Amidst one of the most divisive periods in world history, it seemed as if the entire world was able to put their differences aside for one thing: The Last Dance. Part of the reason that ESPN’s Michael Jordan documentary “The Last Dance” was so successful was that it gave viewers a behind-the-scenes look at who Michael Jordan is as a person. It’s easy to forget that athletes are more than just athletes, they are real people too. They have feelings, emotions, families, and other interests besides their respective sports. With more platforms than ever to consume media, there is now a ton of opportunity for players to control the narrative and build their personal brand.
Enter, Matisse Thybulle. With only select media members gaining access to the NBA bubble, Philadelphia 76ers rookie Matisse Thybulle decided to take covering the state of the bubble into his own hands. In a series of ten-minute vlogs (video blogs) Thybulle has shared the testing facilities, hotel rooms, meals, practices, how players spend their free time and more. The response to these videos has been exceptional, taking Matisse from a quiet rookie looking to prove his worth on the court to a world-wide, media phenomenon. In a little over a week, he’s amassed 225,000 subscribers on YouTube, averaging over 735K views per video. That’s nothing to sneeze at (while wearing your mask of course).
Matisse isn’t the only player to document their off the court antics. Lakers forward, Javale Mcgee has also been releasing vlogs from inside the bubble and makes an effort to connect with fans through his love of Call of Duty. Mcgee frequently posts videos of himself playing the game on YouTube and streams on Twitch. His first Youtube video dates back to eight years ago.
Within the next three years, we will see a lot of players begin to take a page from Matisse and Javale’s playbook. Here’s why.
For the Players: In sports, nothing is guaranteed. Injuries are unpredictable and we now know that it’s possible for the sports world to go on pause, sometimes without pay. While they do make exorbitant amounts of money and should have some stashed away for a rainy day (or a global pandemic) not all do. 60 percent of NBA players go broke within five years of departing from the league. Not only does building their personal brand help them connect on a deeper level with their fans, but it also serves as an alternative revenue stream. Growing a following on YouTube, Twitch or any another platform opens a wide door of money-making opportunities ranging from ad revenue and brand deals to selling personal merchandise. This is especially important for less noteworthy players who play in markets that don’t receive a lot of media coverage.
Eventually, every athlete’s playing career will come to an end. In retirement, former players will often make the switch to media as announcers, analysts, or talk show hosts. Putting this content out now is a great way to set the foundation for this transition.
For Teams and the League: It’s free marketing. More eyeballs means more money. Building the personal brands of smaller name players will help increase jersey sales, ticket revenue and can even create new fans across the globe. Everyone might not have access to a television that broadcasts the NBA, but most people do have smartphones. By studying the content that its players put out, the NBA gets a chance to see what resonates with their fans and what doesn’t. They can use these insights to make league-wide marketing campaigns more effective.
With nearly 450 players currently in the NBA, only a small fraction are truly focused on building their influence and audience on social media. What Matisse and Javale are doing is proof that if executed correctly, NBA players can gain recognition for a different type of post game.
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