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Icon Source's digital platform. Courtesy of Icon Source

Denver’s Icon Source Is Like Match.com for Athletes and Brands

Nearly a year old, Denver-based startup Icon Source's online platform helps businesses big and small make authentic, meaningful connections with athletes.

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From your screen, Red Gerard’s piercing baby blues stare directly back into your eyes; wisps of ginger hair flow out from under his beanie, atop which a pair of snowboarding goggles are perched. Scrolling through his profile, you glean more details. Male. Born in 2000. Hometown: Silverthorne. Likes art, skateboarding, and (aw!) family.

However, the equivalent of swiping right on this platform—Icon Source, a Denver-based online marketplace developed to connect athletes with brands for endorsements, social media ads, and event appearances—is going to cost you. As Gerard’s profile also informs potential partners, he’s an Olympic gold medalist with 238,000 Instagram followers and already has relationships with Oakley, Bose, and Toyota. But if you’re, say, a fledgling Summit County skateboarding shop looking to promote your new decks with designs from local artists, you just might feel that tingle of kismet, especially when you see that he’s open to product deals as well as cash. You slide into Gerard’s DMs—er, submit a proposal through Icon Source, which helpfully guides you through what information to provide. Then you wait to see if he, or more likely, his agent, is into it.

That approachability factor for smaller businesses in particular is a major reason founder Chase Garrett launched Icon Source a little less than a year ago. “About one percent of brands operate in the world of sports, with athletes, because it’s difficult to penetrate, to know who to get in touch with and how to put together a contract,” Garrett says. “What we wanted to do was take the expertise of a billion-dollar sports marketing brand and allow it to be a platform any local company can use.”

One look at Garrett’s resumé, and it’s obvious why athletes such as the Nuggets’ Mason Plumlee and skiers Michelle Parker and Bobby Brown signed on as investors: Garrett raced motocross professionally before becoming an agent for some friends from the sport, did marketing for several tech companies, and then worked on Red Bull’s athlete marketing program, making contacts across leagues like the NFL and NBA as well as in Olympic and action sports circles.

All that networking is starting to pay off: Icon Source facilitated $300,000 in deals in its first 90 days, and nearly 600 athletes have signed up so far, including 2019 MLB All-Star Ronald Acuña Jr., former U.S. Women’s National Team goalkeeper Hope Solo, and Gerard. The platform is free for both athletes and brands to join; Icon Source takes a percentage of any finalized endorsement agreements in exchange for its services, which include handling the contract and payment.

“We think our fee is nominal—it’s not going to be a roadblock—and that we bring enough value to continue to drive people to do deals through the platform,” Garrett says. “There’s no other way to aggregate that list of athletes from multiple disciplines and have the ability to directly connect with them.” Icon Source’s robust search functions are another plus: Brands can, for example, filter for who is in the Denver area and available on a particular weekend, look specifically for female fly-fishers, or find athletes who have a passion for cooking.

In developing Icon Source’s matchmaking capabilities, Garrett does share one goal with more serious dating sites: to foster deep, genuine connections in what can be a shallow environment. “I saw that different social media influencers were finding ways to connect with brands, but oftentimes those were inauthentic or cheap relationships,” Garrett says. In contrast, he says, athletes make good consorts because “they’re very dedicated to their crafts and they earn the majority of their incomes from their sports, so they only partner with people they really believe in and products they use. Therefore, the brands get a lot better return on their investment and the audience really believes in what they say.”

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