How much is a tweet from an Olympian worth?

August 3, 2021, 6:15 PM UTC

Olympic sponsorships aren’t just for television commercials anymore. Increasingly they extend to tweets, TikToks, and Instagram posts. But just how much is a social post worth from an Olympian?  

Hookit, a San Diego–based analytics firm that specializes in sports sponsorships, has put a value to all the sponsored social media posts from Olympians. Hookit analyzed the social media of 3,000 of the most well-known Olympians who are competing in Tokyo this year and found that it wasn’t just big-name athletes who were driving the most sponsorship value.

It came up with a list of the top five Olympians who generated the most value for their sponsors online—based on how well the athletes lit up social media for sponsors from January to July. Here’s how they stacked up:

  1. Tennis star Naomi Osaka: $1.2 million in value for Nike, Yonex, and Japan Airlines.
  2. American basketball player Damian Lillard: $1.1 million in value for Adidas, Nike, and Oakley. 
  3. Brazilian skateboarder Rayssa Leal: $847,000 in value for Nike, Monster Energy, and Casio G-Shock Watch.
  4. Brazilian soccer player Richarlison: $835,800 in value for Nike, Mastercard, and Puma.
  5. U.K. skateboarder Sky Brown: $672,900 in value for Nike, GoPro, and Almost Skateboards.

Hookit calculates those athletes’ sponsorship values by analyzing the individual’s social media content that includes a brand’s text or logo. Each post is then assigned an ad value based on the cost per engagement rates that a company might have to pay for an ad on social media platforms. Hookit scores each tweet, using its software to analyze the promotion quality for each post. 

For instance, an Instagram photo posted by USA gymnast Sunisa Lee of herself and team members with the Omega watch logo in the background had around 104,900 likes and 526 comments. The potential sponsorship value to Omega might be $16,000. But the logo is small and the brand isn’t promoted in the caption, so Hookit adjusted the value to $7,600. (Olympians typically create their own Instagram and TikTok posts, instead of employing an agency.) 

Olympic sponsorships of individuals can run from $50,000 to millions of dollars, depending on a variety of factors, including whether they appear in a commercial with the Olympic rings and whether it’s a one-off appearance or a yearlong commitment. With sinking online and TV viewership and empty stands at the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, anxious advertisers may increasingly look to individual athletes to make their sponsorship dollars pay off. This year’s Games are absent fans, and opening ceremonies viewership was down 36% from the 2016 broadcast of the Summer Games in Rio, according to Nielsen. 

Corporate ad budgets for the first time in 2019 shifted to favor social media influencers over traditional TV ads—54.2% to 46.8%, respectively—and sponsorships are one way to get those social nods. Companies spent an estimated $65 billion this past year on such sponsorships—including musicians, celebrities, and athletes—and $143 billion more on advertising and marketing to promote those relationships, said Scott Tilton, Hookit’s cofounder and chief executive. “It’s not just your performance you must worry about as an athlete,” Tilton said, “but your sponsorships, media appearances, and getting engagement from your posts.” 

Notably, 24-year-old gymnast Simone Biles—the face of the U.S. Olympic team who has won four Olympic gold medals over the course of her career and has large sponsorships from Athleta, United Airlines, Visa, and Oreo—didn’t make Hookit’s top five for social media value, because she didn’t actively promote her sponsors on social media. When she pulled out of Thursday’s individual all-around gymnastics competition, citing a need to care for her mental health, her sponsors continued to support her. “Being the best also means knowing how to take care of yourself,” said an Athleta spokeswoman.

Correction, August 3, 2021: A previous version of this article misstated where the analytics firm Hookit is based. 

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