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The science of athlete sponsorships

By Liz Keener

Hookit takes the guesswork out of working with athletes

It wasn’t long ago that I was having a conversation with a leader at an aftermarket company, and he was discussing an issue he’d had in sponsoring a racer. That racer had performed well the year prior and had become more recognized in the industry. However, the year his company decided to sponsor said rider, the results weren’t the same, and he wasn’t getting the ROI he had hoped for out of the deal.

For many companies, sponsoring riders has been a game of chance. Just because riders do well one year doesn’t mean they’ll perform well the next, and even if they’re a leader in their respective series, they may not push your brand the way you’d like them to.

Enter Hookit, which is trying to change the way companies offer and monitor their sponsorships and create a better partnership between the racers and their sponsors.

Hookit tracks the social media reach of both amateur and professional athletes, such as reigning AMA Supercross champion Ryan Dungey.

Hookit tracks the social media reach of both amateur and professional athletes, such as reigning AMA Supercross champion Ryan Dungey.

Hookit was launched by Scott Tilton and RJ Kraus. The original company was called SponsorHouse, and it was created in 2001 as a platform for amateur racers to create online profiles to attract potential sponsors.

“Over time it started to grow to a point where it was more than just sponsorship. It was more of a social platform for the athletes to use and promote themselves,” Tilton recalled.

With this evolution, Tilton and Kraus rebranded the company as Hookit in 2010. And then it evolved again.

“It was probably about two years ago that we started to get a lot more pressure from the brands to do a lot better job qualifying who these riders and athletes are, so they didn’t have to sift through finding racers versus non-racers, or racers at the level they were looking for, so [we] started measuring all of them,” Tilton said.

On its homepage, Hookit displays the top athletes in social media across a variety of sports. Recently Ken Roczen and Ami Houde held the top spots in motocross.

On its homepage, Hookit displays the top athletes in social media across a variety of sports. Recently Ken Roczen and Ami Houde held the top spots in motocross.

Hookit’s primary service now revolves around tracking professional and amateur athletes’ social media presence and race results. Each athlete tracked is given a score (the Hookit Score), which Tilton described as similar to a credit score.

“We track everything from events to social media to wearable tech devices, digital media like YouTube and Vimeo, and we roll all that together into a score, and that’s now what the athletes use to benchmark to compare themselves to each other, and the brands use it to qualify who they should pick for their programs,” he said.

About 100 brands, mostly from the powersports aftermarket, use Hookit for a variety of purposes. Some use it to track contractual obligations of their riders; others use it to discover new professional talent to sponsor; some grow their amateur programs using Hookit, and some TV networks use the dashboard to decide which riders to feature during their broadcasts.

“Now not only the brands, but media properties, teams, leagues — whoever — can use this to help measure the value of their sports marketing dollars,” Tilton said.

Depending on each client’s needs, the Hookit dashboard can track everything from social media mentions and hashtags to its newest image analysis service that identifies logos spotted in photos and videos.

“The tool itself is designed to help brands manage their athlete programs from top to bottom,” Tilton said.

Because Hookit works to meet each client’s needs individually, the platform can work for brands who sponsor only a handful of amateurs to companies like GoPro, which has about 140 sponsored pro athletes in its lineup.

But Hookit hasn’t let go of its original mission. The company continues to offer its services to athletes for free. Registered athletes can track their own score, so they know how appealing they’ll come off to a potential sponsor.

“The athletes are obligated to do things for these brands that are supporting them, so we try to encourage both sides to use it as a partnership tool. We don’t want athletes to get fired because they’re not doing their job. Sometimes they just don’t know,” Tilton said.

Hookit has its roots in motocross, as that’s the segment the company started in, and Tilton himself spent some time in the saddle of an MX bike in his younger years. However, the company has now expanded to tracking not only motocross, on-road racing and ATV series, but also the NBA, professional golf and soccer and a slew of other sports. It’s also growing its PWC and UTV presence. Hookit now tracks about 2 billion data points per month.

“The numbers don’t lie,” Tilton said. “We don’t want to make this an emotional decision because in the past a lot of the sports marketing investments when it came to sponsorship, spending was definitely more of an art, not a science. We’re trying to bring more of a data-driven decision making process to it, and once the decision’s made, giving them a tool to confidentially analyze and optimize.”

 

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