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  • Writer's pictureAmobi Okugo


As the world of athlete branding gets more complex, it’s now more important than ever that athletes are making sure they protect themselves and understand the ways they can go about upholding their endorsement and branding opportunities. Brand opportunities for athletes are a great way to build their profile and create additional streams of revenue. Athlete branding has a lot of moving parts though. It’s important for athletes to understand the other stakeholders involved such as the teams and leagues. Each of these stakeholders have brand deals that can potentially overlap and conflict with an athlete brand deal.

With the new rules taking shape with NIL in NCAA I’m intrigued on how athletes will combat ambush marketing tactics by corporations trying to get their products in front of targeted demographics. Now what is ambush marketing exactly you may be wondering? Ambush marketing is the practice by which a rival company attempts to associate its products with an event that already has official sponsors. If you recall Michael Johnson in the 1996 Olympics, he wore Gold Nikes shoes. That was Nike’s attempt to ambush market the Olympics as Reebook was the official sponsor for the US team.

A similar scenario that athletes will face regarding ambush marketing would be a college basketball team having an official beverage sponsor. Within that sponsorship agreement, the team is required to do certain things such as appearances to uphold the agreement. A student athlete from that team has their own beverage sponsor that competes with the team sponsor. Now the student athlete is put in a predicament upholding the agreement they have with their brand and the commitment they have to the organization.

Here's an example of Kawhi avoiding Gatorade ambush marketing play. There have been instances where athletes have found ways around problems like this. One story that comes to mind is in The Last Dance where Michael Jordan is upholding his agreement with Nike and puts the flag over his USA Reebok sweat suit logo.

In the docuseries, that was a big ordeal because Nike was paying Jordan a lot of money while Reebok was sponsoring the team and also throwing in a lot of money. For future student athletes, I wonder if they will have to use the same tactics or will there be rules surrounding efforts like these to protect them. I know it’s going to be imperative that these athletes take a cautious approach and consult with their personal teams and make sure they will be protected, having to go against their own brand deals to stay within team guidelines.

This article was written and provided as a courtesy of Amobi Okugo, a pro-soccer player and founder of A Frugal Athlete (AFA), an online media and consulting platform that promotes prudent financial practices and smart career decisions amongst professional and student athletes. AFA offers services like financial coaching, revenue generation, and ideation strategy. Visit their website for further information.

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