Social Media Content: Sports Stars Be Warned

By Daniel Geey and Chris Paget, Partners in the Sheridans Sports Team


Some readers will have never of heard of KSI, Zoella or DanTDM but each has huge online followings and have forged lucrative careers and brand associations especially across YouTube and Instagram as social media ‘influencers’.

Many of the benefits of social media and the brand advantages of using influencers have already been well articulated. Connect and interact with your favourite player or athlete and view first-hand what they do on and off the pitch. Arsenal star Hector Bellerin started his recovery from a torn ACL with a YouTube vlog  to supplement his Twitter and Instagram content.

Fans love the immediacy of the content as they feel they understand their stars better.  Sports stars love being able to connect directly with their fans. It’s a clear, unfiltered line of communication. As such, brands are able to tap into the authenticity of sports personalities as influencers and their loyal following across a range of social platforms.

Recent Developments

Influencers across the board including in sport should all take note of the recent guidance from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in relation to advertising partnerships with brands. Here we have seen the authorities (including the Advertising Standards Authority) seek to clarify particular advertising activities that influencers should be aware of. The consequences can be significant.  The CMA has explained that:

“People need to know if influencers have been paid, incentivised or in any way rewarded to endorse or review something in their posts. It’s important that they make this clear to their followers. This includes when a product or service has been given to them for free.

If you mislead your followers, you may be breaking consumer protection law, and could face enforcement action from the CMA, local authority Trading Standards services… You might also break industry rules on advertising.”

Consumers need to understand whether the promotion is a genuine recommendation or if there is a commercial arrangement. As such, it must be clear to the viewer at the outset that there is a commercial relationship before the viewer engages with it. If, say, a player is promoting a brand, it must be disclosed in an “intelligible, transparent, unambiguous, non-misleading, timely and prominent way”. 

Practical Tips

The CMA has set out some principles for when an athlete, for example, is paid, given or loaned things or has a relationship with a brand or business. Many football players will have boot brand deals (and some will have additional watch, headphone, electronics, personal care deals) which will all involve social media obligations and content posting requirements. It’s vital for a player and/or their social media team to understand how to comply with the relevant rules when posting to platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

A few points to consider…

  1. If an athlete is posting content he or she has been paid to create or for which the brand has control over, the post should utilise any inbuilt functionality (such the “Paid Partnership” feature on Instagram) and/or #AD clearly and prominently, at the beginning of any post.
  2. It will not be enough just to tag a brand that a player has been paid to endorse or been gifted a product, without additional information about whether this is effectively an advert. Including the phrase #AD or #GIFTEDPRODUCT / #GIFTEDSERVICE as necessary should be added.
  3. Similarly, using unclear hashtags like #sp #spon # client #collab should be avoided (keep it to #AD or #GIFTEDPRODUCT etc at the beginning of the post).
  4. Think carefully about the best way of disclosing:
    • adverts/paid promotions to avoid confusion if there are several brands being advertised in the same post (and perhaps not all the products in the post relate to a commercial deal);
    • attendance at paid for events, trips and past commercial relationships (yes, these are disclosable too).
  5. Consider auditing the relevant social media accounts and if necessary editing past posts.
  6. As a general rule, be wary about ‘white-listing’ or handing over control of your social media platforms to a brand in case they don’t post appropriately and if ‘ready-made’ posts are provided by brands, don’t just assume they are ‘safe’ to post.

Key Takeaways

  • Be clear with any disclosure and always include #AD or #GIFT etc as necessary at the beginning of a caption or title, or if on YouTube, disclose verbally that the video contains content of a commercial nature in first 30 seconds of the video and then make disclosures at the time of the content within the video.
  • If in doubt, use ‘Paid partnership’ function on Instagram (and/or other #AD platform equivalents).
  • It’s never too late to review social accounts and make changes to content as appropriate.

Sports stars would appear high profile targets for the authorities to publicise where advertising practices on social media platforms needs to be improved. The regulatory framework can be complex  and nuanced but compliance is key. Sports agents, their commercial teams and sports stars be warned.

We are providing 30 minute lunchtime training sessions on this topic for influencers, agencies and brands. You can sign up by emailing

My book Done Deal discusses the commercial brand deals that footballers and sports stars commonly enter into . You can buy a copy of the book via Amazon, as well as download it as an ebook or listen to it via Audible.

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