Athletes and Social Media (Plus Where It’s Going)

Did you know…

That soccer-star Cristiano Ronaldo makes a reported $2.3M per sponsored Instagram post?

And in 2020, it was revealed that Ronaldo pocketed a whopping $41 million from IG – $16m more than Lionel Messi.

The influence of star athletes is baffling (a lot of which can be thanked to the rise of social media).

With over 516M million followers, in theory, Ronaldo can reach 7% of the world.

Cristiano Ronaldo social media pay

Taking it to a lower level…

We now have college athletes making 7 figures thanks to brand deals (and over 80% of these deals involve social media).

But what does the full landscape of athletes and social media look like?

Let’s Dive In 👇

The Three Types of Athletes

With nearly all athletes able to make money off of their name, image, and likeness — the differences in monetization are clear.

The rise of athlete-centered media is here.

Athletes fall into three categories:

Strictly Athletes

Being talented on the field is the main priority for most athletes — which I respect.

Heck, I never really posted to social media until after my playing days were up.

Most athletes (college and pro) don’t post actively on social media.

This is unfortunate for a few reasons…

  • Most schools/organizations spend a lot of money on making sure they have an array of photos, videos, and content from games/practices/events.
  • “Day in the life of an athlete” videos are a guaranteed 50,000 views and 1-2k followers on TikTok, IG, and YouTube Shorts.
  • More of a social media presence = more money (and most athletes have a slim time period to take advantage of this).

This has led to a new type of athlete…

Content Creators

NIL has shown us that some athletes were “hidden” on-camera talents — who just happen to play a sport.

Like Jon Seaton, a backup offensive lineman at Elon University who has earned well into 6-figures thanks to his Tik Tok account where he talks about being a “big guy”.

Jon Seaton tiktok nil

The downside…

  • Athletes who create content are often looked at negatively by their own athletic community (teammates, coaches, opponents, etc).
  • Good content creation is WAY more time-consuming than most people realize (and can burn out athletes, which impacts on-field performance).

This is why we’ve started to see athletes “hand-off” their social media accounts to the experts.


Once an athlete reaches a certain status, they have the ability to outsource most of their social media activity.

There are companies out there that literally just run social media accounts for athletes and entertainers.

It’s wild…

With companies spending millions on brand deals with athletes — it’s a positive ROI for most of them.

But what are athletes really making?

Athlete Paychecks

Being a professional athlete is still the main destination (and probably always will be).

average pay by pro sport

But it’s often on a player-by-player basis now.

The G-League is the next closest level to the NBA and it only pays $40,000/year.

This is the exact reason we’re seeing basketball players like Drew Timme, Oscar Tshiebwe, and Armando Bacot come back to college.

And more data is coming out about the pay for college football players via On3:

nil college football valuation 2023

Yes salaries, contracts, and NIL are going up…

But there’s a reason why athletes are making more than ever before.

Brand endorsements work…

Student-athletes are performing up to 12 times better than standard influencers on social media platforms, according to a report by the influencer-marketing firm Captiv8.

The study looked at the engagement rates of 312 student-athletes with at least 20,000 followers across five different categories: football, men’s and women’s basketball, and men’s and women’s Olympic sports.

So what are athletes doing with all this extra money?

Shift To Ownership

Athletes are making absurd amounts of money — and on top of that, they have influence, power, and fame.

They’re taking these attributes to the ownership lane…

On Wednesday, it was announced that Naomi Osaka, Patrick Mahomes, and Nick Kyrgios joined the ownership ranks in Major League Pickleball.

pickleball owners patrick mahomes, naomi osaka, nick kyrgios

And then yesterday, the National Cycling League (NCL) announced their $7.5M seed round that included an array of athletes:

Kevin Byard
Bradley Beal
Jalen Ramsey
Derwin James
Casey Hayward
Emmanuel Acho

In 50 years, sports might be made up entirely of athletes.

They’re the owners, founders, players, managers, coaches, etc…

The more money athletes make, the more they’re able to give back to the community that gave them so much.

And honestly, I like to see owners like Michael Jordan and coaches like Steve Nash.

Some Takeaways

  1. Endorsements with athletes work.
  2. More platforms to help athletes manage content.
  3. Brands should figure out ways to partner with athletes.
  4. Founders shouldn’t be afraid to provide equity to athletes.
  5. NIL compensation has increased the value of athletes across the board.
  6. Social media continues to reign supreme for athletes looking to make extra money.
  7. With more money than ever before, athletes are getting smarter and thinking more about long-term partnerships.
  8. Athletes will continue to influence the world of sports long after retiring.

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