Sports crossovers aren’t anything new. It’s a surreal experience witnessing our favourite athletes stepping into another sporting trade. It creates publicity, opens the potential to grow a new audience and builds-up new networks for athletes. However, it doesn’t always prove to be a hit for all athletes; in fact, it’s proven to ruin legacies in some cases. This blog will discover whether athlete crossovers are an effective marketing move for sportspeople or whether they’re glorified gimmicks that don’t have as much value as anticipated.
The Notorious One, Conor McGregor, stepped into the boxing ring in August 2017 to take on none other than 50-0, Floyd’ Money’ Mayweather. Through his polarising personality and arrogant trash talk, Conor has proven to be an effective self-promoter wherever he goes.
However, the Irishman couldn’t back up his words against Floyd as he got outboxed, resulting in a 10th round stoppage. But as McGregor’s a pivotal figure for combat sport, he received $100m in prize money, 400,000 new social media followers, produced $4.3m PPV buys for US TV Network, Showtime and a 184% increase in online engagement for the major event sponsor, Hublot.
Conor’s pivot into boxing demonstrated a commercially appealing initiative due to his significant ego leveraging brand power; however, you could argue it’s diluted his combat sports legacy. In April, UFC fighter, Ben Askren, will be fighting against YouTuber, Jake Paul in a boxing match. Could Ben’s presence in boxing elevate to similar levels of Conor’s involvement?
Heavyweight boxing champion, Tyson Fury, is another example of an athletic crossover by pivoting into WWE in 2019. The Gypsy King initially had a face-off with US wrestler, Braun Strowman, once their WWE Crown Jewel fight was announced for the 31st October 2019.
This was soon followed by the two having a massive brawl where the rest of the event’s roster at WWE Raw got involved. The footage spread like wildfire accumulating millions of online impressions worldwide. Fury’s WWE fight became a cross-generational incentive to strengthen his bond with younger audiences, families and meme culture.
The event proved successful for Tyson to rectify his past controversies by moulding himself into a more marketable athlete to millennials. His wrestling transition proved to be the start of socially-driven sports entertainment than opens a new capsule of awareness to a broader demographic.
UFC Legend, Khabib Nurmagomedov, hung up his MMA gloves last October and is now reportedly putting on his football boots following an offer made by Russian club, FC Kamaz.
Late January saw the Eagle post on his Instagram that he’s a free agent willing to accept bids from football clubs. Many thought this was a joke until the Russian Professional Football League (RPFL) club went on their social media to welcome Khabib to the team.
The retired 29-0 fighter is a big fan of the beautiful game and has shared impressive knowledge about Liverpool FC, advocating for Mo Salah and his desire to attend a Premier League game. He’s also met multiple football players including AC Milan legend, Clarence Seedorf and Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk. His passion and intellect for football open an avenue for engagement in the sport, which has the same effect for football fans to engage with the UFC.
Away from the ring, Three-time Grand Slam Tennis Champion, Naomi Osaka, has expanded her athletic identity from the tennis court to soccer, like Khabib. She’s become the acting strategic advisor for US Women’s soccer team, North Carolina Courage (NCC).
Her pivot appears to be less commercially driven, but like McGregor and Fury, she’s also fighting for a cause. She’s invested into Courage to grow their brand, combat social issues and promote women’s sport. Her and NCC’s Twitter announcement to become NCC’s owner is their most engaging post from last week.
Despite Naomi not becoming a footballer, she’s likely to have a more substantial impact in the women’s game than if she competed. Athlete crossovers in this era don’t have to be participation orientated; they can be influenced through having a strategic involvement with a property in your desired sport to open doors for others.
With each athlete discussed, there’s a theme of unique sporting backgrounds colliding which draws diverse sports fans closer together. Conor’s establishment in boxing was a marketing masterclass to boost commercial brand awareness. Fury’s WWE bout capitalised on a growing trend of socially driven sports entertainment. Khabib’s debuting football career allows the Eagle to soar his brand identity into a sport he has a passion for. Naomi’s position at NCC raises her commercial appeal and grows the presence of female sporting empowerment.
Despite not all athletic crossovers having a sustainable effect on elite sporting legacies, the pivot creates a unique marketability factor for the athlete to build new brand growth opportunities.