Make hay while the sun shines. It’s an expression that I picked up from one of my colleagues, many years back. It stuck with me and I frequently apply it to my business development strategies. Basically, when an opportunity arises, you need to take full advantage of it. There is no guarantee that the same opportunities will be around next week or even tomorrow. I kind of consider it as a more folksy or Americana version of carpe diem. What does this have to do with artificial intelligence (AI), professional athletes, and brand building? Due to recent advances in AI, the intersection of the three; AI + athlete + brand is quite intriguing to consider.
There is no doubt that athletes at the professional level have invested their blood, sweat, and tears to earn a proverbial golden ticket. Typically it is a combination of hard work, personal sacrifice, and natural ability that has elevated them to the highest levels of their sport. A select few are able to compete at a pro-level, and still, even fewer bring home the championship trophies. However, the fact is that most athletes have a very limited window of time to take full advantage of their earning potential. To be blunt, the monetary return on their physical and mental investments is just a few years. It is estimated that the average NFL career lasts 3.3 years and the average NBA career lasts 4.5 years. On the field, gameplay speaks to the athlete’s prowess and drives more lucrative contracts. Let’s focus on “off the field,” social media, and brand sponsorship opportunities to complement the gameday highlights and extend marketing relevance out past the short years in the league.
One way to extend their time in the spotlight is to build a personal brand a create a genuine connection with an audience through social media. As any influencer can tell you, social media channels such as Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok can be great ways to connect, build an audience and monetize. Brands have been pouring their marketing dollars for several years now. However, thanks to the rapid rise and domination of TikTok, these channels are becoming more and more video centric. Further, one of the keys to unlocking a social media audience is consistency. What athlete has time to create a steady stream of video updates that look good, sound good, and stay on message? Athletes surely don’t have the time, especially when you consider the strict training schedules, travel, games, press, and then more training, more travel, more games, etc. That is where AI, more specifically deep learning enters the story.
Deep learning technologies have advanced to the point where every athlete can create a “digital twin” or “AI avatar” version of themself. More importantly, this AI version of the athlete represents them at their peak performance, peak popularity, never getting injured, and never ages. It sounds like science fiction, but I assure you that the technology is readily available. In fact, DeepBrain AI has pioneered and perfected this video synthesis technology. The company recently developed a digital twin of the Korean football sensation Son Heung-min, currently playing in the Premier League with Tottenham Hotspur F.C. This was done in collaboration with AIA Group, an American-founded Hong Kong multinational insurance and finance corporation. The largest publicly listed life insurance and securities group in Asia-Pacific. A video of AIA introducing Son’s digital twin, known as “AI Sonny” is shown below.
Son is a brand ambassador for AIA, but his hectic schedule and the fact that his team is based in London England made it difficult to find the time to create video content for the Asian market. Working with a virtual human created by DeepBrain AI, he can create hyper-realistic video content by simply typing a script. As evidenced in the video, the digital twin looks like Son, sounds like Son, and captures much of his fun and energetic personality. Just to be clear, the problem of creating a steady stream of video content has been solved with an AI-based avatar that is always camera ready, always on message, and always just a few keyboard clicks away.
While brand sponsorships such as Son and AIA are a natural fit for virtual human technology, leveraging this capability through social media channels is the logical next step. It is easy to envision a near future where an athlete’s social media feed is a mix of gameday highlights and personal video updates using their AI avatar. In essence, an athlete now has the capability to be in multiple places at the same time with corporate sponsorships, Instagram Reels, TikToks, YouTube shorts, and Tweets, all running in parallel and without interrupting game-day performance. As exciting and lucrative as that sounds, the future of this technology is even more thrilling as it opens up the entirely new possibility of personalized video at scale and creating one-on-one connections with fans. The possibilities are almost endless. Personally, I imagine watching a future Chicago Bulls game and the play-by-play announcer is a digital twin of 26-year-old Michael Jordan, complete with talking trash and breaking down plays. Time to make some real hay.
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Howie Mandel and virtual human developer DeepBrain AI have launched an interactive, synthetic version of the America’s Got Talent host. ‘AI Howie’ replicates how the real Mandel looks, speaks, and moves, allowing for realistic videos and even real-time interactions with his digital counterpart in web browsers, metaverse virtual worlds, or hologram booths like the Proto kiosk in the video above. Mandel is the latest addition to the growing ranks of synthetic celebrities expanding their careers using platforms like DeepBrain AI.