Athletes Want To Tell Their Story

In social media, in general, and certainly in the world of social media and sports, we constantly talk about storytelling. Stories of fans, of games, and, most importantly, of the athletes fans love and for whom they pay money to come out and cheer. But not all athletes have the volume of a Lebron James with their voice. And those with the audience of a Lebron James often have so many others seeking to frame or tell their stories.

But social and digital media has changed the game.

It may have taken longer than it should’ve, but athletes are realizing now, more than ever, the power of their stories. And, even as many lament journalism as an ebbing professional field, the quality of stories are better than ever.

No, athletes are not all of a sudden developing the writing schools of a graduate of Medill or Newhouse. But they’re taking control more – and that’s a good thing for everybody.

“Athletes will be empowered to control their own narratives and share their stories and ideas, unfiltered, exactly the way they intended, ” said Jaymee Messler, President of The Players’ Tribune, in the recent 2016 Sports Business trends article written by Mark J. Burns (check out my podcast with him about the article here).

It’s partly fueled by the incomparable reach and distribution commanded by the world’s biggest athletes. But it’s also about a shift in the paradigm. The Players’ Tribune isn’t a platform, it’s a partnership. Just as famous athletes enlist ghostwriters to help them weave a beautiful tale for an autobiography, athletes are now working with talented writers to help them tell their stories while they’re still playing and their stories are still being written.

The result is a product more valuable for the fans, more satisfying and gratifying for the athletes, and, ultimately, more effective in strengthening  the emotional attachments of fans to athletes – and their teams and partners. It’s less about soliciting and stealing information from athletes between cliches and outbursts and more about being honest and real with athletes. Working alongside them to tell stories.

“New platforms like Derek Jeter’s Players Tribune and LeBron James’ Uninterrupted, launched by the Turner Broadcasting-owned Bleacher Report, and The Cauldron, in partnership with Sports Illustrated, allows athletes to connect directly with fans, minus the filter of traditional sports media, ” said Kelly Whiteside, Assistant Professor, Sports Media/Journalism, at Montclair State University

Now, traditional media will still be there to tell the stories some teams and athletes do NOT want told (yes, salacious stories still sell), but no one can doubt the rising popularity of first-person player platforms. The trick is for teams to embrace this trend and establish relationships with the players; assuring there is understanding that the social media team is there to help athletes tell their stories in beautiful, meaningful ways.

“Between the players and fans, I’m just a conduit,” says Russell Houghtaling of Oregon State Athletics. “I’m the middle man.”

The value Houghtaling brings to the student athletes is the distribution channels, the video editing and graphic design team, and the talent and expertise to help those student athletes tell and share their stories.

So, yes, player-generated content is a trend here to stay. And players are eager to spread their perspective and experiences and brand as effectively as they can. We’re evolving from a culture of quotes to a society of stories. And, for everyone in the sports world, it’s a good thing.


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