How OBJ cultivated a brand that resonates with young audiences
How Odell Beckham Jr. Became the Most Popular NFL Player
NFL athlete by day, influencer by night
Where does Odell Beckham Jr. rank on NFL top player lists?
Going into last season, CBS had Odell ranked at #10.
According to Bleacher Report, OBJ isn’t even in the top 14 at his position (wide receiver) going into the 2021 season. Perhaps slightly understandable because of his recent injury.
First of all, that’s a damn shame. And I can’t wait for him to come back with a chip.
However, Odell, even when he exploded onto the scene and was producing amazing numbers with the Giants, was not really regarded as the best wide receiver in the league from anyone outside of New York City. Especially with the production and ability of Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Deandre Hopkins, etc overshadowing him during his time with the Giants.
His big play or “flashy” style was intriguing to viewers and he was responsible for one of the most incredible catches I have ever seen.
Nevertheless, Odell Beckham was an incredible player, made some incredible highlight plays, but it is safe to say few regarded him as the best.
Despite this, Odell Beckham Jr. is the most popular NFL player among younger fans. Let’s break down how.
Odell Beckham Jr. by the numbers
As I mentioned, Odell Beckham Jr. is loved by younger fans. Not because he was ever the best (maybe he was to some, me included). Not because he has the hardware or individual accolades to put him there. And not even because of his team's success or proximity to other big-name players. His last major award was from the 2015 rookie season in which he won offensive rookie and play of the year.
So why is Odell Beckham the most popular NFL player? Or better yet, IS HE the most popular?
Let’s look at some numbers.
According to a survey by Morning Consult, Odell Beckham Jr. is the 2nd most popular NFL athlete among Gen Z fans — moving up 90 spots from all other adults as their 9th favorite sports figure, placing him in the echelon of Ronaldo, Serena Williams, Simone Biles, Tom Brady.
Odell Beckham Jr. also had the most followers on Instagram (14m) out of any NFL player — even eclipsing Tom Brady — before he deleted his page. It was also reported that only 59% of that following came from the U.S. — meaning Odell is a global figure.
Additionally, Beckham gets 61% more engagement, on average, than those who have more than 1 million followers on Instagram.
But how did Odell Beckham Jr. become so popular?
Athlete branding as a means to reach Gen Z
I recently wrote about marketing to Gen Z (which was published on The Startup) and I think that provides a nice overview of the discrepancies involved with reaching young audiences.
Here is a small snippet:
The ideal strategy is to adapt our marketing strategies and content to fit their needs. The short answer is: figuring out what devices they use, where they spend their free time, what content forms they prefer and which influencers they trust.
The digitalization of a brand is vital to today’s digital economy and OBJ mastered all of the above strategies.
And this is the 2nd time this week I have quoted the awesome and powerful Jeremy Darlow and used his branded hashtag: #AthletesAreBrandsToo. But why not pool from the best?
Jeremy also says in his book with the same title:
“Leverage your athletic accomplishments to construct a personal brand that transcends sports.”
Jeremy knows athlete branding and understands the utility of such on not only their athletic careers but everything beyond, especially considering the typical career of an NFL athlete is just about 2.5 years. Pile on the fact that rookie contracts can not be negotiated until the 4th year makes this even more important.
Odell Beckham’s rise to being the most popular athlete in the NFL is a testament to the fact that he created a brand around his name that will hopefully stick around long after his playing days are done.
Let’s try to drill down a crude timeline of what brought him here.
Reverse engineering OBJs brand and content
I packaged 4 core elements that propelled Odell Beckham Jr to where he is now.
In chronological order:
1. Play/offensive rookie of the year
Odell Beckham Jr. was highly touted out of LSU as the 12th overall pick but missed the first 4 games due to a hamstring injury. Despite this, he produced 91 catches for 1305 yards and 12 touchdowns, setting a record for the most by any rookie in his first 12 games. I remember this vividly because he literally won me my main fantasy league (thanks OBJ).
Additionally, Odell Beckham Jr. had one of the most incredible catches in a primetime game against America’s team, the Dallas Cowboys.
The play was so symbolic that it became a verb.
“Wow he straight up just Odell’d that?”
This was the first thing that made Odell’s awareness and brand go parabolic. The next few years and brand choices were the perfect avalanches to get him where he is.
2. All press is good press baby
While I typically don’t agree that bad press is good for the health of a brand, it definitely brings eyeballs.
Odell Beckham Jr. was (in my opinion) harshly criticized by the media during his time with the Giants. I predict it might have been what helped lead to his departure from the team.
Despite what you think about the antics, Odell’s constant involvement in the media limelight attributed to his general awareness as an individual entity.
Being in New York also contributes to the general exposure and brand partnership opportunities in the same way other big markets do.
While New York media can also be unforgiving, it might have contributed to his keen interest in fashion and becoming a fashion icon among athletes.
Speaking of fashion…
3. Fashion and lifestyle
A big part of appealing to young audiences is positioning yourself in tandem with the things they appreciate. Fashion is one of them. Odell’s style and fashion have been bar-none since he joined the spotlight.
This article is a snapshot of OBJ’s fashion background.
The benefit of which is how this appeals to younger audiences. This doesn’t need too much explanation but his keen interest in fashion seems to resonate with Gen Z, or at least attributes to it positively.
Some of his choices wouldn’t be my cup of tea but any dude who can successfully pull off a kilt is a damn icon. Don’t @ me.
Don’t ever change OBJ.
4. eSports and streaming + influencer relations
Odell Beckham Jr. further commanded the attention of younger audiences when he started streaming Call of Duty: Warzone back in early 2020. This opened the door to an entire demographic of gamers of all ages.
In the above video, gaming and sports fans got quite the treat when Odell Beckham Jr. and Dr. Disrespect linked up. We saw two goliaths of their industries getting together for a cross-promotional opportunity. Since then, Odell also regularly appeared on streams with FaZe Clan, one of the most popular eSports teams that are centered on lifestyle and urban culture.
OBJ’s YouTube channel has 390k subscribers and his streams were pulling in 200–300k views before he put everything on pause in early 2021.
Odell is also an investor in eFuse, which they call “LinkedIn for gamers” where users can create profiles to share their gaming prowess to earn scholarships, internships, jobs, etc.
Winning over gamers is no easy task and Odell has done great so far.
Odell Beckham Jr. is an icon among the youth. He has positioned himself within sectors that have broadened his reach significantly. From his on-field big plays to his fashion prowess and eSports/gaming, OBJ is the most unique and powerful athlete in the NFL.
As a naturally reserved man (from what I could tell), Odell has done admirably in the spotlight while trying to juggle the criticism and rigors of fame.
The main takeaway is that athletes can not only improve their current leverage and market cap but set themselves up for life by taking a similar approach. By diversifying their skillset and getting involved in other sectors, professional athletes can establish a holistic brand that can extend across generations of fans.
Check out what we are doing at Liquiditeam where we are tokenizing sports for fans and teams. Athletes and teams can launch their own tokenized blockchain fan platform to tap into a new lucrative business model. So far, we are working with Borussia Dortmund and Dennis Schroder of the LA Lakers. You can read a little more about it in this article here.
Stay tuned for more.
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