The athlete and influencer marketing industry is big business on social media. Nowhere has this become more clear than Instagram in the form of Branded Content. You’ve surely seen it across your feed: “Paid partnership with brand.”

Brands of all sizes now look to accounts with influence to power their message and media on Instagram – to promote products, amplify sponsorships, and bring awareness and engagement to their brand. Perhaps no industry has adopted this engagement strategy more emphatically than sports sponsorship.

Today, brands across every vertical commit big budgets to sponsor teams and leagues in sports, aiming to reach and engage those organization’s ultra-passionate fan bases. Rather than limiting sponsorship activations to live broadcasts and in-arena opportunities, these brands are enhancing the effectiveness of their sponsorships on Instagram through influential accounts – athletes, influencers, teams, and leagues.

Opendorse analyzed more than 36,000 branded Instagram posts published on behalf of more than 3,200 sponsors in sports.

We convey which accounts receive the most opportunities to share branded content, what types of posts perform best, and ultimately, who really creates impact with engagement on Instagram.

Download The State of Sponsored Social Report​

What is Instagram Branded Content?

Instagram defines branded content as a creator or publisher’s content that features or is influenced by a business partner for an exchange of value (for example, where the business partner has paid the creator or publisher).

Instagram policies require creators and publishers to tag business partners in their branded content posts when there’s an exchange of value between a creator or publisher and a business partner, resulting in the “Paid partnership with Brand” tag.

We Analyzed 36,000 Posts to Find…

The report offers a deep-dive into Instagram branded content in sports. We analyzed a full year of paid post data to share key insights including:

  • Sponsors that sourced the most branded content on Instagram
  • Leagues and teams that published the most branded content on behalf of sponsors
  •  Athletes who published the most branded content on behalf of sponsors
Most Active Sponsors – Instagram Branded Content

How Did Branded Content Perform?

The data showed that athletes consistently outperform influencers, teams, and leagues for sponsors in every surveyed vertical.

To determine effectiveness, we ultimately measured the performance by using engagement rate to compare how effectively each account type (athletes, teams, leagues, and media personalities) engaged their respective audience. We found:

When athletes share branded content on Instagram…

  • Athletes drive 2.1x the engagement of influencer accounts
  • Athletes drive 2.4x the engagement of team accounts
  • Athletes drive 3.6x the engagement of league accounts
  • Athletes drive 4.8x the engagement of media accounts
Engagement Rate By Account Type

Athletes consistently outperformed influencers, teams, and leagues for sponsors in multiple verticals. But the report doesn’t stop there. We also show:

  • What post types of branded content perform best.
  • Examples of how athletes perform against other account types for brands in multiple categories
  • How branded content from athletes, teams, and leagues compare in each major North American league. 

Sponsors Embracing Athlete Engagement

Athletes have proven to be the most influential individuals in sports sponsorship on social. But even with 3.3X more effective engagement, they still receive fewer sponsored post opportunities than the less impactful accounts of influencers, teams, and leagues. But we’re witnessing this change before our eyes. 

As athletes become more accessible and intentional about building their social media power, sponsors are finally beginning to take notice.

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