With more than two thousand active members, the NFL Players Association is built to assist and support a broad swath of NFL players. From rookies to veterans, the NFLPA helps players find their value and voice off the field.
To better understand how the NFLPA enhances opportunities beyond the field, we caught up with Player Services Manager, Stanley Wakefield, to understand how social media plays a role.
In his words, “Social media has done an amazing job to amplify and create new opportunities for our player membership.”
Next-Gen Players Embrace Social
As social media has evolved to become a mainstay in sports culture, athletes have grown more and more comfortable using their personal platforms. Today’s younger players have grown up using tools like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to create and post content to connect with their audience.
“A lot of younger guys truly know the value of their social,” Wakefield says. “Athletes can create their own content; they just really need the direction, and brands see value in that. Brands see a ton of value in it because it takes off their plate. You get more authentic engagement with the audience you’re trying to reach because the players know their audience.”
Each platform encourages different skills. For example, TikTok and Instagram Reels teaches athletes the basics of video editing. The COVID pandemic has limited in-person interviews and has put athletes in the position to create content as a way to share their stories.
Wakefield isn’t surprised by the younger generation’s success in the COVID era: “The shift of younger players couldn’t have come at a better time when we depend on them to create and be the voice of the brand.”
Breaking the Stigma Around Social
Some athletes are hesitant to post on social media due to judgment from teammates and fans, but with an increase of social media usage, the stigma is changing.
“I definitely think the stigma has changed as social media is so readily available,” says Wakefield. “When you think about how involved social is in terms of team and league marketing, the stigma has changed for the better.”
With the growth of social media, more players understand the value behind it, and the time and place for social in their daily life. Teammates understand why that one player is performing a TikTok dance after a big win, or going live on Instagram once they leave the locker room.
“I saw this shift coming within the past 3-5 years. We really saw this huge shift in athlete-generated content and social media being the primary platform that marketing is done on. I think based on a number of different factors and our current environment, there’s a slew of opportunities that come via social media. We’ve seen the timeline speed up. I think social media provides endless opportunities for our membership and future players coming into the league to truly harness and grow their brands how they see fit.”
The NFLPA helps athletes tell their story with several different platforms and initiatives, including the Player Marketing Profile, AthleteAnd, and the Influencer Hot List.
The Player Marketing Profile is information provided by the athletes about their hobbies and interests. This profile is now included in the rookie onboarding process.
AthleteAnd has showcased how athletes are more than “just” NFL players and have interests that stretch well beyond the field.
The Athlete Hot List shows how players are performing on social. Stanley noted that there is often a lot of variety on this list and athletes in every position are now excelling at connecting with their audience.
Advice for Athletes
As the industry has evolved, so too has Wakefield’s advice for athletes. The first place he starts? Authenticity: “Brands look very closely to the authenticity of a player’s feed and how involved he may be with a branch of their brand or a hobby that directly relates to a campaign.”
Athletes’ social content should reflect what they care about and are interested in. That authentic look into players’ lives is a building block to earning attention from brands and fans.
Wakefield also preaches the value of understanding your audience: “A super unique thing I love about our players is that they usually have three subsets of fans that are following them on social media.
“They usually have that group of fans from their professional team. Most of them went to a large college which usually comes with a large following. Then you also have that branch of influencer marketing space that deals directly with their hobbies and things they are interested in.”
Players often wonder if anyone is going to interact with their content, but by having built their audience from the college level (and often even high school), as they grow on the field, their audience-size tends to grow with them.
By establishing the athlete-audience connection, today’s players are leveraging social to bring their brands to the next level. They’re able to reach fans and encourage engagement to become sought-after partners for brands and sponsors. With social becoming second nature and assistance from pros like Wakefield, the sky is the limit for today’s NFL athlete.