New sports leagues use employer branding to promote themselves as distinctive and desirable employers so they can attract talented athletes. A multiple case analysis was used to examine the employer branding strategies of four leagues that entered markets with incumbents: the National Women’s Hockey League, BIG3, Alliance of American Football, and Premier Lacrosse League. All four leagues used athlete-centric employer branding, which uses symbolic and instrumental employment information to signal commitment and involvement to athletes. Leagues also directed their employer branding to consumers. The findings suggest adding an employment dimension to theories of league brand architecture as well as reconsidering the audience for employer branding. Athlete-centric employer branding is a strategy for entering markets from a rival position and is likely to become more popular as public pressure on leagues increases.
Keywords: professional leagues, league executives, spectator-based employer branding, brand architecture, talent management