Sports agency IMG has one of the largest athlete management portfolios in the industry. In golf in particular, after signing Arnold Palmer as its first client in 1960, IMG’s portfolio quickly grew and it now manages almost 100 professional golfers alongside owning, managing or operating over 30 events. The agency’s golf clientele include Victor Dubuisson, Ernie Els and Michele Wie.
Head of Digital Marketing, IMG Golf
What is the main aim for IMG Golf athletes on social media?
First and foremost, our athletes use social media to create awareness for their personal brand, as well as connecting to their fans on a personal level. I found when working with our athletes that a lot of them have charities, or something else they are passionate about. For example, Ernie Els has his charity Els for Autism, so he uses social media to promote that and to engage with that audience. Ernie currently has over 73,000 likes on his Facebook page that promotes the charity, and a dedicated Twitter page has almost 63,000 followers – that’s compared to his personal Twitter account that has around 46,000 followers.
A by-product of athletes putting themselves out there on social media is also for potential sponsors to evaluate whether they align with their product.
Which social media platforms do you invest most time and resources in with your athletes?
Twitter and Facebook are huge, but some golfers are really involved with Instagram. For example, Michelle Wie is very into fashion and is artistic, and that shows another side to her character. She has over 85,000 followers on the platform.
Pádraig Harrington also uses YouTube to post video tutorials, and produces some light entertainment content for it such as blindfolded tee-offs.
Which social media platform do you think works the best for your athletes in terms of reach?
Athletes tend to find Twitter works best in terms of engagement, because Facebook changes its algorithms a lot. However, unlike major sports events and brands, athletes don’t have a need to pay Facebook to promote their content; Facebook is quite content-rich with photos and videos, so unlike Twitter, it can be more targeted to very active fans.
How do you measure success on social media?
A good example of an athlete of ours successfully using social media is Jason Dufner – he just gets it. His content is not only about golf, he has let people get to know him. After he was pictured sitting in a slumped position, he started a huge and ongoing social media trend with other professional golfers and members of the public replicating the pose and posting it online with the hashtag #dufnering.
Part of the interest in a player’s social media presence is the content they produce on sports other than golf, and Dufner currently has 420,000 followers on Twitter and over 61,000 Facebook likes. It’s not only the quantity of his fans, it’s the level of engagement they have with his online content, and that’s because golfers in general have a very loyal following compared to other athletes.
Do your athletes make a financial return directly via social media?
IMG Golf manages a lot of events so we promote awareness and ticket sales using social media, but an athlete focuses on fan engagement rather than a financial return. We sit our golfers down and figure out what content would maximise engagement, because they tend not to post during a tournament.
What are the main challenges you face when creating an athlete’s social media strategy?
There’s a lot of noise on social media, so athletes struggle to get their voice heard. Twitter constantly updates and Facebook has algorithms so it is difficult to stand out.
I think athletes could do more in terms of being active on regional social media platforms. We get a lot questions from athletes about Chinese social media platforms Tencent and Sina Weibo. There’s a whole market out there for athletes to get involved, but right now we’re testing the waters. The problem is the language barrier for non-Chinese athletes, as we always encourage our athletes to produce their own content.
We also have to be careful about how we vet our athletes’ social media content because, at the end of the day, it is freedom of speech.
To read case studies detailing leading sports rights-holders' social media strategies, please click the links below.
Social Services Introduction
Case Study 1: Past Event – 2014 FIFA World Cup
Case Study 2: Future Event – ATP World Tour Finals
Case Study 3: Team – Dallas Cowboys
Case Study 5: League – NBA
Case Study 6: Sponsor – Puma