6 Ways Olympic Athletes Can Leverage Their Journey to Build a Profitable Brand
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Olympic athletes are in danger. Let me explain.
Alex, my childhood best friend, competed in the 1998 Nagano Olympics as part of the US Ski Team. Then, she tore her ACL, at which point the US Ski Team abandoned her. If she wanted to continue to compete, she must finance herself. But crawling for money from friends, family and sponsors was demoralizing, exhausting and constant. Plus, it made him start to ask himself things like “Why am I doing this? Who am I doing this for?” I know and don’t care about anything else, so what if I retire? She was scared, she was alone and no one came to help her. So she left the sport.
Like Alex, most Olympians face a similar crucial crisis – both identity and financial. One study concluded that “only 0.5% of [International Olympic Committee] the funds were directed directly to the athletes. This contrasts with the biggest sports leagues in the world which pay their athletes between 40 and 60 per cent of their income, creating what research has found half of Olympians consider themselves financially insolvent.
Here’s why: As Olympians begin their athletic careers, the only way to succeed on a global scale is to have a narrow view: Relationships, friendships and hobbies are all sacrificial lambs in a dogged pursuit of the ultimate goal: to win.
Related: 30 Legendary Athletes Who Became Business Stars
Then comes an inevitable day when the armor of the illustrious athlete begins to crumble. And the question comes: what is the next step? And how do I get out of the financial and emotional prison that I have created for myself? The scales tip and the cascade of depression ensues (affecting more than 70% of elite athletes, reveals an IOC study).
Therein lies the ultimate paradox of the most prolific and successful athletes in the world. Their singular purpose is both what propels them unevenly towards a lifelong dream and pursuit of their sport and becomes the acid that erodes the very foundations they have so earnestly built.
It’s partly our fault as an audience. Since 1896, minus a few pauses for economic crisis, war or pandemic, the Olympics have inducted, revered and catapulted thousands of athletes to international fame, whether they were prepared or not. And the expectation that these athletes would meet the exacting physical, emotional and intellectual standards and stereotypes followed, regardless of the tools at their disposal to do so.
These questions remain: how can we stop this continuous and pervasive demolition of Olympic athletes? How can these athletes leverage this globally recognized badge of honor and gracefully turn it into something with meaning, purpose and financial security? Working with dozens of Olympians and action sports athletes, here are six lessons that help athletes avoid post-Olympic depression, increase earning opportunities, and build lucrative, meaningful futures.
1. Create personal identities of today and yesterday
Identities consist of the various characteristics that you use to categorize and define yourself, and the characteristics that are constructed by those around you. By creating a cohesive set of identities, it builds your confidence and gives people a reason to connect with you, who you are (versus who they want you to be), what you believe and why. It also allows you to control the perception of yourself in the world.
Your identities can be brother, runner, LGBTQ advocate, coffee drinker, yogi, vegan, etc. The key is that you need to clarify what they are now versus what they were up until now. If you don’t, you risk letting the whims of the world, media, friends, and family shape your identity, causing you to feel a loss of control.
Related: Entrepreneurs’ Identity Crises
2. Nail your origin story; make it personal
Crafting a powerful origin story is key to building trust, relationships, and credibility for who you are and what you stand for. Having a powerful origin story also helps you stay consistent on social media, in interviews, developing a keynote, or in discussions with sponsors. To create a personal brand story, here are the questions to consider:
Past: How did you get interested in your sport? Were you born with a natural talent or did you pick up skills along the way? Did something happen to you that forced a change and opened a door? Did you fail at anything?
Challenge: What have been your biggest obstacles on your path to success? Injuries, competitors constantly beating you, weather preventing you from climbing to the top, bad luck on a course?
Main turning points: What enabled you to overcome your challenge? How has this changed your life, your sport, your happiness, or your ability to achieve something?
Triumph: What did you achieve or create after that moment? What did you feel ? Did it change anyone else’s life?
Transformation: How have you changed emotionally, physically, intellectually or spiritually? What results have you obtained?
3. Know who you want to be the hero
The most common mistake athletes make is that they jump at what they want their audience to think, feel, do without understanding what they are excited to do, want to feel, or motivated to act. Knowledge will allow you to deliver words, stories and truths that will make your audience’s life better, more meaningful, happier and richer. And that builds community.
You need to understand what excites your audience and what drives their motivations, needs, behaviors, challenges, pain points, goals, aspirations, and fears. Questions to ask: What do you want to avoid, or what are you afraid will happen in your life? Where do you feel stuck, what feels difficult and what frustrates you? What do you want to feel, what do you dream of and what do you need and want the most? Is there anything stopping you from getting these things?
Write down the words, phrases, or phrases they use to describe their challenges or desires (either internally or for others), then use them to help you offer something that will help them survive or thrive .
Related: 9 Ways to Meet and Understand Your Audience
4. Create Basic Posts Anywhere North Of Neutral
You need to give people, brands and partners a reason to be attracted to you. For this, it must be understood that neutrality is not noticeable and that ambiguity is always perceived negatively. In other words, being bland, mundane, and toasty with milk is forgotten and certainly not picked up by sponsors.
So, to be remembered, retain your audience, and encourage brands to look your way, it’s important to figure out what’s important enough to you that you’re willing to take a stand. To find out what these things are, ask yourself three questions:
- Do you have a different take on a common belief in your sport, in your industry, in your circle of friends and athletes?
- What’s going on in your sport, because it’s always been like that but maybe it’s outdated now?
- What left you “bruised but not destroyed” (term credit: Brene Brown)? Think about what you’ve been through that left a mark. Maybe you weren’t treated well, because you were gay, had an eating disorder, or were criticized for your running style. But, you survived, didn’t you? What lesson did you learn from it?
Then take those ideas and share them consistently.
5. Make the invisible visible
There is an aspect of voyeurism in the lives of athletes that is endlessly fascinating, entertaining and inspiring. Sharing your formula, the “how” behind what you do, helps people feel like they know you, but also like they have a small chance of being like you. It also creates a boomerang effect where audiences keep coming back, meaning community – the ultimate gold rush for brands.
To do this, follow these THREE rules:
- Be specific and concrete. This deep connection with your audience and relatability happens when you get to the heart of the matter and bring out the thoughts, feelings, mistakes, pain, wins and losses you’ve experienced. The more descriptive and specific you can be, the more universal feelings become.
- Start with the bleeding. De-clutter your content and stories so we get the hang of it from the get-go. Sure, your story needs a point, but don’t overdo it, because you’ll start losing people with an overabundance of context.
- To be coherent. People need to hear a message seven times for it to be understood. Plus, an average of 0.83-10% of your followers see your posts, so repeat your main posts frequently and consistently so they’re heard.
Related: 5 Steps to Becoming an “Olympic” Entrepreneur
6. Plan and target revenue opportunities
With a newly created brand story and messaging strategy, it’s time to turn that into creating specific revenue opportunities. Here are five steps to generating income:
Create a mailing list. Unlike social media, you own your email list and it doesn’t fall prey to algorithm changes. So create a way for fans, subscribers and sponsors to sign up to your mailing list and send them updates on events, expeditions, nutrition, training, things you love. , learned or hope on a regular basis (once a week is ideal).
Create a sticky content calendar. Think of your social media presence as your resume. It is therefore essential to create a consistent content creation schedule that you can stick to.
Build a master presentation. Using your origin story or a clear message, create a main pitch that you can compare to brands. Paralympian Aimee Mullens reportedly brings in $30-50,000 per talk, and brands around the world are hiring athletes to speak at conferences, events and corporate meetings.
Achieve non-endemic marks. Take your identities from above and write down 10 marks that match those parts of you. Ask them what they need, then offer to support them with social media content, videos, and blogs in exchange for their financial support.
Hire a sports agent. If you’re looking to build on your momentum and be exposed to more opportunities, hire a sports agent. You can expect to pay them more than 15% of your earnings, but 15% of $100,000 is more than 0% of $0.
As an Olympian, you have earned a universally recognized badge of honor that carries weight, prestige and status in the eyes of an international audience. It’s time to leverage it to be sure that your triumphs, sacrifices, wins, losses, and efforts matter and can help you build a lucrative and meaningful post-sports career.