Teamwork makes the dream work: Why startups and small businesses should be partnering with athletes

Pickstar co-founders James Begley and Matthew Pavlich. Source: Supplied.

Pickstar co-founders James Begley and Matthew Pavlich. Source: Supplied.

Partnering with a sports star will put your business up in lights, and is easier and more affordable than you think.

We all know about the multi-million-dollar endorsement deals between big brands and athletes. But as a small business or startup with a limited budget, you too can profit from a partnership with a sports star.

Firstly, contrary to some perceptions, there is a huge demand from elite athletes and sports personalities for more commercial opportunities, of all kinds.

Secondly, sports stars can bring huge benefits to businesses, large and small. And here’s why.

Credibility and trust

Credibility is crucial in business, especially for startups and companies trying to disrupt or win new customers in an established market.

Even with a great offering, there is always a fear of an unknown, new company, with potential customers or clients wondering ‘can I trust this product, service or person?’

But when you form an authentic partnership with a well-known athlete, you are tapping into the credibility, trust and reputation of that athlete. Endorsement from the sports star can be as strong as a word-of-mouth recommendation from a friend, because ‘if it is good enough for this sports star, it is good enough for me!’

Don’t be fooled though. You can’t buy credibility through associating with an athlete. Your potential customers will see through a partnership that lacks authenticity or is poorly executed. And it goes without saying, your offering has to stack up!

Brand alignment

Credibility is enhanced even more when there is an authentic brand alignment between the company and the sports star.

This alignment could be through shared values or ‘trademarks’ for example, both the brand or product and the athlete are known for toughness and durability.

These values could also be based on personal or off-field values, such as an athlete’s strong association with leadership, wellness or family.

At PickStar, a small business with a locally made pain-relief cream, competing against global companies with limitless marketing budgets, submitted a request looking for an athlete ambassador. An elite gymnast applied for the opportunity, who had already been using the little-known medical product for five years and had taken it to the Olympics. This was a perfect alignment for the company, and the athlete was able to share her genuine experience and passion for the product.


Many athletes have large audiences on social media, which can be leveraged by their savvy small business partners.

Sports stars such as cricket legend Adam Gilchrist, the ‘Honey Badger’ Nick Cummins and hip-wiggling hurdler Michelle Jenneke, can put your brand in front of hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people.

Reach is important, but as a small business or startup, getting in front of the right people is crucial, so make sure you choose a sports star who reaches your target audience.


Getting in front of people is one thing, but influence is crucial. Business owners want results, whether that’s new customers, leads or other commercial goals.

Athletes are highly influential in society. Every day, they influence the news of the day, social media and drive change in the community. They also drive sales for the businesses they believe in.

With every post on social media, fans engage and respond. People care what athletes have to say.

It doesn’t have to cost the earth

When people think of sports star deals, they tend to think of the likes of Michael Jordan and Nike. But Aussie athletes are interested in opportunities from businesses large and small and it doesn’t have to blow your budget.

The budget is only one of a number of factors that athletes consider when making a decision if they’re passionate about your company, industry, values and what you’re trying to achieve, they will want to work with you.

It isn’t just about what the athlete can give you.

What else can you offer the athlete, other than money?

The career of a sports star is short and even young athletes are planning for life outside of the arena. If you can help the athlete learn new skills, gain more experience or set themselves up for the future, you could find yourself with a partnership that is authentic, long-term and mutually beneficial.

NOW READ: AFL pros turned startup founders James Begley and Matthew Pavlich raise $1 million for corporate talent booking platform Pickstar

NOW READ: Startups should be more like sports teams: Atlassian and AFLW reveal how team sports contribute to workplace success


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