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Why This Former Nike Exec Would Bet the Swoosh on Distributed Athlete Media

An Inside Look at an Unscriptd Future
Source: AP Photo/Francisco Seco

I worked at Nike around the world for more than 17 years.

In that time, I helped to drive a fundamental and rapid change in how Nike’s sports marketing and advertising budgets were invested, with a view to maximising a measurable return for the Nike brand — and ultimately the business.

The change in our sports marketing and advertising investment back then was ultimately the result of a significant shift in consumer media consumption, that is they shifted their time and attention from traditional media to digital media, and within digital, specifically to social media channels.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that engaging the consumer where they spend their time and attention is a good strategy.

Cristiano Ronald playing soccer with child

However, within the sports space, one of the observations and emerging trends that has continued to grow and present an unrealised opportunity is to harness the influence and reach that athletes have through their social media followings. The unrealised opportunity I refer to is the potential of the audience that athletes can provide access to on behalf of their sponsors, teams, leagues and other commercial partners. This was the first signal — and I’m talking five to ten years ago — of the early beginnings of what is now the ‘athlete media’ economy.

Cristiano Ronaldo has a social audience of 276 million people and delivered almost $1 billion in value to his sponsors in 2016. With figures like this, it shouldn’t be surprising that athlete media is fast establishing itself as one of the most effective ways to reach sport fans, and specifically the ‘connected fan’ — coveted Gen Z and Millennial consumers.

Athletes have long been amongst the most popular and influential people in the world. The top ten most followed athletes on social media have an audience that exceeds 1.1 billion people.

Elite athletes generating hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of views on a single social media post is the norm. The numbers are mind-blowing. Sport fans want to feel closer to their favourite stars and have direct insight into their lives. Athlete media is the only media that delivers this, creating consumer engagement like we have never seen before.

In addition to our timeless adoration of athletes, the way we consume sport, media and content has changed forever. Consumers are moving away from traditional media and destination websites, updating their content experience through social media.

Almost 80% of BuzzFeed’s views (and revenue!) now come from their social channels, providing evidence of the power of a distributed media model. It’s not hard to see why this model is the distribution methodology of the future. When a sports fan is given the choice of seeking out compelling content by searching for and visiting destination websites, or having it delivered directly to them via the social media platforms they’re already using, it’s not hard to guess which they prefer.


This shift plays perfectly into the way I believe athlete media delivers. 95% of social users are accessing content via mobile, with video the clear winner as their preferred medium. In fact, by 2019, video will account for 80% of all internet traffic, the perfect vehicle to convey the emotional power and visceral connection of sports.

Working at Nike, I’ve seen the power of the athlete and fan connection first hand, but what’s new is the ability of athletes and fans to connect personally, deeply, and directly through their relationship on social media, enabling athletes to become ‘publishers’ in their own right.

It's not hard to see why this model is the distribution methodology of the future.

Brent Scrimshaw, Co-Founder and CEO of Unscriptd

Athlete media is an enourmous opportunity not only for the athlete but equally as importantly for innovative stakeholders in the world of sport. This includes every team, league, federation and brand that wants to better leverage the power of sport. You only need to look at the size of investment in sport globally to understand that this is the real deal.

Unscriptd’s aggregated athlete network has a combined audience reach of over 800M, representing a compelling and truly global new media product, and arguably more influential than any ‘traditional’ forms of media have been in the past. Athlete media is now a bona-fide media measured and valued by the likes of Nielsen and Forbes.

We all know that where audiences go, brands will quickly follow. They are searching for new and measurable ways to reach relevant audiences at scale, with quality content and in the right formats, which is exactly what athlete media does.

Over time, the way that brands and sponsors harness its power will quickly become more sophisticated, especially as the role of technology continues to evolve and provide new publishing and ‘real-time’ distribution solutions.

For the future, I’m convinced that those media companies that continue to focus on building digital destinations will find it increasingly difficult to acquire and retain an engaged audience. It’s far more difficult to do today than it was ten, or even five, years ago. At Unscriptd, we’re not focused on creating our own destination like we see others trying to do — we’re focused on unlocking the power and value of an athlete’s social audience through technology and content solutions for our partners and our athletes.

I’ve had many people ask me if the new wave of athlete-led editorial ‘destinations’ can survive. While these sites are investing time and resource to build a following, I am convinced that a distributed athlete media model at scale is the future.

But is athlete media a sustainable business model for a media company?

Absolutely. Access to an engaged audience is highly valuable, as is the data it generates. The ability to harness the power of data and the insights from a sports audience en masse is already proving to be priceless. To thrive in this new media space will require relentless innovation and that’s what constantly drives our team.

So then what does a mature athlete-driven media economy look like?

Although this is an emerging space, I have no doubt we will see athlete-driven media become a multibillion-dollar global media industry.

Right now there is an exciting and dynamic shift in the sports media landscape, primarily being driven by the rise of athlete media. I’m confident that the power of sport combined with the influence, reach and connection of athletes, and the continued value social media brings to peoples’ lives will provide unlimited opportunity for those nimble, smart and visionary enough to win.

Brent Scrimshaw is the co-founder and CEO of Unscriptd, the global athlete media company. He formerly served as NIKE Europe’s CEO and Vice President. Connect with Brent here.

Learn more about the future of the athlete media economy at Hashtag Sports. Register here to save your seat.

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