Athletes See Rising Social Media Demands

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(From SportsBusiness Journal, October 21, 2013)  The Sochi Olympic Games are highlighting a change in the way contract endorsement deals are being made. Many Olympic athletes are signing deals with the usual contractual obligations, such as personal appearances, but the contracts also spell out stricter social media requirements. Skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace is one of many athletes signing these endorsement deals with many contractual obligations including mentioning some brands a minimum of 25 times on Twitter and six times on Facebook before the 2014 Games.

According to agents, in the past many companies included loose language about social media, but contracts for Sochi are more selective spelling out requirements about the number of times an athlete must Tweet, make a Google chat room appearance, or post to Facebook or Instagram.  In fact, many sponsors of the Sochi Games are cutting deals that concentrate almost solely on social media.

“There is an enormous growth in the contracts in social media content, demands and obligations,” said Patrick Quinn, who represents Pikus-Pace and oversees Chicago Sports & Entertainment Partners. “Not long ago, having an athlete blog a little or post a little was in some contracts and not in others. Now it’s in every contract, and in some of them it’s ridiculously complex.”

Therefore, assigning value to the social media aspect of the contract is difficult to do. Since social media requirements have become a central component in negotiations, agents are now giving great weight to the audience sizes of their athlete’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts.  This has become one of the first things a company will evaluate when deciding to endorse an athlete.

However, the rise in social media demands presents a challenge for both the athlete and the companies endorsing them. In the past, an athlete might have been able to work with a half-dozen sponsors and appear in advertising campaigns for all of them without coming off as too commercial. Now, however, multiple tweets and post may cause an athlete’s Twitter feed and Facebook page to turn into an advertising page. Thus, costing an athlete followers.

The increasing popularity of social media has created some challenges for athletes and agents in all sports. Social media has become the centerpiece for contract negotiations between athletes and sponsors of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. As a result, these requirements are creating new challenges for these athletes and companies as they struggle to somehow balance out advertising and promotion on the athlete’s social media pages without the fear of losing followers and fans.