TL; DR: OpenSponsorship, a one-stop shop for influencer marketing, seamlessly connects brands with athletes for collaboration on data-driven digital campaigns. The company’s vision is to make sports sponsorships easier and more effective for a wide range of companies across multiple social media platforms. Recently, OpenSponsorship released a free self-service version of its platform to ensure that all brands can benefit from sports sponsorship as a marketing tool.
Influencers have taken the beauty industry by storm over the past decade as consumers put their trust in social media personalities rather than cosmetics companies.
Today, a whopping 56% of women follow beauty influencers, according to Rakuten. Some of the most-followed Instagram personalities, including Kylie Jenner, have so much sway over fans that brands will fork over nearly $1 million per post.
Companies like OpenSponsorship are helping bring this game-changing level of success to additional markets with the help of sports-based influencers. Ultimately, the beauty of sports partnerships is that, unlike some self-made influencers, an athlete’s livelihood typically doesn’t depend on social media success.
“Athletes can provide real engagement and authenticity,” said Ishveen Anand, CEO and Founder of OpenSponsorship. “You can build more trust with athletes as influencers than you might with, say, a fitness blogger who has to pursue growth-hacking tactics to survive financially.”
OpenSponsorship’s marketplace for buying and selling online sponsorships makes it easier than ever for brands to partner with athletes on data-driven digital marketing campaigns. The company’s vision is to make sports sponsorships easier and more effective for a wide range of companies across a variety of social media platforms and audience demographics.
Now, OpenSponsorship has made the service even more accessible by releasing a free self-service version of its platform. The decision, made to help companies grapple with the economic effects of COVID-19, ensures that all brands can benefit from sports sponsorship as a marketing tool.
A One-Stop Shop for Buying and Selling Online Sponsorships
Ishveen founded OpenSponsorship, based in New York, in 2014. “I used to be a sports agent,” she said. “I’ve always loved sponsorship as a form of marketing, but I thought that the process for making deals happen was really inefficient.”
Like many others, Ishveen had been using modern marketplaces like Airbnb and Uber in her personal life. Since there wasn’t a similar solution for the sports sponsorship industry, she decided to create her own.
“OpenSponsorship’s aim is to be a one-stop shop for everything that has to do with buying and selling sponsorships online,” Ishveen said. “Teams and events sell sponsors, leagues sell sponsorships, federations sell sponsorships, but we chose to really hone in on athletes.”
Despite the rise of influencer marketing and the massive sums of money being funneled into digital campaigns, marketers weren’t fully capitalizing on the tremendous engagement potential of professional athletes.
“A lot of the buyers who were really interested in us were like, ‘I’ve never thought to get involved in sports marketing because I thought it was too expensive or complicated,’” Ishveen said. “But that’s where our sweet spot is today — your average consumer packaged goods (CPG) influencer marketer, social media marketer, digital marketing CMO.”
With the OpenSponsorship platform, brands can easily connect to more than 6,500 athletes. The company’s AI technology suggests lucrative partnership opportunities based on goals, audiences, and other campaign factors, with options for every budget. Campaign options run the gamut from social posts to in-person appearances.
“We make it really easy for both brands to connect with athletes, and, conversely, for athletes and agents to find brands.”
A Personal Touch: Separating the Athlete from the Sport
Ishveen said her clients often look to integrate relevant cultural topics into their marketing campaigns, and athletes from a wide range of sports can deliver almost any message.
OpenSponsorship’s database of athletes includes influencers from more than 40 countries and 50 sports, including soccer, basketball, football, skateboarding, boxing, martial arts, and automobile racing. In many cases, brands are attracted to an athlete for their personal interests and history — not just their chosen competitive activity.
“It’s not just about the sport — we’re trying to help brands discover who the athlete is as a person,” Ishveen said. “Are they part of the LGBTQ community? Do they have five kids? Do they suffer from mental illness? If I’m a brand and I’m looking for someone with a specific interest, it doesn’t always matter if they’re an NFL player or Olympic gymnast, as long as they’ve got great content.”
Other campaigns are built around timely events. For example, Intel chose to work with former athletes from the New England Patriots to raise awareness about a new product launch one Super Bowl weekend.
OpenSponsorship made it possible for the company to connect with Rob Gronkowski and Donte Stallworth, who strategically sent messages to their fans a few days before the Super Bowl, encouraging them to create videos using Intel’s technology for a fan-powered competition.
Of course, athletes also benefit from the connections OpenSponsorship helps them make with both followers and interesting brands.
“OpenSponsorship provides you direct contact with the companies you love,” said Track and Field Athlete Blair Henderson. “This network builds lasting partnerships and helps you to better connect with your followers. Discovering OpenSponsorship has really benefited me from day one.”
The Ability to Optimize a Wide Range of Marketing Channels
Ishveen told us that many marketers are surprised about all of the things they can achieve without a separate strategy devoted to sports.
“Previously, you’d have to work with a special agency to leverage sports sponsorship opportunities,” she said. “With OpenSponsorship, you can amplify whatever campaign you’re working on with athletes. If your company is heavily reliant on email marketing and you have an email subscriber base of 1 million, using an NBA player in the subject line of your email can improve open rates, no matter the industry.”
The company also offers a number of different marketing opportunities, from direct product endorsements and social media posts to guest appearances. With a wide range of marketing channels, brands can get new followers, drive sales, and boost their social presence.
“We take every single marketing channel you have, and we just try and make it a bit better using athletes,” Ishveen said. “We also understand that it’s important to track the effectiveness of your marketing spend, so we put a big emphasis on results.”
Through the company’s user-friendly dashboard, marketers can easily view how each campaign and partnership is performing. The goal is to achieve the best return on investment possible in the long-term — not just a single campaign.
Enhanced Accessibility via Paywall Elimination
In response to the financial hardships brands face due to the coronavirus pandemic, OpenSponsorship recently lifted its mandatory paywall, making it free for brands to sign up on the company’s self-service platform.
Brands can use OpenSponsorship’s search functionality to find an athlete and send a proposal using the company’s pricing charts. They may also choose to build a campaign with a specified budget to which athletes can apply. Either way, the company manages all contracts and payments to protect both brands and athletes until the deal is complete.
“We initially made it free for brands to come in as a reaction to COVID-19, but it also feels like a commitment to our mission,” Ishveen said. “We believe sponsorship should be accessible to all brands; now, we’ve made it truly accessible.”