tennis shoes wordpress featured image
arrow_back Marketing Reports

Sports and Social Media: Do Athletes Increase Engagement?

In this Marketing Report:

We’re just a few weeks away from the 2022 World Cup, and the sports gears are starting to turn. By this time it is common to see companies partnering with athletes to promote their brand and get a foot in the door. At Sortlist we had to ask ourselves: what is the true relationship between sports and social media?

More specifically, what is the effect that athletes have on brand engagement?


The amount by which engagement is increased thanks to athletes in social posts


The tennis player can increase social media engagement by up to 70% for brands


The industry sees a higher social engagement when having an athlete featured in social media

Food & Beverage Brands: Forever the Winners of Sports Marketing

Athletes Boost Your Instagram Engagement By 3x

In our report, a third of brands had a much higher brand engagement when they included athletes in their social media posts—above 2%—when compared to posts without them.

According to the 2022 Social Media Industry Benchmark Report by Rivaliq, the overall median engagement rate on Instagram is 0.67% across all industries.

Sprite sees an increase in engagement of nearly 30% when basketball pro Trae Young is in the feed, and Blue Coast Brewery sees an increase of 20% when Daniel Ricciardo, the F1 driver, appears in their posts.

screenshot of blue coast breweries instagram account featuring daniel ricciardo

Pasta giant Barilla takes the crown of engagement for a food brand: engagement goes up by 71% with athletes. The faces behind its sports posts? Tennis players Roger Federer and Coco Gauff.

screenshot of barilla instagram account featuring roger federer

Automotive: 7-Time F1 Winner Mercedes-Benz Is Not Winning at the Instagram Game

For Mercedes-Benz, It’s Not About the Numbers

For all its titles and medals, Mercedes-Benz is one of the brands in our analysis with the lowest engagement rates in their social posts that feature athletes (0.01%) like Federer and Simona Halep, going so far as reporting a lower engagement than posts without them (0.11%).

bar chart of engagement rates of mercedes benz social media posts with and without athletes

Car dealers and maintenance products perform better with athletes on social media

Car brands with athletes don’t seem to engage well with their audiences overall. In contrast, it’s car dealers such as CarNext (32.19%) and CarSales (13.85%) and car maintenance products like Mobil1 that supercharge engagement when they include athletes like Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen, and Karl-Anthony Towns.

line chart comparing social media engagement rates between car brands and related

Finance and Crypto: The New Player in the Court

Sports Is a Social Booster for Crypto

All the finance and cryptocurrency brands in our survey see a higher engagement rate in their posts with athletes than in their posts without them, making it clear that the rookie player is here to stay.

screenshot of instagram account of arctic group featuring sports athletes

Featuring athletes such as Naomi Osaka and Lionel Messi, MasterCard takes the lead with more than 100% engagement difference between posts with athletes versus those without, followed by financial firm The Arctic Group (48.86%) with Casper Ruud and digital currency platform (14.73%) with Joel Embiid.

Retail: Luxury Brands Get No Luxury Engagement

New Balance Blasts Rolex and Armani With 16% More Engagement

If you have a product aimed at general audiences, you may be interested in partnering up with an athlete or two: our latest analysis reveals that luxurious brands report negative engagement rates in sports marketing, especially when compared to non-luxurious retail brands.

line chart of instagram engagement rate between luxury brands and non luxury brands with athletes

Brands like Rolex (-0.08%), Bovet (-0.26%), Maurice Lacroix (-0.17%), Louis Vuitton (-0.05%), and Armani (-0.05%) all report negative engagement with their social media followers when posts involve sports athletes such as Daniil Medvedev, Naomi Osaka, and Matteo Berrettini. This is similar to what happened with Mercedes-Benz.

Compare that to lower-spectrum retail brands like Clear Hair Care (15.61%) and New Balance (18.89%), whose engagement rates are the highest in this industry.

Hygiene and Personal Care: Sports Fans Are Also Hygiene Fans

Rexona Reports 13% More Engagement Thanks to Sports

Our sports and social media report shows that, among retail brands, fans and followers engage the most with hygiene and personal care products used by athletes.

screenshot of gillette instagram account featuring shaquem griffin

30% of our retail brands are hygiene and personal care products that have a much higher engagement in their social posts when using athletes, when compared to those without athletes. Examples include Rexona (13.43%), Head and Shoulders (6.33%), Ready 24 (5.76%), Gillette (4.27%), and Heliocare (2.69%).

Conclusion: The Impact of Sports in Social Media Is Real

If there was ever any doubt about the power of a sports athlete in a social feed, let it be put to rest: brands in certain industries can benefit greatly from using their face and name.

Tried-and-true industries like food and beverage can have an advantage if they seek to position themselves and gain visibility, while new players like crypto and car maintenance can also get a head start in the engagement race.

However, luxury brands might want to seek a different route for their social media strategy, as it appears that fans prefer to see their favourite athletes alongside less glamorous companies.


For this report we analysed the Instagram accounts of 200 non-sports brands, between September 12th and September 16th, 2022. In the analysis, we studied posts that featured athletes and posts that did not feature athletes and compared their respective engagement metrics (number of likes, number of comments, and engagement rates) using Social Blade. We then averaged them to understand the difference in engagement between each kind of post.

Featured in

About the Sortlist Data Hub

The Sortlist Data Hub is the place to be for journalists and industry leaders who seek data-driven reports from the marketing world, gathered from our surveys, partner collaborations, and internal data of more than 50,000 industries.

It is designed to be a space where the numbers on marketing are turned into easy-to-read reports and studies.


Access our exclusive content!