The App that Connects Athletes to Storytelling Opportunities
The Players’ Tribune built a CRM and hobbies tracker site to maximize brand partnerships and explore athlete storytelling opportunities
You might know Aly Raisman as a two-time gold medalist on the USA Gymnastics team. You might also know her account of sexual abuse by USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. It was The Players’ Tribune where she authored her story of survival. This kind of raw emotion can be found on every page of this athlete-led site. Founded by Derek Jeter, The Players’ Tribune is a daily digital platform boasting global reach and readership. It showcases a unique form of sports journalism where each story is written by the athlete, in their own words. “The biggest thing we pride ourselves on is being a trusted platform where athlete's feel comfortable to share their stories,” Marissa Rhoden said.
Marissa is an athlete innovation coordinator on the athlete marketing team. She’s responsible for managing relationships with, securing stories for, and finding creative ways to work with their community of thousands of athletes. Her work has helped the team create more content and increase sponsorships for the company and the athletes they work with. She realized right away that relationship management in this line of work is critical. But when Marissa started there was no singular source of information where The Players' Tribune was aggregating information about individual athletes. She set out to create a system that would link athletes to progress on a story, or how many times the organization has asked an athlete to partner with them, or even who the best point of contact for each athlete was.
“Some athletes have to work through an agent, others we call directly. There was no centralized organization of how recently we had worked with each athlete or whether or not we were moving forward with a project. Communication was often a struggle,” Marissa said.
Getting this wrong meant missed opportunities, fewer stories, and the potential to decrease productivity. Marissa saw an opportunity to connect thousands of athletes, agency partners, and more than 70 people at The Players’ Tribune through shared data. “The unique thing about the athlete marketing team is our cross functional work. Every project here involves an athlete and no one knows those relationships better than us,” Marissa said.
Marissa decided to build a Customer Relationship Management system, or CRM, in Airtable. She was immediately drawn to the flexibility Airtable offered. She gathered information on each athlete such as their sport, contact information, gender, birthday, hometown, college, social media handles, how many projects they’ve partnered with The Players’ Tribune on and more. They use Airtable’s linked records to track related projects for each athlete and track outreach to avoid redundant asks. Airtable forms help them standardize the way they triage requests from the rest of the company and beyond. When the brand team receives an external proposal, they can fill out a form which automatically populates the CRM app. Automations let the team know more information around the proposal and the type of athletes that are being requested. Previously these requests and updates would have been made via direct message conversations, email, or over a video call and could easily have been forgotten about.
The team also tracks how each piece performs which helps them make better business decisions about which projects to green-light.
“At the end of the quarter I take a look at every piece in Airtable and analyze how each performed. Then we decide our best next steps and plan based on our most successful content.”
The CRM app worked so well that Marissa chose to build a hobbies tracker website. As someone who is always looking for creative ways to work with athletes and build mutual trust, she decided to put all of the information athletes share with them to work. She says, “we're able to learn and house all of this interesting information that is, otherwise, difficult to find and we present it in a way that anyone across the company can access.” The hobbies tracker enables them to explore more innovative content and it directly translates to more sponsorship deals for athletes and the company. For example, former WNBA player Sylvia Fowles loves plants. Popularizing her hobby helped Fowles build a platform for things like her “grow the game” apparel partnership. WNBA players Betnijah Laney and DiDi Richards' interest in nail art led to the show “Nail Salon”. The first installment was so well received it’s being turned into a series with a branded content campaign.
This connected website makes it easier for someone on the editorial team or design team to find the right athlete fit for a project themselves and work with Marissa's team to decide the best way to execute the project. It also makes athlete content and connections stronger when the team is able to strategically reach out with opportunities. “It allows us to be human and make that communication a little bit more comfortable,” Marissa said. “Before Airtable, athlete marketing reps used to just remember and log personal information about each athlete off the top of their head. Someone would be cool with Caron Butler and remember to send him a note on his birthday. Now Airtable tracks that for us.”
Marissa paired her app with a website builder to make a visual app for the company. It shows each player’s headshot as a baseball card. You can search by sport, region, age, hometown and so on. You’ll also see notes about how many interactions they’ve had with each athlete.
“Once I started using Airtable I had so much time on my hands, I was able to spend my time working on newer projects.”
Marissa keeps finding new ways to make the data work for her, like her Airtable formula that calculates each athlete’s ten thousandth day on earth. “Because it’s a weird fun fact and it's a conversation starter. That's literally my job, to figure out quirky fun ways for us to interact with athletes,” Marissa said.
Her biggest takeaway from her Airtable experience at The Players’ Tribune is that these athletes want a space to tell their story and often don’t have time to think through branding opportunities, which is why this new app is so promising. “A lot of time athletes can monetize from their interests in ways they might not even realize.” With Airtable we can create a plan for them and show them how they can make some money or start a brand partnership based on something they’re passionate about.