High-tech AI delivers new opportunities for athlete sponsorships

By | 3 minute read | May 22, 2018

There was a time, believe it or not, when the biggest difference between mattresses was soft versus firm. Okay, maybe that’s oversimplifying a bit, but there’s no question that the market for sleep products is a very different ballgame today. One big factor—and it’s not altogether surprising—is that the mattress market has become a hotbed of innovation, with new players coming in and bringing the tools and technologies that consumers have adopted in other areas, like sensors and smart-home connectivity.

But this post isn’t just about mattresses, it’s about marketing. More specifically, it’s about how today’s increasingly rough-and-tumble mattress business poses a challenge for marketers who are trying to get the right message to the right audience. At this point, the notion that sleep is central to health and performance is pretty well established, as is the idea that sleep can be thought of almost scientifically. So if you’re a CMO for an innovative mattress maker that wants to really stand out, your message needs to rise to another level, and you need the right messenger to bring it.

Sports cred matters

Consider Manhattan-based smart mattress maker Eight Sleep. Its CMO, Alexandra Zatarain, was no sports fan, but she recognized that those three words—sleep, performance, science—struck a chord among the growing ranks of athletically-minded young people. Her company’s flagship product, the Eight Sleep Smart Mattress, can track how you sleep, warm up your bedside and relax your muscles at night, wake you up with a smart alarm and connect to other devices in your home.

Here’s another thing she learned: when it comes to reaching her target—the intensely active and performance-minded—professional athletes perform better testimonials than any other kind of influencer. That’s because to this serious cohort, credibility matters. So how do you find the right spokespeople? There’s no simple answer, but factors like social media audience reach, cost and effectiveness are key parameters. Eight Sleep came to OpenSponsorship to put this vision into action.

Finding the right spokespeople with AI

Eight Sleep’s aim was to find athletes with large social media followings to provide testimonials about how the Smart Mattress made a difference to them. We at OpenSponsorship have built a base of more than 3,500 athletes about whom we track tons of data, from their credentials and lifestyle interests to the demographics of their social media followers. All this information comes from cloud-based AI technology—like natural language processing and image recognition—that we get by connecting our platform to IBM Watson services.

Using the OpenSponsorship platform, Eight Sleep’s CMO searched through the profile database for athletes with the right characteristics for their campaign. It’s a simple, data-driven screening process to identify a pool of potential spokespeople. From there, Zatarain posted the terms of the brand awareness campaign she had in mind: picture-filled social media testimonials from athletes on how the smart mattress impacts their performance, all for the affordable price of a free mattress. The post eventually resulted in nearly 50 applications and proposals from athletes, representing a social reach of 6.8 million followers.

Athletes deliver results

Those of us at OpenSponsorship designed our business model to disrupt the long-standing dynamic for athletic sponsorships, in which the high cost of using big-name athletes made it prohibitive for small companies to use such campaigns. Put simply, we lowered the barrier and broadened the base—and we’ve delivered results. Cory McGee, a Boston-based Team USA runner with 56K Instagram followers, delivered a cost per engagement (CPE) of $0.43. Then there’s Greg Lutzka, a professional skateboarder from California with 848K Facebook followers, who delivered a CPE of $0.28. The highest engagement came from Rodney Wallace, who plays pro soccer for the New York City Football Club and the Costa Rican National team. Already a Nike-sponsored athlete, Wallace delivered a CPE of just $0.01.

We see the take-away from these results as simple. Open the market for athlete sponsorships through information and you create new opportunity all around, for athletes and their sponsors of all sizes. That’s what we’re committed to.


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