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Athlete Partnerships as the New Frontier for Luxury Fashion Marketing

Elite sports figures have some of the most loyal fan bases in the world. Mobs of fans scour the earth to glimpse their favorite athlete for just seconds. With this heightened visibility and loyalty, brands incorporate partnerships with these top athletes into their marketing strategy, paying the individuals millions of dollars to endorse or share their products. But, what about luxury fashion marketing?

The likes of Lebron James, Christian Ronaldo, Tiger Woods, and Serena Williams made an estimated $196 million dollars in 2021 from endorsements. Over the course of Maria Sharapova’s career, she made $35 million dollars in prize money, whereas the rest of her $325 million dollars in earnings came from endorsements. Yet when examining closer, most of the products that these athletes endorse are for consumer product goods brands. With the exception of primarily sports apparel brands Adidas, Nike, Under Armor, Reebok, and Puma, it’s been quite rare to see luxury retail brands partner with elite athletes. Recently, however, there has been a push by some luxury fashion marketers to begin creating these partnerships with top athletes.  

Changes in Marketing for Luxury Retailers

Luxury fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, Chanel, and Burberry traditionally tend to partner with musicians, artists, and fashion models to endorse products through social media posts, event attendance, marketing opportunities, and more. With the exception of Rolex, the world’s largest luxury retail brands have had minimal partnerships or endorsement deals with elite athletes. Of the top 20 most followed Instagram accounts in the world, three of those accounts are soccer players. It’s clear to see why Ronaldo, Neymar, and Messi would be sought after by these luxury brands to market products – each player has a global presence, and with it, the ability to create trends and influence millions with one single post.  

Within the U.S., NFL Sunday, Thursday and Monday night football are the top three most watched series, respectively. From the Fall until Super Bowl Sunday, luxury brands could capitalize on product endorsement with TV cameras glued to football players. With other major sporting events such as March Madness (16.9 million viewers), Tour de France (3.5 billion viewers), Cricket World Cup (2.6 billion viewers), the Men’s and Women’s Soccer World Cup (4.42 billion viewers), and The Super Bowl (96.2 million viewers), luxury brands could strategically have product placement on specific athletes during these events, as well. Yet within the U.S., we haven’t seen as many professional athletes receive endorsement deals with top luxury fashion brands.  

Recent Partnerships for Luxury Fashion

Recently, Gucci, Luis Vuitton, and Burberry have announced partnerships with soccer and tennis players. In November 2021, soccer player Marcus Rashford of Manchester United partnered with luxury brand Burberry. Burberry has pledged to help support charities, selected by Rashford, that are aimed at supporting disadvantaged children develop their literacy schools in the U.K.. English soccer player Jack Grealish is on the verge of signing a seven-figure deal with Gucci, and tennis star Naomi Osaka signed a seven-figure deal with Louis Vuitton to feature in the 2021 summer campaign.  

Additionally, in the past, Louis Vuitton partnered with U.S. Women’s National Team member Megan Rapinoe, featuring the soccer star in the Loewes 2020 Autumn/Fall campaign. These luxury brands are incorporating athlete partnerships in their marketing strategy, using the athletes’ heightened visibility and loyal base of followers to aid in marketing their products to a wider consumer base.

Going Forward with Luxury Fashion Marketing

Moving forward, top brands will want to consider including athletes within their marketing schema. Traditionally, luxury retail brands have had a narrow target audience, utilizing musicians, artists, and fashion models. Athletes, though, have the ability to reach an untapped target audience for brands, resulting in increased profits and brand loyalty from a new generation.  

Brands will need to understand which athletes to target, which specific styles resonate with their new target audience, how to work with athletes, and best practices for adapting these new marketing strategies. With so many questions looming, the first movers will reap the untapped potential elite athletes can have on luxury fashion marketing.  

To better understand these trends and the impact they may have on your businesses, reach out to Clarkston’s retail experts.  

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Contributions by Parker Fennema

Tags: Brand Communication