The Athlete & the Celebrity: Who Is More Valuable for Athletic Brands?

Cara Delevingne signing with Puma has sparked another conversation this week about the role of the celebrity endorsement at athletic brands.

The actress and model recently starred in “Suicide Squad” and stepped away from runway fashion last year, but that doesn’t mean she’s not valuable for a brand with her 33.8 million Instagram followers and 5.7 million Facebook fans.

The celebrity and the athlete are increasingly competing in the same space for athletic endorsement deals and the must-have signature sneaker. But who ultimately has more weight with consumers? It depends on who you ask.

“I think there is equal value for all: the celebrity and the athlete,” said Joe Favorito, a sports marketing consultant. “But one thing is for sure: If you partner with the right athlete and they are in the news every day and part of your brand every day, [then] you get a touch point with those fans every day.”

Yeezy Boost 350 v2
Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 v2.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Adidas.

Athletic brands know that athleisure is a hot trend right now, and being able to shift some product and messaging to fit a lifestyle audience is key.

Experts say at this rate, brands just need to focus on having a diverse roster.

“Nike has the performance area cornered. I think some of the other companies are moving in on the market and looking to go where they can be trends and make in roads with market share,” said Bob Dorfman, creative director at Baker Street Advertising.

He points to Adidas, which continues to win with its Pharrell and Kanye West partnerships. Those are in addition to its deals with NFL starting quarterback Aaron Rogers and various global soccer stars. Dorfman said it allows brands to compete with a more expensive product and capture consumer attention.

Then there’s Under Armour, which continues to rival other brands for performance-based market share and cache by banking big dollars on sports stars such as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Golden State Warriors leader Stephen Curry, alongside American Ballet Theatre principal ballerina Misty Copeland and model Gisele Bundchen.

I Will What I Want Misty Copeland
Misty Copeland in Under Armour’s “I Will What I Want” campaign, 2014.
CREDIT: Under Armour.

“Not everyone buying an athletic shoe is a sports fan,” said Dorfman. Hence, many brands have started embracing a variety of fashion and lifestyle channels and stars.

Adding a fashion component, too — such as Under Armour’s partnership with Tim Coppens and Rihanna’s contemporary line for Puma at Bergdorf Goodman  — is another way brands can capitalize on momentum for some of the celebrity and athleisure brand awareness.

Puma turning to Delevinge, Kylie Jenner, Meek Mill and Rihanna is a clear signal that the brand is shifting to fill a variety of niches for its shoppers. While each name has a clear association and audience, experts do caution that athletic brands be choosy.

“Brands are trying to figure out more ways to marry sports and entertainment, and sometimes it works and sometimes it just doesn’t,” said Favorito. “Fishing in a larger pool with a diverse net is the smart thing to do, if you can make them all match up. That’s the hard part — making sure that everyone is aligned.”

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