How to Develop an Up-and-Coming Pro Athletes Fan Base From Scratch

This article is a guest contribution from sports public relations professional Marissa Eisenbrei

blake koch developing a fan base

Popular athletes have huge fan bases – but whatif you represent an up-and-coming athlete, like NASCAR driver Blake Koch? How do you develop a fan base and support team? We have some ideas…

Being an athlete means more than just winning games, it also means becoming a role model and developing a fan base. Some may say this is easy for successful, well-known athletes, but for up-and-coming athletes, increasing engagement can be challenging.

As a public relations professional, I’m pretty savvy when it comes to tactics to increase consumer engagement; However, I was challenged when I began to work with American NASCAR driver Blake Koch.

Koch is relatively new to the NASCAR world so he didn’t have much of a fan base before my work, Leaf Filter, began to sponsor him. Once we did, it was all up hill.

It takes a comprehensive strategy and well executed tactics to build an athletes fan base from scratch – here’s how we did it:

[bctt tweet=”How to Develop A Pro Athletes Fan Base from Scratch #sportsbiz”]

Crafting an Athlete Engagement Strategy

Before developing any external tactics, it’s important to first learn your athlete inside and out: their likes, dislikes, passions, hobbies, food, music etc.  This will not only help you develop a positive relationship with your athlete, but it will also help you conclude which tactics will be the best moving forward.

If you want positive engagement with your athlete, you need to set them up for success.

Make sure they have a clean, organized and optimized website. This is especially important for up and coming athletes. One of the first places fans will go is the web.

Creating an ‘optimized website’ isn’t just a fancy phrase without substance. To achieve maximum visibility there are best practices to employ which ensure your athlete website isn’t a lonely tree falling in the woods. Our goal is for fans and media to easily discover and engage with the website, and here’s how we did it:

  • Content – Filling your athlete’s website with up with interesting content, an about page and the schedule of your athlete’s events is a good place to start.
  • Pictures – It’s important to break up the content of the website with pictures that captivate what you’re trying to say. There’s nothing more gruesome than endless words with nothing else to look at.
  • Blog – Blogging is in. Featuring a blog page on the website is a great way to deliver extensive content to fans that may not be relevant to a specific page on the website.  The blogs can be interviews with the athlete and his or her family or just updates about the events they participate in.
  • Contact – You never want to make people feel like your athlete is unreachable. Having a page where fans can contact your athlete will give them a sense of pride.

Developing a Social Media Strategy for Athletes

As the digital age is in its prime, companies and brands are turning towards social platforms to reach their consumers. Athletes are considered brands. Social platforms can be utilized in many ways to increase engagement with your fans.

blake koch nascar

NASCAR driver Blake Koch was a relative unknown on tour, but with the right engagement strategy and tactical deployment, his fan base is growing.

  • Twitter – The quick and easy way to communicate. How can you utilize Twitter to increase your athlete’s engagement? Two words: Twitter Chat. Choose a hashtag (that hasn’t been used before – research first!) and get the word out. A Twitter Chat is a great opportunity for fans to ask questions directly to your athlete. It develops one-on-one relationships and builds brand awareness.
  • Facebook – Facebook is another quick and easy way to communicate with fans, except in a more elaborate way. Conversations aren’t limited to 180 characters.
  • Instagram – If there’s one thing people love, it’s pictures. Whether they’re personal or business related, photos give people a personal look at what the life your athlete is like. Personal pictures are better because fans will connect with your athlete more.

Give It Away

Contests and giveaways not only give your athlete a chance to reach a broader audience, but you can get your merchandise circulating.

People love free stuff and whether they’re die-hard fans or just know about your athlete, there’s a good chance they’ll participate in your contest/giveaway. Prizes can consist of signed shirts, gear or tickets to your athlete’s event. There are different types of contests and giveaways that can be implemented.

  • Twitter Contest – This is probably the easiest type of contest one can participate in. These contest types consist mostly of a trivia question with a specific hashtag.
  • Photo/Video Contest – A photo or video contest is a great way for fans to get creative. You can hold a “biggest fan contest” where people can take photos or a video proving they’re the biggest fan of your athlete.
  • Drawing – A giveaway can be as easy has having a drawing at your athletes event. Fans can inset their name and at the end of the event, a winner will be chosen.

Not all giveaways are for promotion, some are just the right thing to do. Using the power of an athlete to make a positive impact in the community, not only feels great, but makes great business sense as well.

[bctt tweet=”Not all athlete giveaways are for promotion, some just feel good #sportsbiz”]

Fans love knowing that athletes and celebrities give back to help communities. Whether your athlete promotes a scholarship or volunteers in their local community, it’s a great way to engage while doing something that matters.

Final Thought

Of course, tactics can be altered and changed based on the type of athlete you’re representing. No matter what sport your athlete is associated with, there’s nothing more important than support from fans. It’s as equally important for your athlete to engage with them.

Athlete success relies heavily on their support system and who doesn’t love a good, loyal fan base?!

About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the sports media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for &

Recently, Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, do it.

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  1. Good article. We do this all the time in the sport of triathlon and in endurance sports in general. If you are not on the podium in the TDF or Ironman Hawaii most casual participants in cycling or multisport won’t recognize the professional endurance athlete. One strategy my firm has used with up and comer pros is to secure product partners that will be active with the athlete’s name, image, achievements and collaborated content. While financial sponsorships are plentiful for the big dogs due to their reach and exposure, the newer pro’s can accept a different sort of currency that can be a great building block early in their career…and that is gaining exposure to a brand’s existing audience. However, one lesson we learned early on is that many fans can spot an unauthentic endorsement a mile away. Make sure there is a solid connection between that athlete and his/her sponsor or else the content messaged to both parties audience will appear like an arranged marriage.

    • Franko – great stuff, thanks for building off our original content with your spot on advice. You’ve intorduced another great method to promote an athlete! Maybe you should write up a guest post… – Brian

  2. I read your ” how to develop an up-and-coming Pro Athlete”. what I have to do all the time. I work already 22 years as manager-sportdirector for a women’s cycling team. The team is a development team and every time the riders get better after a few years, they leave the team for more money, for riding in the same team with high level riders…..
    Sometimes it demotivate you, because in cycling you need points from the riders to get start places. If a riders leave your team, they take their points with and you have to start again on the bottom.
    It is very difficult to get more fans, because when one of the best riders leaves the team, fans go with them.
    How do you think I can make more fans are fans that stays as fan for the team and not for the best rider in the team?
    Christel Herremans