The world of sports is heavily reliant on its stars to build fan loyalty through Influencer Marketing. When associated with top sportswear brands, these athletes provide a sense of legitimacy to the products they wear. Companies like Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour have partnered with the planet’s most celebrated athletes to access their wide-reaching fan bases. These three sportswear companies dominate the global market by using influencer marketing strategies to produce high ROI for their brands. While profits are growing steadily for each brand, Nike leads the competition by a significant amount.

Sportswear Brand Sentiment


Note: This data contains global mentions in English.

According to Signals, a new AI-powered tool in Synthesio’s social intelligence suite, Nike has consistently grown its brand presence over three years, However, it is essential to note that though Nike has generated the most considerable amount of interest and interaction online in the past three years, the engagement has not always been positive. These upticks in negative sentiment can be associated with Nike partnerships with controversial athletes. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick spoke out about the release of products with a Betsy Ross-era flag, which some associate with slavery.

On the other hand, Adidas has curated a particularly positive brand identity by carefully choosing the influencers they align with. A collaboration with Beyonce’s activewear brand, Ivy Park, generated much excitement surrounding Adidas among a new audience of consumers.

Under Armour generally has a significantly smaller volume of interactions, but still clock in as being more than half positive. According to the New York Times, Under Armour’s previously exponential sales have dropped off in recent years due to their commitment to technical athletic wear. Their hesitancy to branch into increasingly popular athleisure has stunted their prospects for global sales. Although Nike receives more mixed sentiment than either Adidas or Under Armour, it still manages to dominate the brand game.


Note: This data contains global mentions in English.

Influencer Marketing for Athletic Wear

To dig deeper into this pattern of growth, we must look at the people that brands choose to be represented by. We identified five of the world’s greatest athletes and analyzed their relationship with the brands that sponsored them. These athletes were selected based on Forbes’s list of the highest-paid athletes globally and highlights, in particular, those with the largest sponsorship deal with these three major brands (Nike, Adidas, Under Armour).

The media wall below highlights a fraction of content that sports brands tend to sponsor and publish. Much of these influencer marketing strategies are persona heavy and only subtly mention the brand or product. Mostly, they feature a lifestyle or aesthetic of an individual.


Using Social Listening technology, we can isolate the top five influencers for Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour: LeBron James, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Leo Messi, and Steph Curry. These two American basketball players and three international football stars account for millions of dollars of commercial revenue annually. Interestingly, excitement about these athletes over three years evolves similarly to the attention surrounding brands that we saw earlier.


Note: This data contains global mentions in English.

According to our trends landscape, LeBron James is clearly the most significant sports influencer of the five, with the highest velocity and volume of mentions. Football players Neymar and Lionel Messi come up next with high potential and as a stronghold, respectively. Steph Curry and Cristiano Ronaldo are much more niche players who command conversation among a narrower audience of fans.


Note: This data contains global mentions in English.

Why should I care about Influencer Marketing?

Social media ROI is no myth. Sports influencers make millions, or in some cases, billions of dollars from associating their names with brands like Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour. Affiliations and sponsorships by globally recognized sports figures are powerful influencer marketing strategies and sales techniques. There are measurable spikes in brand engagement that prove the efficacy of these campaigns.

All in all, one of the most crucial aspects of a brand’s presence is its visibility. Using sports influencers with millions of followers to promote products gets brands in front of new, highly engaged audiences.

Want to know how each of these individual athletes makes waves for the brands that they represent? Download our 19-page Athletic Brand Social Media ROI Report.

Dying to know even more about Influencer Marketing? Follow the world’s most popular action camera company’s path to optimizing its Social Influencers by checking out our Use Case Story.