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Former England cricketer knows the power of personal brand

Azeem Rafiq talks to Campaign Middle East editor Justin Harper about brand partnerships for professional athletes

The link between professional sportspeople and brand partnerships is as old as modern media and advertising itself. Most obviously, and successfully with brand endorsements and lucrative contracts, and usually reserved for the ‘big names’.

Brand partnerships can be a lucrative side income, and this commercial profile building is often enough to sustain an ‘off field’ career of its own when the time comes to hang up the boots, bat, ball or bike.

Former England cricketer Azeem Rafiq talks to Campaign Middle East editor Justin Harper about brand partnership strategy for pro-athletes.

“After a career as a professional cricketer, for both Yorkshire County Cricket Club and England, that ended in 2018, I have now relocated my family to the UAE. When it is time for an athlete to retire, they are faced with another new challenge. What career opportunities are available to them after life as a professional?

Meaningful change

For me, I am carving out a new career path, based still on my love for cricket, but also on my new mission as a campaigner for meaningful change, within sport but also wider. I became an inadvertent whistleblower on racism and lack of equity within the English game.

From this, I use my experience and further knowledge to educate within corporate and educational settings.

I am enjoying broadcasting with Dubai Eye specifically on cricket, and am a level 4 qualified coach. I am also a proud consultant with the MDR Mayfair Sports Management Team, where my role is to help other sportspeople transition from their professional careers.

I am working on finishing my first book that looks at my experiences alongside the DE & I issues within professional sport – a diverse ‘portfolio’ career is ahead and I am looking forward to it.

Removing the sporting context from the day to day routines of ex-athletes is disorientating and often confusing. Professional advice when moving on after retirement is essential for laying future foundations – this includes looking at professional brand partnership  strategies that includes both commercial and corporate.

‘Sport adjacent’

The similarities between sport and the business world are under explored in my opinion.

Training, hard work and so many other transferable skills including leadership, motivation and so much more come into play and need to be recognised as a positive foundation.

Moving into a ‘sport adjacent’ career path is hugely popular and often lucrative. Many ex-athletes will never want to let go of that part of themselves, and will still have as much passion for their sport or discipline as they always have.

Personal brand

The younger generation already understand the power of the ‘personal brand’ and will usually have cultivated this organically, already having strong profiles and platform visibility behind them. This is obviously attractive to potential brand partnerships.

Cultivating that strong personal brand from the outset is now the key to sustaining purposeful brand equity for longer term gain. Not dissimilar to modern publishing business models, brands and organisations want to leverage the social proof of those individuals they hire and work with.

Commercially, this means a high follower count , engaging and importantly, positive content and no controversies revealed. The brands want a solid platform to start from.

‘Off-court’ career

There is a world of difference between ad-hoc, commercially-led brand partnerships or endorsements for athletes and building a sustainable, ‘off court’ career that utilises both the transferable skill set with a legacy of sporting success.

For the more regular athlete, brand partnerships are as crucial to them as they are to the brand or corporation. Keeping their existence in the public eye, staying relevant and associated with trends is essential.

Authenticity is key to aligning with the right brands and businesses. In the corporate world, this would be a given. Not everyone is a potential keynote speaker, just like many are much more than ribbon cutters or fashion models.

As we move to more purpose-led brand values and commercial PR and campaigns, this has added to the importance of defining a future strategy for transitioning athletes.”