Hookit taps into athlete connections

AP Photos; Getty Images

Justin Barcia, Jeremy McGrath, center, and Ricky Carmichael, right, are three of Hookit.com's top motocross clients.

Hookit.com CEO Scott Tilton rebranded the company from Sponsorhouse.com to better label the evolving brand. Once set up with the goal to help riders find sponsors, Sponsorhouse was becoming more of a promotional and interactive site. When repeatedly asked what Sponsorhouse does for its athletes, the same phrase kept coming up: "Hooking it up," Tilton said.

Hookit.com is all about helping action sports athletes. The company aims to be a one-stop-shop platform that assists athletes in promoting themselves, getting exposure and drawing industry support to build their brands in their discipline. Hookit.com has reached tens of thousands of members, mainly by word of mouth, by adapting to the ever-changing ways social media and web interaction is happening.

Hookit.com recently partnered with ESPN to utilize its Athlete Index during X Games broadcasts. This digital media tool tracks an athlete's exposure and fan following in the social media world of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It's a great way to monitor what interests the fans and what doesn't.

After catching word of Hookit.com last year, I spoke with Tilton to find out what was going on with his company.


Hookit.com's Athlete Index from X Games Barcelona.

XGames.com: So what is Hookit?
Hookit is the largest network of athletes in the world. Athletes have profiles to promote themselves, interact with other athletes, register for events and gain support from brands. We've expanded a ton over the past couple years and now have nearly 1 million athletes on Hookit.

On the brand side, we provide a very targeted digital platform to market their products and/or manage their athlete loyalty programs.

Was it formerly Sponsorhouse?
Yes, but a few years back we knew we were becoming much more of a promotional and interactive platform for athletes and were no longer just about helping them find sponsors.

We decided to rebrand to better position what our business was all about and we tapped into our members to help. With athletes at the core of our business, we went to them with one task -- to tell us what they think it is we do for them. Hookit was born from the repetitive statement from athletes that our site was all about hooking them up -- not just with brands, but with their sport … other athletes, friends, events, spots and good content.

What are Hookit's main goals it is trying to accomplish?
Hookit's main goal is simple -- support the athletes. This comes through in everything we do from how we build our site and mobile apps all the way through content, marketing campaigns and events we produce.

A lot of what it takes to succeed in these sports comes down to unique opportunities for promotion, exposure and deals. To meet this goal, we create partnerships with brands, events and media properties who share this vision. Athletes are at the core of our sports and we want the industry to be able to use our platform to support them.

How many sports is Hookit associated with?
Our main focus is action sports and we're biggest in moto, skate, bike and snow. We do allow members to register in any sport, though all our resources are focused on action.

Who are some of our athletes?
We've got a great following of top amateur and pro athletes who are really active all the way down to weekend warriors. We invest a lot of time into verifying and ranking athletes both with the Athlete Index for pros and top am/event badges (Hookit's verification and rating system) for amateurs to help the industry quickly find up-and-coming talent.

We support the pros who utilize our network to manage their websites and social rankings. Some of our top athletes are World Cup mountain bike racer Aaron Gwin, top moto riders Ricky Carmichael, Jeremy McGrath and Justin Barcia, BMX dirt and freestyle riders Ryan Guettler and Mike Spinner and professional skier Daron Rahlves, just to name a few.

How did you get so many followers?
A lot of persistence and commitment to the athletes and sports we support. Most of our growth has come from word of mouth, grassroots marketing, as well as our brand partners who we do co-promotions with to build awareness of their athlete support programs.

Courtesy of Scott Tilton

"We've got a great following of top amateur and pro athletes who are really active all the way down to weekend warriors," Hookit.com CEO Scott Tilton says.

How is 2013 looking for you?
After 10 years of fine-tuning our online and mobile technology platform, we're finally in a really unique position to develop some innovative partnerships to continue growing our network.

We just rolled out our completely redesigned iPhone app which utilizes our database of spots and location-based technology to help athletes find and post their local sessions and events.

We're now helping a growing list of athletes, brands and media properties power their digital properties like Justin Barcia's new site www.justinbarcia.com. This is the first site of its kind that helps Justin aggregate all his social posts and activity in one spot while being a hub to interact with fans and promote his sponsors.

Other big sites we run are www.monsterarmy.com, www.aarongwin.com, www.jeremymcgrath2.com and www.roadracingworld.com and www.rickycarmichaeluniversity.com and www.monsterarmy.com, which is an incredible program that supports the future pros of our sports.

Monster Energy has been an amazing partner who we also teamed up with to create the Recon Tour to bring an am (amateur) contest series to athletes in BMX, snowboard and ski. It's now a nationwide series -- again focused on being a platform to support the am athletes out there who need opportunities to promote themselves.

We've got some really interesting projects and partnerships in the works, so this year will be a big year for us.

Speaking of unique positions, tell me about the athlete index, it sounds like a great social media networking tool to be a part of?
We're really excited and proud to have brought this to the athletes. For the first time, athletes can now quantify their digital exposure and how they are trending with fans.

It all started towards the end of last year. We saw a real void where athletes needed a way to quantify their exposure and fan following in social and digital media. We jumped on it and built a system called the Athlete Index that we launched in January in conjunction with Transworld's Exposure-meter, which helps athletes quantify their print exposure.

The launch was very successful and it literally changed how the industry perceived the value of our platform overnight. Agents, athletes, team managers, media and all sorts of people were reaching out to ask questions to better understand how it worked, how to utilize the data and for help with how to improve their rankings.

It's been amazing to watch how things have changed in the few short months we've been doing this. We've learned so much about the athletes and platforms that drive the most meaningful engagement for the athletes and brands.

Just as an example, Tony Hawk still rules action sports in a huge way. Without fail, he's at the top of the social media ranks almost every month and is always the most popular athlete by far during the X Games. He's only been dethroned once by pro surfer Alana Blanchard back in February.

How did the Athlete Index get involved with X Games?
We track the Athlete Index data in real time, but up until early April we had only been posting the results and rankings monthly on Hookit.com. We were curious to see how else we could utilize the data so we took it upon ourselves to do a custom report for X Games Brazil. We basically took a snapshot of the data for the one week surrounding X Games and used it to rank all the competing athletes for the event.

It again changed the game to see which athletes were trending, which platforms drove the most exposure and which X Games athletes were truly moving the needle. Within a couple days we had a conference call with a few people at ESPN and by Munich we were incorporating live data into the televised broadcast of the event.

We've done partnerships with X Games in the past, but this most recent project together has been amazing and is really pushing the envelope on how to leverage our Athlete Index data.

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