Playing to Win: How Athletes are Extending their Careers into the Creator Economy

Ultimately, we all want the same thing, which is to get more sponsorship dollars into the hands of the athletes, and, ideally, spread the funds across the other 95% of athletes who often don’t get as much deal flow.

Ishveen Jolly | CEO, OpenSponsorship

The Other Guys

It’s no secret that professional athletes have strengths and abilities far beyond the realm of the majority of the population. They move fast, jump high, and put in countless hours to attain far-reaching goals. 

It’s also no secret that some of them are incredibly wealthy. Tom Brady scrapes in $882,352.94 per game. LeBron James scored a two-year, $97.1 million contract with the Lakers for the 2024-2025 season. And Serena Williams earned over $94 million in prize money from tennis tournaments.

But what about the “other guys?” The athletes who perform the slick assists, the backup players, and even the benchwarmers? 

Unfortunately, throughout history, the odds have been stacked against lesser-known professional athletes. Statistically, about 60% of NBA players go bankrupt within the first five years of retirement, and 78% of NFL players financially struggle just two years after hanging up their jerseys. 


There are a lot of behind-the-scenes contributors helping to make athletic partnerships happen. Influencers are critical determinants of a brand’s success, and they have the autonomy to choose whom they partner with. 

Marketplaces like OpenSponsorship, help athletes win in their post-sport careers by offering them additional opportunities to grow their brand and choose whom they work with by being their self-supporting agents. Due to the competitive nature of partnerships, brands need to bring their A-game to attract and retain these athletes and creators.

Today, younger sports fans are increasingly loyal to an individual athlete rather than an entire team. Athletes can grow a following in niche and one-of-a-kind products. It won’t just be about the sport anymore; it’s about the influencer’s “whole package.”

There are no rules in the creator economy, and no one is being confined to one area. Influencers can be athletes, and athletes can be influencers; it’s a massive miss for athletes not to capitalize on their brands. 

Life After Sports 

New marketplaces are surfacing to support the longevity of athletes’ careers, extending the power of the creator economy to traditional sports. Publishers are partnering with athletes to grow their fanbase and continue their careers after retiring from their sport. 

The dire statistics for retired athletes can significantly decrease through brand partnerships. 

Kristi Yamaguchi is one such athlete. Rising to fame as an Olympic gold figure skater, with world titles as an individual and a skater. Her post-Olympic career includes being inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame and being a champion on Dancing with the Stars. She is not just known for her one-of-a-kind athleticism; her on-screen persona attracts audiences worldwide. 

It’s not just retired athletes who are hanging up their cleats and entering the creator economy. Young, rising stars are also taking to the social podium to expand their reach. Born in 2003, Flau’Jae Johnson is a basketball guard at LSU and is one of the youngest US-based female Hip-Hop artists. Music runs in Flau’Jae’s family; her father was the late artist, Camouflage. At just 19 years of age, she has already secured her place in basketball, entertainment, and the social media landscape.


OpenSponsorship’s depth of understanding and data analysis capabilities are second-to-none. Tapping into their best-in-breed tech enables THINK450 to deliver on our promise of providing critical intelligence that can be used to craft authentic allyships with our members that propel brands to the forefront of culture. We’re excited to bring these benefits to our players and partners and to see what the future holds.

Mark Rejtig | SVP of Brand Partnerships THINK450 (part of NBPA). NBPA’s OpenSponsorship Highlights Impact College Athletes are Having on Pros.” Forbes (November 3, 2022).

Professional athletes are inherently public personas, influencers, and creators and now have the resources to showcase their full range of talents. Platforms are cropping up to help athletes take advantage of their names and become self-made brands. These strategies extend their careers beyond planning, allowing their fame to grow beyond the court. 

OpenSponsorship works with active and retired athletes to boost their careers rather than abandon them, helping them grow their fanbase and expand their following. OpenSponsorship isn’t just for the LeBron James’ of the world—it’s an inclusive platform for all professional athletes. 

It’s not just athletic prowess. Professional gamers and esports players also attract large fanbases. Typical Gamer has 3.6 million subscribers and generates 40 million views per month. Typical Gamer is a spokesperson for brands in the esports industry and bolsters the same clout as professional athletes on the court. 

It’s just the tip of the iceberg: more gamers, fresh names, and new sports retirees will take over the creator economy, giving it a wealth of perspective and entertainment. A partnership between the NBPA and OpenSponsorship serves as a gateway for athletes to extend their careers beyond their game days. (The MLB Players Association also forged a similar partnership in 2022.)

Looking Forward

How people engage is continuously evolving, and brands need to harness dexterity in this fast-paced market. The creator economy’s rapid growth is set to unite industries, ecosystems, and niche platforms in the near future. 

To achieve this, they must have their entire partner experience in order. As partnerships between brands and athletes become more ubiquitous, finance and payables automation become even more vital to the creator economy. These partnerships will propel industries forward—all while creating synergies across industries we’ve never seen before.

Agile Payments Fuels Strong Partnerships

Athletes and creators want to work with the platforms that offer them the best opportunities with the least amount of friction. When it comes to getting compensated for an engagement, activity, or sponsorship, they want quick and efficient payments.  

Modern brands are leveraging technology to take care of back-office, manual tasks. This way, they can focus on their partners and their experiences and let finance automation take the hassle and uncertainty out of regular outgoing payments. 

With platforms like OpenSponsorship, athletes can take their talents beyond the court, giving potential fans new ways to discover athletes outside of sports journalism and network viewership. Platforms that use automated finance solutions to streamline their workflow complexities are bound for success.

Exploring Synergies in the Creator Economy: How Athletes Take Advantage of their Influence

Learn more about how OpenSponsorship and Tipalti are elevating partnerships between brands and athletes at our upcoming joint webinar.

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