienced and accomplished digital media startup entrepreneur and will offer Shaq exposure to that business in an opportunity to diversify his post-basketball career
  • Shaq’s presence and promotion of the Tout social media application has a chance to drive significant growth and value for Tout. Twitter’s current place as a¬†bellwether¬†of the social media world can be traced directly to the adoption by famous athletes in the early days, including Shaq himself.

Obviously a great deal for both Shaq and the company. There are tons of athletes without the wealth and cache of Shaq who would benefit from an agent that could deliver that kind of value.

The reality is that there is tremendous synergy between professional athletes and social media, moreso than just about any other type of celebrity. Established sports agents and marketers should start learning about a new kind of sports business professional, like Nate Jones and Amy Jo Kim of Digital Royalty, which just solidified it’s place as the leading social media marketing agency for athletes. Certainly personality is relevant, but the fact that Shaq has such a large and engaged social media following can be directly traced to the Digital Royalty’s influence. It’s not a coincidence that Digital Royalty client UFC has become the most engaged social media ecosystem in sports.

Shaq’s deal with Tout could and should be a landmark deal because it’s a blueprint for what is possible in bringing the sports and social media marketing spaces together. There are lots of opportunities for athletes and social media companies to partner, but identifying them requires both an understanding of how to use social media effectively as well as understanding opportunities in the social media market. Very few, if any, in the sports marketing business have that skill set. Sports marketers will need to bring that expertise in house or be passed up by new firms like Digital Royalty.

 

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