When Matt Hochberg started Hochberg Sports Marketing in December 2019, he saw an opportunity to gain a foothold in a space where few were looking. He turned his attention to lesser-known athletes in sports like beach volleyball and women’s soccer, hoping to capitalize on their small but extremely dedicated fanbases. Rather than swinging for the fences trying to land a mega star, his Ichiro-like approach has allowed him to gradually scale his company.
“Most people were really only focused on the one-percent whether that was the one-percent of athletes or one-percent of brands,” Hochberg said during a recent interview. “They really make up a tiny portion of the overall athlete landscape. Most athletes are not LeBron; most are everyday people like you and me but happen to have been given a gift and worked hard to get where they are. We’re here to serve them and ensure they make the money they deserve. [We want] to ensure they can build their profile and brand on social and digital channels through the media to elevate their careers.”
Aligning With Brands
As Hochberg continues to build his client base, he takes great care in not only analyzing their social media reach, but their personal narratives as well. He finds athletes who are connected on both fronts to be the strongest candidates for representation.
“When deciding which new athlete to take on, their social is certainly important, and brands will take that into account when they’re evaluating deals as well, but really we’re looking for athletes that can tell a story,” he said. “Athletes who are passionate about engaging with their fans and engaging with their followers, and who want to share their story and inspire a generation of athletes, we’re the agency for that.”
Hochberg believes this alignment between the athlete’s story with their sponsor’s brand is a key component to a successful partnership.
“That ultimately helps us really help them when we’re out there pitching brands,” he said. “We can tell that story to the brands regarding who these athletes are, and why it makes sense for these brands who do not have unlimited marketing budgets. We take that very seriously when brands do invest in our athletes to ensure these deals that we’re going above and beyond for these brands. [When] they see success, they not only are happy with the deal, but ultimately, they renew these deals, and we turn them into bigger and better deals. Ultimately [we] are helping the brand grow at the same time as we’re helping our athletes grow.”
Focusing On Engagement Rates
He has built relationships with emerging companies that do not have the marketing budgets of Nike
“We’re working with athletes, for example, who have 40-50,000 followers and may have a 10 to 20% engagement rate, which is pretty impressive if you look at the industry as a whole,” he said. “The engagement rate is really where I believe we have a difference, as opposed to other agencies.”
While larger agencies would overlook these smaller deals, Hochberg views them as an opportunity to grow a partnership that could eventually blossom into a long-term contract. These often start out as one-time Instagram posts for a few hundred dollars that awaken brands to the reach his athletes have.
“We do one off deals that may include say one social media post, and that’s that,” he said. “That could be for as little as $500 and at the same time, really the end goal is to find brand partners that want to invest long term in these athletes and their careers. That’s where we see the most success, both from the athlete’s perspective, and our own perspective. Those deals can be anywhere from $15-$25,000 and up for a yearlong contract. Those deals not only include social media, but we really try to build 360-degree, customized partnerships … to ultimately be as successful as possible, both from the athlete and brand side.”
Growing AVP Athlete Corinne Quiggle’s Career
Up-and-coming AVP beach volleyball star Corinne Quiggle is one of Hochberg’s featured athletes. In a sport where sponsorship is crucial due to inconsistent tour earnings, Quiggle remarked how Hochberg’s efforts have allowed her to focus more energy towards training and playing.
“When I was originally kind of doing it on my own, it was a lot of work,” Quiggle said via telephone. “It’s not easy to talk to sponsors, to try to create the first contact with them and then talk to them for months before you can get a deal. Having an agency like what Matt’s been doing for me has been amazing because he does make those contacts and gets to talk to the brand. When I get to see them it’s a lot more like, how can we make this great, instead of working out the smaller details. It gives me a little bit more time to focus on what I need to do physically on the court, on the beach … rather than that other stuff that’s super time consuming and not always super easy. It just takes a huge weight off my shoulders.”
Quiggle was able to make a direct connection with one of her partners at the 2021 AVP Chicago Open. She was featured for an interview at the Athleta store in Chicago which was simulcasted on her Instagram Live. The event helped maximize exposure for both parties while driving awareness to the brand’s commitment to women’s sports.
“I was so excited to partner with Athleta,” she said. “I think they’re a really awesome brand. They’re known for what they do, and they have strong message about women empowering women. A lot of what I do is I coach and mentor some girls, so it’s a nice connection between that brand and what I want to do. I want to get girls [to have] the ability to follow their passion and make sure they have that vision in sight, where if they see it and they want to go for it, they have that confidence to go for it. I know Athleta really stands by those missions.”
Working with Quiggle on the project, Athleta was able to see up close how Quiggle aligns with their imaging. Tiffany Moten, Athleta’s Chicago Area Marketing Manager explained how the partnership was on brand for their products.
“When thinking about Athleta’s mission and dedication to creating an empowering community of women and girls, collaborating with Corinne was a no-brainer,” Moten said. “Her volleyball accolades speak to her overall commitment to her craft, but her personal mission to inspire, give back and mentor young women aligns so closely with ours.”
The connection Hochberg made between Quiggle and Athleta is an example of the successful partnerships he’s cultivated. Growing a relatively new, niche-focused agency, Hochberg is constantly interacting with his athletes and clients to make sure everything runs smoothly. He is confident the effort he’s putting in now will set his company up for future success.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” Hochberg said. “It’s a lot of calls and emails, not only to close deals, but then ultimately to manage those deals, ensure they go very well, and that we’re over delivering for the brands to then ensure they continue to invest in the athletes we’re representing.”