By Eric Smith

Sports entertainment companies aren’t adopting influencer marketing programs as quickly as other industries, with less than half—45 percent—of teams in the NHL, NBA, NFL, MLB and CFL increasing their budgets for these programs in 2018.

Yet 65 percent of them believe an influencer program is “a necessity for brand success in today’s digital world,” especially as Generation Z, which values those programs more than others, grows into a more prevalent purchasing audience.

That’s according to The State of Influencer Marketing in Sports Entertainment, a new white paper published by Cascade Influencers, which posits that sports teams are finally seeing the value in these programs but just now coming around on adoption.

“When compared to organizations similar in size in other industries, sports entertainment companies are much slower to adopt influencer marketing,” said Matt Diteljan, co-founder at Cascade Influencers. “While other industries have been pouring money into influencer marketing for years, sports entertainment companies are just now starting to jump on the bandwagon.”

The study said that 45 percent of sports marketers in the U.S. and Canada, increased their budgets for influencer programs from 2017 to 2018, yet only 25 percent of sports marketers spent more than $20,000 on influencer programs in 2018.

The vast majority (76.2 percent) spent less than $20,000 on their marketing influencer programs in 2018, while 15.3 percent spent $20,000 to $54,000, 3.4 percent spent $55,000 to $99,000 and 5.1 percent spent more than $100,000.

Besides the financial investment needed to run an effective influencer program, another obstacle is that these programs also require a significant time commitment, something that may be hard to carve out when companies continue pursuing more traditional means of marketing.

According to the report: “From identifying the best partnerships to negotiating sponsored fees, approximately 35 percent of sports marketers who are running influencer programs spend more than 20 hours a month managing the process and nearly 10 percent of those marketers are spending more than 80 hours a month on management.”

Although launching a successful, effective influencer marketing program requires time and money, the need for sports entertainment companies to get on board is critical because of the rise of Generation Z.

Gen Z, which is generally defined as people born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, composes 25 percent of the U.S. population and has a larger count than either baby boomers, Generation X or millennials.

And they have money to spend and influence to capture.

According to the study, “The financial influence of Generation Z is estimated to be between $29 to $143 billion of direct spending by 2020 and sports marketers are taking notice. As the most socially conscious demographic, they turn to social media and network comparisons much like their millennial counterparts. Sports marketers are seeking new ways, like influencer marketing, to connect with Generation Z for this very reason. In fact, more than half of survey respondents listed Generation Z as the most important segment of their brand.”

“This new generation of consumers is hard-working, pragmatic and values transparency,” Diteljan said. “Generation Z is looking for people like them whom they can trust, and influencer marketing is where that starts. They don’t want brands to produce ad copy; they want brands to create relevant and valuable content.”

Gen Z is looking for relevant and valuable content from brands on select social media channels, with most of them using Snapchat and Instagram because this generation “craves quickly digestible content and has higher expectations of technology,” the report reads.

Another problem facing sports entertainment brands is more than half of them—55 percent—don’t know about FTC regulations for brands and influencers working together.

“While having your sponsored post look like it was ‘organically posted’ might seem more valuable, it could put both you and your influencer in a risky place,” the report reads. “If the influencer does not outline the sponsorship agreement, both the influencer and the brand can face a fine or legal action.”

Other findings of the study:

The top three benefits of influencer marketing for a sports brand, according to participants, are:

  • Drive social media engagement around my product/brand (22.2 percent)
  • Create authentic content about my brand (20.4 percent).
  • Reach younger generations who don’t trust traditional advertising (13.8 percent)

Study participants said the top three ways they judge whether an influencer is “high-quality and/or authentic” are:

  • Engagement rate (37.2 percent)
  • Number of followers (23.4 percent)
  • Responsiveness (19 percent)

Participants said the top three challenges to influencer marketing in 2018 are:

  • Determining whether influencer marketing is right for my brand (31.7 percent)
  • Determining the ROI of my influencer marketing program (28.6 percent)
  • Gauging the authentic reach and engagement for the influencers we work with (17.5 percent)

The top sports influencers are:

  • David Beckham
  • Neymar Jr.
  • Pavel Barber
  • Cristiano Ronaldo
  • Russell Westbrook
  • Lindsey Vonn
  • Barstool Sports
  • Nick Alessi
  • Spittin Chiclets

To read the full report, click here.

Photo courtesy Cascade Influencers


Eric Smith is Senior Business Editor at SGB Media. Reach him at or 303-578-7008. Follow on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.