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The X’s and O’s of Using a Coach as Your Next Brand Ambassador

The X’s and O’s of Using a Coach as Your Next Brand Ambassador

The biggest free agent in hockey has landed in Toronto – and he will be behind the bench on game days.  

Last week, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed new head coach Mike Babcock to an eight-year, $50 million contract which makes him the highest paid coach in the National Hockey League. With that comes not just with a mandate to win, but a platform that will instantly make him one of the new faces of the Toronto sports landscape.

Babcock’s introduction to Toronto was akin to a star player’s arrival to a new market: a comprehensive media tour, a press conference broadcast on all major networks, and viral status over social media. When star players arrive in a new market though, they galvanize the interest of more than just fans and media, but corporate sponsors seeking a net-new investment opportunity. With Babcock as one of the new faces of the Maple Leaf franchise, might he attract similar interest from the sponsorship community?

Outside of the reach and relevance the new bench boss for the Maple Leafs will hold coaching in hockey’s biggest market, Babcock brings with him a number of attributes that may make him an attractive partner for Canadian brands.  

Babcock’s involvement in Unilever’s 2011 mass brand campaign promoting their Dove Men+Care line of products offered a glimpse into his ability as an endorser and the storylines prospective brands could activate against. 

Beyond Babcock, coaches can be a unique ingredient for brands seeking a new and differentiated endorser. MKTG explores the strategic considerations for brands exploring endorsement deals with professional sports coaches.

Why Coaches? The Strategic Benefit of Partnering with a Sports Coach:

Leveraging online research tool Google Consumer Surveys, MKTG surveyed 500 Canadians on their perceptions on the brand of coaches in professional sports. The sentiment of responses was overwhelmingly positive with leading responses, as indicated in the word cloud below, including mentions of leadership, passion, discipline and determination. For sponsors seeking a transference of these attributes, an endorsement relationship with a coach can offer an authentic platform to bring these storylines to market.

Additionally, sponsors can derive the following benefit from investing in endorsement relationships with pro team coaches:

Internal Company Activations: Due to the training and leadership tones associated with coaching, brands can generate excitement with their employees by leveraging a brand ambassador coach in their internal communications. Whether it is training modules for employees or a guest speaker series on managing and leading direct-reports, coaches can bring credibility to internal programming.  

Relevance in Categories that Skew High-Income: For expensive, time-intensive, planned-purchase product categories like Auto, Airline, or Financial, an older ambassador can bring increased relatability and credibility with an older target.

Opportunities for Ownership: While star athletes typically represent a number of marketing partners, which can lead to the risk of decreased attribution and ownership for sponsors, few coaches are leveraged in endorsement relationships today. Brands who partner with coaches can gain access to a highly differentiated endorser. 

Case Studies: 

Chip Kelly & Tostitos

In January 2015, Tostitos released a series of commercials with NFL Head Coach Chip Kelly, using his name as a play-on-words to demonstrate that Tostitos is the true “Official Chip of the NFL”. Being the head coach of one of the league’s most popular teams, the Philadelphia Eagles, Kelly is widely known amongst the NFL fanbase. Kelly also has crossover appeal due to his successful tenure in the college football ranks as the Head Coach at the University of Oregon. 

Jim Harbaugh & Dockers

Dockers signed an Endorsement Deal with former San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and wife Sarah to film a pants-related PSA warning people about the dangers of “dad pants,” parodying Harbaugh’s notorious sideline style. The spirit of the campaign was inspired by a candid moment in a January interview when Sarah Harbaugh joked about her husband's $8 dollar khakis from Wal-Mart. Dockers displayed best-practice social listening and quick-response marketing by capitalizing on a viral moment. Finally, Dockers is a brand under the umbrella of Levi's corporation. Levi's became the naming rights partner to the new 49er's stadium in San Francisco, so the partnership further authenticates the organization's relationship with the team across the family of brands.

Jose Mourinho & Variety of Sponsors

The Chelsea manager has long history of brand partnerships. Throughout his tenure as Chelsea’s leader, Mourinho has had relationships with large and diverse roster of sponsors that includes: Yahoo, Hublot, Jaguar, Adidas, Braun, American Express, Johnnie Walker Whisky, and Armani. Given Chelsea’s global popularity, Mourinho’s awareness levels are strong both home (82% in the UK and 59% globally). The manager is known for his charity work and social initiatives, and has established himself as a superstar coach with a fairly clean profile. 

Key Considerations

Corporate sponsors can leverage coaches as a platform to authenticate and amplify their brand positioning just like they can with any endorser. But while the stories that brands tell when activating against athletes is often about performance, coaching endorsement deals tend to transcend on-field results. Coaches are often known to the public for a unique set of attributes – whether it is there fashion sense in the case of Harbaugh, or name in the sense of Chip Kelly. Sponsors can win by finding the point of intersection between their brand and a prospective coach endorser.

For sponsorship marketers drawing up their plays for their brand’s portfolio, partnering with a coach can provide a point of differentiation in a world filled with athlete endorsements.   

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