Nicholas Demichele ’22 analyzed the social media accounts of the world’s top athletes and their ability to reach and connect with their fans. What he found could impact everything from sponsorships to what athletes post on their Instagram accounts.
September 10, 2021
When Nicholas Demichele ’22 was a kid, he used to examine the sports statistics in the newspaper every Sunday. He has loved sports for as long as he can remember, and he also likes – and is good at – math. He has now found a way to bring these interests together in a way that could impact the business of sports.
A sport management major, Demichele recently began serving as a social media consultant for NorthStar Solutions Group, a Pennsylvania-based business management solutions group. Tasked with analyzing a list of the top 50 athletes in terms of their social media influence, he carefully went through each athlete’s social media channels. He looked for patterns, paying special attention to posts that were not about sports, since he noticed those posts in particular seemed to resonate the most with followers and fans.
“Some athletes posted about social justice issues or LGBTQ+ rights, and athletes such as gymnast Simone Biles and tennis player Naomi Osaka posted about mental health,” explained Demichele, a business analytics minor. “I found a strong correlation between top athletes and posts about their passions, issues they care about, and their families.”
‘People respond to things they are interested in’
The list he examined, which included three women (Biles, Osaka, and soccer player Ashlyn Harris) as the top three influencers, assigned each athlete an “influencer score” based on five weighted metrics: frequency, reach, engagement, fan demographic, and fan attractiveness.
Demichele paid special attention to athletes’ demographics, such as their ages and where they were from, and he categorized what they posted about. Noting that nearly all of the top 50 influencers posted about sponsorships, he also discovered that categories such as athletes’ families, social justice issues, and other sports they play were also popular among athletes.
“People respond to and are attracted to things they are interested in,” he explains. “If, for example, LeBron James posts a video of him dunking, that’s cool, but people identify more with issues and things they can relate to.”
By analyzing the data, Demichele realized that the most marketable athletes are willing to change and adapt. He found that it isn’t just the number of followers that matters to an athlete’s influence, but who those followers are and how engaged they are that matters.
Eager to learn more about what this could mean for athletes, Demichele used Zoomph, a digital measurement platform, to gain a deeper understanding of athletes’ followers and what this could mean for them – and for companies.
“You can put in an athlete’s Twitter handle and it will tell you how many of their followers also follow someone or something else, such as a company like Starbucks,” he explains. “Companies that have a large mutual following with an athlete but don’t sponsor them might realize that they should.”
‘That wouldn’t have happened without Nic’
Frank Gregory, social media intelligence practice lead for NorthStar Solutions Group, says Demichele’s work has already made a meaningful impact, and he’s looking forward to working with him on several more projects.
“Nic was integral to the success of NorthStar’s analysis of the SportsPro 50 Most Marketable Athletes in the World list,” he said. “When we first saw the list, Nic immediately dove in, analyzing the social media content themes that each of the Top 50 athletes frequently post about.
“This led to multiple data points we were able to source in our thought leadership article,” he continued. “Those data points were so compelling that NorthStar got a call from BBC Global News wanting to talk to us about it in their primetime coverage, and that wouldn’t have happened without Nic! We’re looking forward to the next two projects he will be working with NorthStar on this fall (the SportsPro 50 Most Marketable Brands in the World and 50 Most Marketable Sports Properties in the World), which we’re sure will lead to more visibility for us in the industry.”
‘A new perspective on athletes and marketing’
Demichele says that, thanks to his time at the University, he felt confident in his ability to work with NorthStar as a consultant, and as an intern with the Connecticut Sports Management Group.
“My classes taught me how to be a professional and how to adapt,” he said. “This project could’ve been overwhelming, but my professors prepared me well, especially with soft skills.”
He credits Ceyda Mumcu, Ph.D., chair of the University’s Sport Management department, with helping him build his confidence, and he is especially grateful for her support.
“Nic has impressed me at every turn we took,” said Dr. Mumcu. “His work ethic and professionalism are second to no one. It is impressive to see a senior in college making an impact in the sport industry by deriving insights through social media analytics and collaborating with innovative organizations.”
Demichele, who aspires to work for a professional sports team and help set them up for success, says he hopes his work will make a meaningful impact on the field.
“I hope this puts a new perspective on athletes and marketing,” he said. “Before social media, one might not expect three female athletes would be the top three influencers in the world. I hope that by helping to highlight this, it will make a positive impact on the field.”