Founded in 2014, NYC-based sports marketing platform, OpenSponsorship, is revolutionizing the game for brands that are looking for an easier way to create partnerships with professional athletes.
And they're kind of a big deal—their CEO, Ishveen Anand, made the Inc. Female Founders list in 2019, they've been nominated most innovative sports technology company numerous times—including by Forbes magazine, and they boast NBA All-Star, Baron Davis, among their investors and advisors.
We caught up with CEO, Ishveen Anand, to talk about how their platform fits into affiliate, the brand categories athletes are most interested in promoting, and how she sees the lines blurring between PR, affiliate, and influencers.
CJ: Tell us about your company/business model. What makes your brand unique?
Ishveen: Open Sponsorship is the largest marketplace connecting brands to athletes for marketing campaigns, with over 6,500 athletes covering 160 sports, including 60% of the NFL and NBA. Our options vary from a one-time social media post for $100 to a long-term integrated campaign for $100K+. We’re the only place where brands can put up a campaign (e.g. "Looking for athletes with pets...") and see athletes and agents apply directly to work with them. We then manage contracts, payments, and integrate into CJ to show trackable ROI.
CJ: What problems does your business solve for?
Ishveen: Sports is the nation’s favorite pastime and customers are 164% more likely to purchase a product if an athlete they follow mentions it on social media. Influencer marketing is a booming industry, however, creating a partnership with an athlete has always implied needing to spend months in negotiation and spend millions of dollars in sponsorship fees. We’re making it affordable and accessible to work with athletes by leveraging technology and data.
CJ: How does affiliate fit into your business model?
Ishveen: Our marketplace has 6,500 athletes, including NBA and NFL superstars, as well as niche sports such as marathon runners, lacrosse, or CrossFit. We have athletes in every budget and thus we are allowing companies to add athletes to their affiliate program, often with a small upfront fee, to compensate the athlete for their time in creating content and allowing the brand to leverage their name and content. On the flip side, athletes who love brands want to continuously partner and promote them, thus an affiliate model to reward athletes for their long-term commitment makes sense.
CJ: What brand categories and products are the athletes in your marketplace most interested in?
Ishveen: Athletes love all sorts of products—of course what comes to mind is anything to do with health and wellness—supplements, healthy snacks, drinks, workout equipment, athleisure. Beyond that, we have 4,000 athletes with kids, 2,000 with pets, 1,500 female athletes, and 500 that are retired. We’ve worked with companies in every category—toys, gaming, fishing, grooming, beauty, hunting, fashion, travel. Athletes shop luxury products, while also influencing the mainstream demographic. They love shopping for themselves, their families, and even giving back to the community.
CJ: What trends do you see arising within affiliate and how are you handling them?
Ishveen: We’re seeing the lines blur between affiliates and influencers, and that’s where we sit. Professional athletes are more accessible than ever. Brands may need to spend a little upfront to get them interested in joining, but the majority of the upside is through the affiliate commission, thus a win-win for everyone. We are also seeing the lines blur between affiliate-only programs and general marketing, e.g. if you work with an athlete and add them to your affiliate program, why not ask the company PR team to promote the new brand ambassador? Why not use the content from the athlete to post on the brand’s own social media channel or include on the website? Affiliate might be where the relationship starts, but it should go beyond that.
CJ: Where do you see the future of affiliate?
Ishveen: I see affiliate, influencer, PR, paid and organic social, email marketing all becoming blurred, where each can help each other. This does make it tough to measure ROI, however, the company as whole will benefit if competitive advantages are shared across departments.
CJ: Do you have any success stories you can share?
Ishveen: Yes, we have done 5,500 deals to date—so, many! A couple of my favorites in the affiliate space include Draftkings and NHL player, Zach Boychuk, who promoted his fantasy draft league each week, and a supplement brand that used athletes in one time social campaigns. This brand found it to be so successful they turned many of their first deals into long term partnerships as affiliates and created a 360-degree campaign with landing pages for each athlete with blog content, video, and social posts from athletes.
CJ: What are next steps if a brand wants to partner with you in the CJ network?
Ishveen: Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or get started right away online at opensponsorship.com