What Curt Schilling’s Potential Congressional Run Says About Athlete Influencer Marketing


One of the reasons that Block Six Analytics (B6A) built our Influencer Platform with our Partnership Scoreboard is the power of athletes to resonate with fans as much or more than teams. More specifically, a recent example shows how athletes can secure attention for topics outside of sports and of other influencers to potentially drive audience behavior.

Curt Schilling had been primarily known as one of the best playoff pitchers of his era, winning the World Series MVP in 2001 and helping power the Boston Red Sox to their first World Series Championship in 86 years. More recently, however, he has turned from pitcher to pundit after “ESPN fired Schilling in 2016 after he shared an anti-transgender post on Facebook shortly after the state government in North Carolina passed a law that effectively allowed local governments to ban transgender people from using their preferred public bathrooms.”

Schilling is now a conservative talk show host mulling a run for Congress from Arizona (even though he is currently “listed as a Massachusetts resident”). He has already “influenced” President Donald Trump to support is potential run calling the idea “terrific.”

 The mixture of politics and sports (and President Trump’s policies specifically) has not always been received well. The most well-known recent example comes issues stemming from ESPN for ESPN’s stating that the company’s on-air talent should stay away from political discussions unless they are directly applicable to sports. ESPN has evidence that comments like the ones Schilling (and several other current and former ESPN employees with more liberal views such as Jemele Hill and Dan Le Batard) have made have a negative impact on viewers perception of the company and overall viewership numbers.

Yet, Schilling’s potential candidacy can demonstrate the importance of athletes having an impact on influencing behavior outside of sports. In a partisan political environment, the goal of a candidate for either party is to maximize their voter turnout while minimizing voter turnout for their opponent. 

 The challenge is that many Democratic and Republican candidates have few differences on their policy positions as compared to candidates within their own party as the Democratic presidential primary often demonstrates. This makes it difficult to build voter enthusiasm for on candidate when many people view candidates from the same party as similar. The challenge for candidates is their ability to generate awareness, engagement, and differentiation with voters both early in process and in ways that will drive them to the voting booth on election days.

Arizona is particularly difficult as the once reliably red (conservative) state is turning increasing blue (liberal). It would be difficult for almost any Republican to secure the support of liberal and / or moderate voters in this election. A conservative politician (like Schilling) should therefore likely must focus on maximizing conservative voter turnout.

Schilling’s high name-recognition, known views, and support from President Trump (who is extremely popular with conservative voters) create a credible pathway to accomplish these goals. He has already secured the support of arguably the most important current political “influencer” while also being well-known in Arizona for his MVP-winning performance in the 2001 World Series for the Diamondbacks.

The argument could be made that Schilling’s positions will turn-off moderate or liberal voters in Arizona. In The Sports Strategist: Developing Leaders for a High-Performance Industry, my co-authors and I discuss the importance of targeting the marginal fan. This is a concept derived from the “marginal voter” in politics which states that campaigns should only target the voters that are likely to be persuaded through advertising or campaigning.

B6A used our Social Sentiment Analysis Platform (SAP) to analyze the approximately 40 thousand Tweets about Schilling in the hours after Trump’s endorsement for his potential candidacy to evaluate his initial viability as a candidate. We found that:

  • The posts created 2.39 million impressions.

  • The posts had an average sentiment of 42.44%.

  • The posts had an average engagement rate of 1.84%.

B6A’s sentiment score ranges from -100% to +100% with 42.44% being a strong score. From an engagement perspective, we demonstrated in a previous post how LUNA Bar achieved a 1.25% engagement rate (a 60.15% over average LUNA Bar posts) when a similar announcement occurred with a new partnership with the US Women’s National Team. This was focused on how LUNA BAR would eliminate the gender pay gap between the men’s and women’s national soccer teams. Schilling related posts exceeded the LUNA Bar level of engagement by 47.20%.

This is one reason why corporate partners are looking to athletes as an important component of influencer strategy. It is not just that athletes can often reach and engage with sports fans that are often companies’ target customers. It is also that the athletes can generate lifts in the outcomes and behaviors even (and especially at times) for outcomes that are non sports-related.

This is not to say B6A’s support Schilling’s positions or his potential candidacy. He has made several statements that many (including us) could or should find to be offensive. However, Schilling does showcase that athletes can and do have an impact outside of sports. Whether you agree with Schilling’s stances or not, his potential Congressional candidacy does highlight features that demonstrate why athletes can and should be considered as part of influencer strategy.