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What Elite Athletes Really Think About Social Media Marketing

Australian sports stars are trying to balance the commercial benefits of social media while staying true to their personalities and values.

On a panel discussion at Mumbrella's Sports Marketing Summit 2017, Olympic Gold medallists Mark Knowles and Emma Tonegato along with Australian Diamonds captain Caitlin Bassett and Western Sydney Wanderers captain Robbie Cornthwaite shared their unique perspectives on social media and marketing.


“I think for me, what works best is when it's (social media campaign) authentic so if it's something that you care about, I always find I'm more than happy to post about things that I love doing and great experiences that I've had,” Bassett said.

“When I was young, it was about having as many sponsors as possible and I guess now it's about really having a few, but ones that you can service really well and ones that are important to you as a person, not just through your sport but through your values as a person off the court.

“The best campaign I've been involved in so far is the Samsung 'Rethink Role Models' and for me, that was about showing everyone what netballers do off court and it's interesting to see that we have lives off court, how you could walk by us on the street and have no clue who we are, but they're some of the best netballers in the world. And for me, when I watch the final video, at the launch, I cried because it explained to everyone my journey in a way that I could never have thought it to be explained and so things like, for me, to promote the sport, to promote these fantastic role models and really challenging the behaviour for society, I think that's a really important tool of social media and sports marketing.”

Mark Knowles, Australia's mens hockey captain, looks for social media marketing opportunities that integrate with his family values.

“Something that I think touches home, (and is) a bit more organic and authentic for me. I always think my favourite posts are things that relate directly to my family or my kids,” he said.

“My shoe sponsor Asics sent my boy, he's five years old, a pair of hockey shoes, his first pair of shoes for the year and an organic photo for me was me and him putting our feet next to each other and saying you know, how cool is this, Flynn's got shoes the same as Dad's. It just felt cool and my wife took the photo and she's like 'oh we'll keep that forever'.”

Rugby Sevens star Emma Tonegato says she finds that her more personable and relatable posts get the most fan engagements.

Paid social posts are also an important source of income, as female rugby players are paid only $20,000 to $40,000 each year.

“I like to use Instagram to show people what I'm doing and how I'm training and things like that, I find that photos of me at training or rugby related get the most likes and the most engagement, so I definitely try to use that to my advantage,” Tonegato said.

“On the financial side of things, coming from a low-income kind of situation, getting paid a couple hundred dollars to do a post is really vital for me and it's a vital source of income. So, it's great to get a couple extra bucks for things I was going to do anyway.”

For A-League veteran Robbie Cornthwaite, social media is about growing his personal brand and audience.

“I don't really see it (sponsorship) for a financial gain, it's more about getting my profile (growing), building my brand, getting my face out there and I suppose trying to become as much as possible, a household name at the end of the day," he said.

The athlete sports marketing panel

In Asia, where Robbie played soccer for six years, social media and fan culture is different.

"They're really fanatical and you see those videos of screaming girls and screaming fans and people chasing down the street and it does happen," he said.

"So for me, especially with my Instagram, I run a lot of competitions, ticket giveaways and things I stole off other athletes basically. Shaquille O'Neil was a good example of ticket giveaways so in Malaysia, the demographic, I suppose there's a lot of people living below the poverty line so for me to give them tickets and things like that, it really gave me a massive following and picked up maybe 20 or 30,000 followers in a year."

In fact, social media helped Cornthwaite get another year on his contract in Malaysia.

"Come the end of the season, to my surprise the (Malaysian) club decided to let me go, and once I announced that on my Twitter, the reaction was so big that I got a call the next day to say 'Oh that wasn't the official decision, we want you to stay'," he said.

"Although I had a bitter taste in my mouth from them initially getting rid of me, I decided to stay in the end and I should just point out that the club is run by the government. So to have all these fans against them come election time, wouldn't be ideal."

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