Athlete Interrupted: Exploration of Athletes’ Personal Brand Management in Times of Crisis

Nataliya Bredikhina
Katherine Sveinson
and Thilo Kunkel

Times of crisis impact the careers and brand management of athletes. Th e COVID-19 pandemic serves as the research context as we explore how athletes react, cope with, and respond to external disturbances through modifications in their personal brand management. We employed a qualitative approach, drawing on semi-structured interviews with elite athletes (N=15). Th e themes were verified by reviewing participants’ Instagram posts. The findings show that the COVID-19 context has created unique challenges for athletes’ careers and personal branding, including emotional distress, interruptions of athletic labor, and a void in the sports-related content they rely upon in their branding. Th rough emotional capital, coping, and identification of marketing opportunities, the athletes addressed the challenges, increasingly leveraging digital channels to preserve and expand their brand and remain relevant in the market. Findings have implications for athletes experiencing temporary career and brand-related interruptions such as during external disturbances, illness, pregnancy, or injury.