Some athletes are very good at branding, while some are not. Still, especially those who are not considered as the »real« elite, do have some kind of aversion towards branding themselves. Although I might support their position to a large degree, they might be missing something that is very important in sport. That is social capital.
Considering the fact that the relationship between media and sport has long transcended the initial enthusiasm and spontaneity, the proper self-branding approach can bring many advantages to the athlete. The echo that an athlete can produce with his/her sports performance can go far beyond their respective competition or a particular stadium. We have witnessed time and again how the athletes with charisma can influence masses of people that are not necessarily active in or spectators of a particular sport. But the question is not how Beckham or Messi are doing it. The real question is how an ordinary athlete can take the best out of his career.
Yes, we need to observe the best, of course. But then we need to turn inwards, to see what unique story we as ourselves can produce. With a proper story that arises from the history, social background or personal values of the athlete, one can achieve a decent recognition in society, which maintains a level of pride even when results are not at their peak. That is charisma at its roots. Being proud of one’s own actions, for the values that one stands for and for the reasons that are shared with others.
But do not forget that branding can easily be converted, by cheap turbo-folk ideas, into its opposite. Yes, it is easy to attract attention by some stupid idea; it is easy to shock people with your image, some gesture on the field or with a provocative tattoo or a T-shirt. But if there is nothing beyond, if there are no good reasons behind the idea, then inevitably, the fall will follow. And consequentially the brand that is produced in a shallow manner will turn into a negative image. If lucky, you will be called an entertainer, a showman.
The real branding is for those who devote sport to their bigger life scheme. Once you know what you want to do with your life, once you recognize that we all create our world with our actions and lack thereof, then you are on the right path. Now choose your story, pick up the values that you believe in and take a look around. Who in society lacks those values? Who in society cannot be heard but deserves to be acknowledged? What are your communication skills, and how can you make your message resonate?
When you go out on to the playing field, expose yourself in the media as well, and play your social game. Devote a penalty shot to a humanitarian purpose if nothing else. Don’t let it fly into the net without a story! It’s about storytelling. We all like stories. As kids we listened to imaginary heroes, as adults we listen to real-life heroes. Be one! Brand your name for the right reason!
Dr. Milan Hosta, Director
International Institute for Sustainable Development, Diplomacy, and Policy in Sport