According to research conducted by Opendorse, the top 100 athlete endorsements were valued at over $924 million last year alone. We have seen athletes build larger audiences than traditional media outlets online, which means evaluating who to sign, keep or invest behind can have a major impact on your ability to reach new audiences and attract more fans to your brand.

With so many touch points for fans to engage with athletes, many sponsors find themselves with data overload and an inability to make any direct attribution of social engagement to sales. If you have the system in place to correlate sales to athletes, please do share your formula in the comments below.

For the rest of you trying to determine how to evaluate your investment with athletes, this is for you. It starts with identifying what the R is in athlete ROI. For this evaluation, we will use earned media value (EMV) as the value for “R”.

Let’s quickly talk about earned media value and how it is defined. First off, earned (or free) media refers to publicity gained through promotional efforts other than paid media or advertising.

When assigning a dollar value to this, you can use these variables to develop a formula your organization:

  • Engagement: How many people does the athlete reach and how engaged are their fans? The most commonly used method to determine engagement is likes + comments + shares = total engagement. However, if you are looking for the engagement rate of the audience, you would use total engagement/fans x 100.
  • Advertising Equivalent: What is the market cost of overall impressions? Start by finding the CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions) within your vertical.
  • Likelihood to convert: What is the likelihood the exposure will lead to a new customer? Using average (customer value x % of people reached)  where the % is equal to what you believe is the likelihood to convert. 

Likelihood to convert is a much harder metric to quantify if you are still grappling with understanding the engagement and advertising equivalency. However, it is a critical measure to connect your investments to sales.

If all of the above sounds like way too much work, many off-the-shelf measurement tools are integrating EMV into their platforms and there are platforms designed specifically for tracking the social media value of athletes like Opendorse and Hookit. 


When looking for new athletes to partner with, the first step is to begin assessing which ones have the most potential to create a return on your investment. What you might find here is that you can reach the same number of people by sponsoring someone with a smaller following but higher levels of engagement rather than focusing exclusively on just a couple of the top athletes.

Another important and sometimes overlooked factor in selecting athletes is how much they appeal to people outside of the sport. In a recent analysis we conducted for a winter sports brand, we found that their audience over-indexed on food, fashion, and music. This insight led us to explore more ways to integrate the brand into broader cultural moments.

Off-the-shelf tools can bump-up your ability to evaluate how well your current athletes are incorporating your brand into their social feeds. Not only can they speed up the analysis of how you are integrated into photos, tags or copy, they can also serve as a great tool to determine how compliant athletes are with your contractual agreements.

Taking a data-driven approach to creating the most effective roster of athletes has never been easier than it is today. This sort of clarity allows you to establish performance goals for your athlete marketing and determine which people are your best brand advocates.

In the final part of our series on data-driven athlete marketing, we will share 5 ways to partner with athletes to give them unique content and experiences to share with their fans.
The top 100 athletes endorsements saw a value at over $924mm.
— Opendorse