In many ways, U.S. Women’s National Team and Orlando Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris is the epitome of a marketable athlete today. Her deep understanding of how an athlete’s authenticity, personal brand strength and meaningful fan connections on social media translate to 3rd place on SportsPro’s 2021 Most Marketable Athletes list.
Ashlyn transcends her playing field prowess and actively helps to endorse and expand value for the sports properties and sponsor brands she chooses to represent. Her approach and personality, the causes she stands for, and her willingness to share experiences with fans makes her an athlete that increases sponsor value through social media.
Harris has put all of these insights into practice in building her personal brand and understands how sharing her life with fans is as important as sharing sports moments. Authenticity is really at the heart of marketability, and both Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka (both on the list) clearly demonstrate this same power of personal connection and vulnerability.
Watch Ashley articulate the ups and downs of building a personal brand and increasing sponsor value, and answer questions on many other topics. In this panel discussion Inside the 2021 Most Marketable Athletes we dove into the 2021 list methodology with Greenfly Co-founder and CEO Daniel Kirschner and Zoomph’s Director of Business Intelligence Scott Lewis. SVP of Global Soccer at Wasserman, Spencer Wadsworth, also discussed marketability trends across his roster of pro athletes.
Ashlyn Harris has strategically taken control of her brand to expand it beyond soccer. A natural storyteller, she recognizes that her authenticity is at the core of her success on social media, and transactional marketing deals with brands don’t align with that. Each sponsor she works with gets her creative attention, and that builds value well beyond a photoshoot. Harris forms genuine relationships, and she gets directly involved with and maintains creative control over her content creation. The soccer star has also invested the time and effort to deeply understand her social following and what content they want from her. Harris stays true to who she is and what she believes in and takes a stand on topics that are meaningful to her.
Her early awareness of and attention to brand-building has paid off for her personal profile. It also shows how sport’s most innovative voices are incredible ambassadors for the sports properties they represent, helping to extend their team and league brands.
Kirschner noted that there has been a sea change among leagues and teams in realizing this, too. They know they need to support athletes on social media on an ongoing basis and equip them with the digital media, tools and resources they need to develop their own authentic brands and audiences on these platforms. Athletes are an extension of a sponsor brand, team and league, and deep athlete-fan connections are ultimately beneficial to all.
Wadsworth opined that in building a brand, it’s important for athletes to understand that everyone is unique, saying, “It’s about becoming strong in who you actually are.” Harris shared that female athletes excel in marketing because they are naturally upfront, visible and connect well with people.
Lewis noted that authenticity is most reflected in the marketability list’s data points through content engagement rates and fan interaction rates. For female athletes, the non-game content they are posting registers as more engaging because of the authenticity of that content.
The panelists agreed that meaningful, ongoing relationships — between athletes, sports properties, brands and fans — beat transactional marketing relationships every time.