Blogs & Comment

Steve Nash on athlete endorsements in the digital age

The two-time NBA MVP talks about how sports marketing has evolved and more.

Baller and now marketing maven, Steve Nash (Photo: D Dipasupil/Getty)


Photo: CNW Group

It’s no secret that Steve Nash is one of the most marketing-savvy pro athletes on the planet. Not only is the two-time NBA MVP known for his high standards when it comes to choosing products to endorse, but he’s also become actively involved in the ad and marketing game, whether shooting commercials or advising other athletes on brand opportunities.

Nash was in Toronto on September 13 to celebrate the three-month anniversary of health-conscious smoothie and supplement chain Liquid Nutrition‘s listing on the Toronto Stock Exchange. He’s an equity partner in the Montreal-based business, which plans on opening franchises in 35 markets across Canada and the U.S.

Decked out in a snazzy, gray three-piece suit, Nash said all the right things to the gathered investors, business folks and media. Say what you want about the smoothie business, but with bon mots like, “I don’t always have time to fix a gourmet meal, so with this I can get one in a cup,” it’s clear Nash is a believer. A common thread across all his endorsements and business partnerships is that he needs to legitimately use anything he’s going to lend his name to.

I sat down with Nash for a quick chat about the keys to a successful athlete endorsement, how digital culture has changed the business and more.

Over the last few years, thanks to digital tools like Twitter and YouTube, athletes have increasingly been positioning themselves as their own brand. How has that changed the relationship with traditional brands?

A lot of things coincided at a very interesting time. We’ve had social media explode, particularly in terms of athlete involvement. Twitter’s immediacy I think has made athletes think more about it and get more involved. And in order to be successful on Twitter you have to be authentic and yourself. So there’s that, the crash of the economy and the Tiger Woods situation, which really all hit in and around the same 12 months. So it was very interesting in that on one hand, brands were contracting economically but they were also gun-shy for fear of having a celebrity endorser get bad PR. Also at the same time, athletes were increasingly taking the opportunities of Twitter and other social media to market themselves.

It’s a fascinating collision there and I think what we’re seeing now is brands using creativity, social media and digital content and at the same time having to be creative with their authenticity and what they show of themselves to really reach consumers.

You’ve always been pretty picky about what you endorse, making sure you actually like and use the product. It seems that the general trend of athlete endorsement has caught up with what was once considered that very high standard because transparency is so important.

Absolutely. It’s a lot harder for someone to pump a traditional endorsement on their social media sites. That’s usually an obligation or at least part of an endorsement deal and it’s going to make an athlete think twice about what they’re doing. To go to your fans and say, “Buy Aspirin,” those fans are going to be like, “Really? Why would you say that?” Whereas, if you have a fresh take or sense of humour about the product or partner you have, then you’re giving the consumer something new, a different story through your own creativity. It’s not just a traditional endorsement deal where it feels like someone’s shoving something down your throat.

Will you be involved in the marketing for Liquid Nutrition, maybe shoot some commercials?

Yeah, we’re working on some spots. We’re getting things written and I think it’s something we’ll be doing a lot of in the future but it’s important to cross your T’s and dot your I’s early with a brand to make sure the messaging and visibility gets out there properly. We’re getting close and we’ll have something soon to get the name out there and let people know what kind of mission this company has.