5 Reasons Why Vince Wilfork’s Sponsored Retirement Worked

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A look at Wilfork’s sponsored retirement announcement, and what it means for the future of athlete influencer marketing.

From the LeBron James | B/R backed UNINTERRUPTED, to The Player’s Tribune, to lesser publicized entities like The Cauldron and UNSCRIPTD, the idea of direct-to-fan, athlete-driven content is not a new concept.

Now, the digital connection that sports stars have with their followers can be captured & leveraged by brands looking to reach online audiences.

“Few young men and women today realize that athletes are brands too. Vince Wilfork is an exception to that rule. By building a name for himself within the barbecue community during his time in the NFL, he has set himself up to be an influencer in a space outside of football.” — Jeremy Darlow, Author, Brands Win Championships

If you’re reading this, you’ve already seen the spot. Vince Wilfork, all 325 (lol, yeah right) pounds of him, jiggling and wiggling his way to a grill with a bag of Kingsford. You love it. I love it.

Even as a livelong Jets fan, it’s impossible for me to ignore the pure enjoyment I feel watching this video.

Why it works

1. It’s authentic

Clearly, Vince Wilfork enjoys a good meal. That’s not the story here. The story is his affection for grilling and BBQ. Back in 2015, Houstonian Magazine chronicled his love for BBQ, an admiration that dates back to helping his father as a child.

“You can tell by looking at his social media or reading stories about Vince that barbecuing is a big part of his life. He’s been talking about it for years because he loves it, and each post and story established his legitimacy in that area. This is a great example for other athletes to notice and understand why their personal brand matters so much.” — Jesse Ghiorzi, Director, Brand Strategy at CHARGEgoforward

That organic interest makes Wilfork’s relationship with Kingsford tick. While ‘authenticity’ may seem like a played out buzzword in influencer marketing, the principle is at the core of the practice.

Alongside the theme of the content itself, the ad showcases Wilfork’s easy-going, jovial personality which is key is the presentation of the spot as it makes the video more enjoyable and less commercial in nature.

“The video was so effective because it was completely on brand for Vince and was light-hearted, so it didn’t smack you in the face with the branding. Would fans get sick of everyone announcing milestones via commercial, sure but for this the tone was just right.” — Amanda Shank, Strategic Partnerships for Ripken Baseball

2. It’s part of a long-term relationship between Kingsford & Wilfork

The retirement announcement isn’t the first time that Wilfork has worked with Kingsford. Back in May, the 5x Pro Bowler (and Miami Hurricanes alum… ????????) released a similar style video for Kingsford ahead of Memorial Day, one of the biggest grilling holidays of the year.

“When I first saw the tweet and the video, I thought ‘Wait, did he let a brand know about his retirement before he let the team know?…’ As we know with the rise of social media, the team and the league no longer control this type of message, the player can control it themselves. It’s a great thing, the unrivaled access you get to a player these days, and it results in content and news like this video. What I especially liked about the video is you got a glimpse into what Vince plans to do in retirement. And it was 100% dead on with the Wilfork brand.” — Keith Stoeckeler,VP/GD, Digital at MKTG.

The ad accumulated more than 1.4M views and over 34k engagements on Facebook, his most engaged sponsored post according to data via influencer marketing platform Julius. It’s important to note that Kingsford did put paid promotion behind the post (something that all sponsored influencer campaigns should account for), but success of the ad was largely derived from the creative itself.

3. This wasn’t done overnight

In early June, Wilfork mentioned on Barstool Sport’s Pardon My Take podcast (00:23:25) to ‘check out Twitter’ for an announcement as to wether he would retire this Summer.

Despite him beating around the bush on his future plans, chances are, he knew that this campaign was going to happen two months in advance.

“It’s going to be my decision, everybody will find out the same second that I hit send on my Twitter account. Imma break news my way.” — Vince Wilfork when he plans to announce his future, June 1 on Pardon My Take.

Kingsford and Wilfork didn’t put their partnership together on a bar napkin. This collaboration took months of planning, development, and creative thinking.


4. High quality creative

This one is pretty simple: the shoot is clean. As athletes and celebrities look to build their social media presences, it’s important to invest in high quality video content.

Recently, VaynerTalent was launched as a high-touch service for celebs interested in making a substantial investment ($25,000 per month) in their personal brand by producing high quality content for their feeds, much like that being created by the agency’s namesake Gary Vaynerchuk. Clearly, its important for athletes and celebs alike to share content about their lives as a way to promote themselves and build their personal brands.

5. It’s Timely

Q: How can a brand get the most out of an influencer collaboration and actually garner the attention of that individual’s community of followers?

A: By inserting itself into a relevant storyline about that individual.

Kingsford was able to not only get recognized for the creativity of the commercial (like they did back in May), but for the newsworthiness of Wilfork’s retirement.

Due to the newsworthiness of the announcement, the ad not only spiraled through the echo chamber that is digital & social media, but it was picked up by ESPN and essentially distributed via their linear channels. This ‘breaking of the digital barrier’ by way of an influencer campaign happens only when a top creator and brand come together, much like the below Casey Neistat/Samsung collaboration.

So, what does this mean for the future of athlete influencer marketing?

For many who wonder how The Player’s Tribune can reach it’s speculated $100+ million valuation, the answer to that question lies in branded content. TPT has great access to athletes and has been leveraged as a career announcement platform by numerous stars.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that in the next 3 months we’ll see a similiar stunt carried out by Jaymee Messler’s operation, along with other direct-to-fan, athlete-driven media entities.

Russ Wilde Jr. is the President of Front Office Sports & is a Marketing Manager at Thuzio. Russ previously ran Strategy & Operations at Julius, a leading influencer marketing platform, where he was responsible for the company’s competitive research, industry landscape assessment, and platform development.

You can reach him via email at ‘russ@frontofficesports.org’ or DM him on Twitter @RussWildeJr.

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