In sports being popular is more than just being good at your sport. Athletes have an ability through their personality, interviews, and social media to build a brand and create their public persona. This list is going to look at 5 athletes, in no particular order who have done this exceptionally well.
- Paul Bisonette
Paul Bisonette or “Biznasty” as he has dubbed himself, is a name familiar to most hockey fans. With 657,000 Twitter followers he’s the fourth most followed hockey player in the world, behind superstars Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Patrick Kane. Not bad for a guy who hasn’t played in the NHL in over a year, averaged 5 minutes of ice time a game and played in Phoenix, one of the smallest markets/fan bases in the league. Based on talent alone it’s a wonder he even has a twitter following, or that people even know who he is, yet his level of popularity would make you think he’s a star player. Why? Well, when it comes to hockey and maybe even sports in general Biznasty might be the king of Twitter. His often controversial comments (his team shut down his original twitter account), style of self deprecating humour, and the way he interacts with his followers has made him too interesting to ignore. He never fails to poke fun at his lack of hockey talent or chirp anyone brave enough to try and get under his skin.
- Danica Patrick
As much as I love sports, I don’t know too much about professional racing. I’ll admit it right now, I can only name 3 professional drivers off the top of my head and there’s only one I actually know anything about, Danica Patrick. She isn’t highly ranked, other than a few shining moments she’s never been anything close to dominant as a driver. Despite that I know who she is, I know she wears #10, I know her sponsors, and I know about her racing history. She’s currently the 18th ranked NASCAR driver, but the #1 most followed driver in the world on Twitter. Plain and simple, in a sport dominated by men Danica stands out. She’s attractive, charismatic and knows how to market herself. She’s best known for her Go Daddy commercials and if you ever want an example of a sponsor and athlete benefiting each other, look no further.
- Brian Bosworth
Brian Bosworth is truly the first athlete to be his own marketing machine. It’s impossible to make a list like this without including him. Bosworth made a name for himself in college as a linebacker for the Oklahoma Sooners. Despite his on field dominance, he was best known for his personality and alter ego, “The Boz”. In his normal life he was Brian, but on the field and in front of the media he was The Boz. In an era before social media he was Biznasty before there was a Biznasty. With his wild ever-changing hairstyles, dark shades and tough guy attitude Brian Bosworth went from star college player to cultural phenomenon. It wasn’t just the look and attitude, Bosworth was a master self promoter. This started a whole trend of Boz followers. Fans emulated his hairstyle and way of dressing so they too could be the Boz. True to his self-promoting style, Boz claimed in front of the nation that he would shut down the game’s best running back Bo Jackson. Although this was an outrageous statement it was in keeping with his bravado. That statement alone created sky rocketing ratings.
- Bo Jackson
Bosworth called him out and true to from Bo Jackson delivered. Bo meets him head on at the goal line and runs him over for a touchdown. Bo always had a penchant for doing special things when everyone was watching. Nothing worked quite as well as when he was the lead off hitter at the 1989 MLB all-star game and hit a home-run on the first pitch. As Bo finished rounding the bases the broadcast cut to the famous “Bo Knows” commercial. The commercial is light hearted, funny and ground breaking for it’s time. For Bo to hit a home run and then cut to a commercial that represents Bo excelling at every sport, it’s almost like he validated everything in the advertisement. He made people believe he really could do anything. Nike made Bo Jackson the face of their sneaker campaign. The decision increased sales 1000%, allowing Nike to overlap Reebok and they’ve never looked back.
- Michael Jordan
This list is in no particular order, but it still would have felt wrong to put “His Airness” anywhere other than at number one. Over the years there have been many athletes who have been larger than life, who’s popularity extends beyond the confines of the sport they play. None though, have equaled what Michael Jordan has accomplished. Amongst sports there’s often debate over who the greatest athlete is, when it comes to basketball there’s no debate. It’s Jordan. Jordan has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated a record setting 50 times, he’s been mentioned in raps too many times to count and he has an undeniable association with greatness and winning. Bo Jackson helped Nike explode, but Jordan made it what it is today and sustains it. Michael Jordan has not played professional basketball in over decade, yet his iconic image and superstar power lives on. Today’s fans of all ages continue to aspire to have a pair of Jordan sneakers, the most iconic sneaker line of all time. In 2013 Jordan sneakers brought in 2.5 billion dollars in revenue, almost 5 times that of Nike’s second highest selling line. There is no other athlete in history who has been able to achieve such a long lasting and sustainable brand as Michael Jordan. Time will tell if any other athlete will ever be able replicate his success.