From Babe Ruth’s favorite cigars to Tom Brady’s post-game glass of milk, athletes have made captivating brand partners for more than a century. But it doesn’t take a world champion to add value to your roster.
TikTok has created an opportunity for marketers to leverage athletes of every caliber and niche for relatable campaigns that give fans a fresh perspective on their favorite sports and the products that complement them.
With that said, it’s time to find your next playmaker.
Why should brands partner with athletes on TikTok?
The benefits of partnering with TikTok athletes
They have dedicated fanbases.
Every city has a hometown hero, and athletes are often the most common among them. These figures can be kids who grew up in an area and moved on to bigger and better things, or they can be a star who came to town and turned a team around. Either way, fans are always willing to go to bat for their favorite athletes, meaning even those without national name recognition can elevate to celebrity status in a specific region.
The market is diverse.
Athletes come from all walks of life, and no matter your target audience, you should easily be able to find an athlete who identifies well with them.
But athletes are just as helpful for diverse budgets as they are for diverse audiences. If you’re willing to pay top dollar, you can partner with a mega-celebrity like Serena Williams, Cristiano Ronaldo, etc., and blast your message out to millions. But there are also plenty of nano- and micro-level athletes who would be perfect for gifting and affiliate-based programs.
They are experts in their field.
Athletes dedicate their lives to their crafts and know exactly which techniques, equipment, and nutrition will keep them at their best. If a product is good enough to help their favorite athlete perform, fans can rest assured it’s good enough for them, too.
They reach hyper-targeted audiences.
From hockey and soccer to pickleball and spikeball, athlete interests are just as diverse as their sports. And because there are sports fans all over the world, athletes make the perfect partners for brands looking to grow by tapping into new audiences.
They bring a high chance for earned media.
Sports reporters, bloggers, and podcasters (among many others) follow athletes’ every move and are always looking for more content—including interesting brand deals. And a clever marketing campaign during a slow offseason can help keep an athlete in the conversation when there isn’t as much attention on them as usual.
The drawbacks of partnering with TikTok athletes
Fanbases can be fickle.
Dedicated fanbases can be a double-edged sword. An athlete could have the key to the city one day and be public enemy No. 1 the next if they leave for a rival team. If you’re partnering with someone based on location, there is always a chance for an evergreen partnership to turn seasonal in a hurry.
Controversy can derail a partnership.
It seems like nothing attracts controversy quite like a bright spotlight. And because many athletes have media obligations worked into their contracts, the chances for a slip-up are always present. Some controversies can be easy to bounce back from, but others could mean the end of a formerly fruitful partnership.
Your brand might not always be the priority.
Athletes have full-time jobs requiring a lot of travel and even more energy. Marketers should understand that an athlete’s top priority will always be their sport, meaning the brand might sometimes take the backseat.
What type of athlete is most popular on TikTok?
@aislynsdiary 12 hours of my busy day😝 #d1 #studentathlete #college #dormlife #d1athlete @olivia rickle ♬ original sound – 60 second sounds
Countless student-athletes have helped grow their platform by creating content around their daily lives and the struggles of balancing sports with being full-time students. And because they are in their teens and early 20s, TikTok student-athletes integrate perfectly with the rest of the platform’s user base.
Formerly, amateur athletes would have been off-limits for marketers. But recent changes to name, image, and likeness (NIL) laws have opened up plenty of opportunities to leverage a whole new batch of creators.
Extreme sports athletes
@johnni.dijulius Human Catapult (I am a professional- do not attempt) #basejump #skydiving #adrenaline #adventure ♬ original sound – Johnni DiJulius
Ever since the X Games brought these niche sports into the limelight in the 90s, audiences haven’t been able to get enough of extreme sports athletes. These creators also have a lot of range in their marketing potential, as brands have leveraged extreme sports athletes to run successful campaigns for everything from streetwear to skincare.
@sagewatson7 Love your body, keep it healthy and be kind to it! #health #fitness #wellness ♬ kodak catching paper planes by vatolocz – vatolocz !
Thanks to social media, Olympians don’t have to wait four years for an audience. These are the best-trained athletes in the world, and TikTok is the perfect platform for them to show what it takes to become the best. It also gives them a chance to let fans get to know them more personally, leading to more name recognition when brands come looking for partners during the next set of games.
Walk in your trap and take over your trap 🤩😁
Of all the mainstream sports, NFL players seem to draw the most attention on TikTok. Following a pro football player on TikTok is the closest most fans will ever get to an NFL locker room, making these creators a must-watch for behind-the-scenes content about their favorite teams.
But NFL TikTok isn’t just for the players. A whole subgenre of NFL wives, girlfriends, and family members shows a different side of the game that appeals to all audiences—not just the diehard fans.
@annabel.lucinda it’s a hard one but a GOOD one 😅 feel free to start with lower reps and work your way up! outfit is @aybl #abs #abday #abexercises #gymtok #gymgirls #girlsoftiktok #fitness #gymmotivation #fypシ゚viral #gymtips #workoutinspo ♬ It’s Givin – Latto
More and more people are turning to fitness influencers on TikTok for health and lifestyle inspiration. No matter your age, gender, or ability, you should have no trouble finding a fitness influencer you can relate to.
How to find the right TikTok athlete for your brand
Identify your target audience.
Determine exactly who is most interested in your products before you start reaching out to athletes to help promote them. Be sure to ask yourself the following questions about your audience before filling out your creator roster.
- What sports do they watch?
- Where do they consume their content?
- Where do they live?
- What are their interests outside of sports?
Know what you can afford.
Some of the biggest names in sports command over $1 million per sponsored post. The vast majority of brands out there won’t be able to foot a bill that steep, so it’s best to temper expectations on the superstars. Still, plenty of athletes with smaller followings have tons of avid fans and are far more affordable to partner with.
Search relevant hashtags.
Search some relevant hashtags to get an idea of the types of creators making content in your niche. According to TikTok, the most-viewed sports-related hashtags are:
Reach out to relevant athletes.
Is your product used by people who play sports or by those who watch sports? If you’re marketing to athletes, you might steer closer to elite performers. Otherwise, you might be better off partnering with athletes who are more relatable to the “average” fan.
Track the results.
Ideally, your creator roster has more than one type of athlete. Keep a close eye on their results to determine which performs best, so you can be on the lookout to recruit similar creators for your next campaign.
You’ll also want to monitor where your sales and conversions are coming from. By studying what made your creators successful in their area, you’ll be able to duplicate your style and strategy to optimize in other locations.
Repurpose the content.
If something works well on organic social media, give it a shot elsewhere in the marketing funnel. Some areas where repurposing creator content works best include:
- Branded social accounts
- Paid ads
- Email campaigns
- Company website
- In-store displays
Top 10 athletes to follow on TikTok right now
1. Allison Kuch
@allisonkuch he said he’s sore from crunching numbers… #werk #businessproposal ♬ STAY – The Kid LAROI & Justin Bieber
Allison Kuch is a lifestyle creator and the wife of Cleveland Browns defensive end, Isaac Rochell. Allison posts comedy videos about the day in the life of a football wife and regularly gives fans a behind-the-scenes look at the “softer side” of her NFL husband.
@justtrain Why do people race me? #fast #fitness #MyBFF #workout #health #wellness #run #popular ♬ Woah – Lil Baby
Ron “Boss” Everline is a celebrity trainer and fitness instructor. He combines healthy routines with motivation and a little comedy to give his content something for everyone. Plus, with a client list that has included stars like Kevin Hart, Diddy, and Russel Westbrook, you never know who might make a cameo appearance.
You can also follow Boss on Instagram.
@sedonerrr #stitch with @sedonerrr ♬ original sound – Sedona Prince
Sedona plays basketball at the University of Oregon and first made a name for herself on social media when she exposed the inequities in the women’s and men’s workout facilities during the 2021 NCAA tournament. She has continued to advocate for equality in sports and is the perfect partner for brands looking for an outspoken spokesperson.
You can also follow Sedona on Instagram.
@juandchan No excuses, these bills aren’t gonna pay themselves! #juandchan #nflwife #footballwife #footballcouple #nflcouple ♬ original sound – HumorDarius
When Juwan isn’t catching balls on Sunday, you can probably find him posting new content on the TikTok account he shares with his wife, Chanen. The couple mostly posts skits and antics from their everyday life, so don’t tune in expecting to see much actual football.
You can also follow “Ju & Chan” on their YouTube channel.
5. Sky Brown
@skybrown Thank you @Dew Tour and Thank you Des Moines. That was really fun!! I was hyped to get the win 🥇 and hyped to skate with my friends. The level of skateboarding that went down in both street and park was crazy 🔥🔥❤️🙏 🛹 it’s so exciting 👏 🙌🙌 congrats to everyone. Congrats 💥 #skybrown ♬ original sound – Sky Brown
Sky Brown is a professional skateboarder who exploded onto the scene as an 8-year-old prodigy in 2016. She pulled a gold medal at the 2020 Summer Olympics and has enjoyed plenty of brand deals—from Invisalign to Nike—ever since.
@fanuppeighton Best NFL Moments pt. 1 #nfl #football #eagles #giants ♬ original sound – Phoebe
Peighton Tubre posts daily football and basketball videos for her 450K+ TikTok followers. Her account is a great follow if you’re into highlights, predictions, and a little trash talk.
You can also follow Peighton on Instagram.
7. Omar Raja
@omar @Jake Paul just beat #andersonsilva @Showtime Boxing #jakepaul #boxing ♬ Night Trouble By Petit Biscuit – Tyler
Omar founded the House of Highlights Instagram account and is now a content commentator for ESPN. His TikTok focuses on breaking down current events in sports and telling the stories of famous athletes beyond their competitive accolades.
You can also follow Omar on Instagram.
8. Tessa Maud
@tessamaud_ lunch in beijing with @hbfskier #winterolympics #snowboarding #foodtok #chinesefood #snowboardhalfpipe #TeamofTomorrow #olympicspirit ♬ That’s Not My Name – The Ting Tings
Tessa is a United States Olympic snowboarder. She was a fan favorite during the 2022 games for sharing behind-the-scenes training shots and clips from the Olympic Village. Catch up with her now to find out how she’s getting ready for her next competition!
Tessa is also active on Instagram.
You do make a difference💖
Masai is a hurdler from the University of Kentucky. With skincare advice for athletes, workout routines, and a day in the life of a college athlete content, Masai is a powerhouse on and off the track.
10. Bat Boys
@batboysbaseball It’s always in Yankee stadium 🤣 How do you think Verlander will do tonight? 👀 #astros #phillies #mlb #playball ♬ original sound – Bat Boys
The Bat Boys are two DC-area college students vying for a job with the MLB one day. Baseball fans could get lost in their TikTok feed for hours watching the duo grill their favorite players about every topic under the sun.
Key takeaway: Partnering with TikTok athletes could give your brand the social proof needed to make it in the big leagues.
Athletes have made quality brand partners for decades. With dedicated fanbases and the ability to reach hyper-targeted niches, the ones who know how to play on TikTok will make the perfect addition to your creator roster. Just make sure to do your research before you start recruiting.