Sara Sigmundsdottir and the Business of Being an Athlete
Authors Note: Some quotes have been lightly edited to clean up language and for brevity, but have maintained the integrity and subject of the language.
Sara Sigmundsdottir made headlines last month with the announcement that she was leaving Nike to join the WIT Fitness team in a move that opened the door for creating her own line of apparel.
Sigmundsdottir recently joined the Talking Elite Fitness podcast alongside her manager Snorri Baron of Bakland Athlete Management to shed more light on the business of sponsorships and being an athlete in the sport of fitness.
One big thing: Although technically an outwardly facing industry, the details and nuances of sponsorship within the CrossFit space is largely a topic that isn’t discussed at length and is handled for the most part behind closed doors contrary to mainstream traditional sports.
- Baron has worked with Sigmundsdottir for several years, and also manages other big names in the sport such as Bjorgvin Karl Gudmundsson and Roman Khrennikov, and has brokered deals with major global brands like Nike and Volkswagen.
- Beyond the money of inking a sponsor deal, there is a substantial amount of obligations for the athlete to fulfill including photo shoots, social media posts, appearances, and promotion.
Sigmundsdottir is one of the biggest draws in the sport, and for an athlete of her stature, performance is always paramount, but it can come at the expense of other obligations and she underscored the importance of both building her brand appropriately, but also having someone in her corner to help execute on that vision.
- “We made a plan together of what I want, I would never want to be sponsored by something I don’t stand for so sponsors also (can) show people who you really are.”
- “Sometimes I just zone out, and Snorri loves when I do it, it’s been five days and I forgot to record something because I’m so focused on training, but that’s why I have Snorri.”
- It’s worth noting that Sigmundsdottir is also a student, currently working on her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and the importance of time and resource management is par with many athletes in the sport who also maintain careers or pursuits outside of competing.
The power of social media: One of the unique aspects of the sport of CrossFit is the overlap between being a professional athlete and the modern day profession of the fitness influencer. A CrossFit athlete’s brand on social media can have a longer shelf life than their competitive careers which places a premium on the management of platforms like Instagram in maximizing their earning potential.
- Baron: “CrossFit is a brand new sport, so it slid into this evolution of social media, of the big personalities of the sport creating their own media through that, Sara’s instagram has the most followers of all the females in the sport, or she’s in the top line of that at least, that means she has her own media source that revolves around her, so its not only having her image in an advertisement or on a package, it’s also being featured on her own media as a part of her daily lifestyle.”
- “Brands have gotten to know better how to utilize it to the fullest, how to get content creators on board to work with the athletes to create episodes, podcasts, and all kinds of stuff that are relevant to the brand, are relevant to the characteristics of the athlete, and therefore making something that is true and genuine through the collaboration.”
Leading from the front: Considering Baron’s point, when looking at the top two men and women in the CrossFit community as far as social media following is concerned, clear patterns emerge as far as outward presentation and brand identity.
- Sara Sigmundsdottir: 1.8 million Instagram followers; 10 listed sponsor brands including Volkswagen, WIT Fitness, FitAid, and Rogue. 56% of previous 50 posts include listed sponsors.*
- Mat Fraser: 2.3 million Instagram followers; six listed sponsor brands including Nike, Rogue Fitness, Compex, and GoWOD. 34% of previous 50 posts include listed sponsors.*
- Katrin Davidsdottir: 1.8 million Instagram followers; seven listed sponsor brands including NOBULL, Rogue, Ascent, GoWOD. 54% of previous 50 posts include listed sponsors.*
- Rich Froning: 1.4 million Instagram followers; six listed brands including Rogue, Reebok, Advocare, RP Strength. 44% of previous 50 posts include listed sponsors.*
*post includes direct mention of sponsor in the post description or sponsor product was directly featured in the photo.
The big picture: These four athletes represent the tip of the spear and with each coming year blaze the trail forward that the next generation of athletes will follow professionally. In each instance there are at least a half dozen brands directly associated with their Instagram account, and their activity on the platform includes a significant portion of sponsor-adjacent content.
- The importance of brand selection cannot be overstated, and drives home the previous points about brand identity for athletes. Identifying brands that truly align with an athlete’s identity allow that athlete to provide higher value through authenticity.
- Baron: “I work with athletes that come from being very little known to Sara, it’s all about what stage that athlete is at, and what can that represent for the brand, what’s the value of the athlete.”
In Sigmundsdottir’s case, proper brand alignment can afford opportunities that extend beyond the competition floor. Fitness apparel is a 188 billion dollar industry and success in designing her own apparel line with WIT could create a platform for more CrossFit athletes to do so in the future.
As the sport and community grows, the business side of being an athlete will play a much bigger role as well. The set of best practices and professionalism forged by athletes and their managers like Sigmundsdottir and Baron will dictate opportunities for athletes at all levels across their career arcs.