Which Athletes are Earning Endorsements on Instagram?

Professional sports across the country began to shut down on March 11. In the months that have followed, athletes and brands have adjusted plans to engage fans in new ways. Without live sports as an anchor, many of these sponsorship and endorsement activations have moved to social and digital outlets. 

Among active social media channels in sports, none engage fans more prolifically than the professional athlete. Nowhere is this fan engagement edge more clear than Instagram. In 2019, branded content on Instagram published by athletes earn 3.5X more engagement than sponsored content published by team or league accounts. 

With unmatched effectiveness, sports sponsors and licensees have flocked to work with these stars as social media influencers. Doing so, the brand receives the fan attention and engagement that only athletes can provide.

But it’s not just the brands that benefit. These branded posts bring real monetary value to athletes, with some earning over six-figures per post. But sponsors have thousands of options on the table.

For athletes to stand out, they must commit to creating a valuable audience. Those who do it well will earn more opportunities and more dollars in their pocket. The athletes who invest in their social media channels stand to maximize (and monetize) their endorsement value. 

What is Branded Content on Instagram?

Instagram defines branded content as:

A creator or publisher’s content that features or is influenced by a business partner for an exchange of value (for example, where the business partner has paid the creator or publisher).

Instagram policies require creators and publishers to tag business partners in their branded content posts when there’s an exchange of value between a creator or publisher and a business partner, resulting in the “Paid partnership with Brand” tag.

Simply: If a brand is paying an athlete for their endorsement on Instagram, they are required to disclose the exchange of value. While many paid opportunities today do use the branded “Paid partnership with Brand” tag, some still choose to disclose activations with copy such as #ad or #partner. For the sake of consistency and speed, we chose to only examine official Instagram branded content for this report. 

Active Athletes By League

Which League’s Players Have Published the Most Branded Content on Instagram?

NFL players have been far and away the most prolific publishers of branded Instagram content through the sports shutdown. There are several factors that have boosted the NFL’s performance:

  1. The NFL Draft was a near-live sports experience that saw NFL sponsor activations with rookies and even NFL veterans.
  2. The NFL has the largest number of active players in the league. Approximately 1,700 NFL players are active throughout each season, while leagues like the NBA and NHL range from 450 to 650 active players.

Most Active Athletes

Athletes who shared the most branded content on Instagram.

The following athletes lead major North American sports in sharing Instagram branded content since sports began to shut down on March 11, 2020. Because the leaderboard was so NFL-dominated, we chose to include the most active athlete from each surveyed league.



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