- In 2021, student athletes earned the right to earn money from their names, images, and likenesses.
- Athletes, universities, startups and brands have spent months learning how to better navigate the new NIL world.
- Here’s a breakdown of recent Insider coverage of student-athlete marketing and NIL activity.
On July 1, after a decades-long fight, student-athletes across the country won the right to earn money from their names, images, and likenesses (NILs) thanks to a series of new state laws and a change in policy. of the NCAA.
What happened next was a rush of student-athletes, small businesses, national brands, and startups looking to cash in.
Some athletes in widely followed sports have landed deals worth five or six figures. But many of the more than 460,000 student-athletes in the US ended up working with local businesses, like restaurants, or participating in one-off marketing campaigns with larger brands, receiving free products, gift cards, or more cash payments. small, rather than large paydays, for their NIL promotions.
In addition to brand deals, student-athletes have held branded training clinics and been paid for appearances and autograph signings.
Unlike professional influencers, college athletes tend to have small audiences on social media. In the world of influencers, these athletes would be categorized as “micro” (typically fewer than 100,000 followers) or “nano” (typically fewer than 10,000) influencers, an area of growing interest to marketers.
“You don’t have to have 40,000 followers or even 10,000 or 5,000 followers to take advantage of these [NIL] rules,” Christopher Aumueller, CEO of FanWord, an athlete marketing and branding startup, told Insider. “Those small transactions, while they may be small in monetary value, can be very helpful to these student-athletes. A couple of hundred dollars here and there can make a big impact for some of these young men and women.”
Read more about how student-athletes with few social media followings are cashing in on the NIL gold rush
A company that leaned towards nanotechnology
for its first student-athlete campaign it was The Vitamin Shoppe, which signed 14 college players for a campaign.
The company worked with sports marketing company OpenSponsorship to identify 14 student-athletes in a wide range of sports, from golf and cross country to volleyball and cheerleading. All of the athletes had fewer than 10,000 followers on Instagram.
Each athlete received about $100 worth of free products, including a whey and plant protein bundle, a True Athlete performance supplement and a bottle of shake, in exchange for promoting the brand on social media.
“The micro-influencer trend has become popular because when you have people with smaller followings, with smaller networks, the things that they promote or suggest seem more genuine,” Dustin Elliott, senior brand manager at The Vitamin Shoppe, told Insider. .
Learn more about how the company boosted its social media engagement by hiring college athletes from specialty sports like golf and cheerleading.
In some states, even high school athletes are starting to get in on the NIL action.
Jaden Rashada, quarterback at Pittsburg High School in Pittsburg, California, signed an endorsement deal with the recruiting app AIR in December.
“Who better to talk about recruiting from a marketing perspective than someone who has just been through it or someone who is currently going through it,” AIR founder James Sackville told Insider.
Learn more about how a high school football star landed his first brand endorsement deal
How much do NIL student-athletes earn?
While many schools don’t say how much their student-athletes earn from NIL activities, in November the University of Arkansas released data on how much their student-athletes had earned since July 1.
It reported that 140 of its student-athletes had participated in some type of NIL activity, working with more than 170 companies on at least 300 deals and earning an average of $4,102. Football, basketball, softball and baseball players saw the highest volume of NIL deals in Arkansas, according to the university.
Read more about how University of Arkansas student-athletes have taken advantage of NIL opportunities
Those earnings could increase next year, as some brands are already making spending bets on the category by 2022.
More than half of the 300 brand, agency and retail professionals surveyed by retail analytics firm Inmar Intelligence in November said they planned to spend between $50,000 and $500,000 on student-athletes in the coming year. Only 15% of respondents said they do not plan to invest in the category or were not yet sure what their budget would be.
Read a breakdown of Inmar’s survey responses, including how marketers believe student-athletes will perform in ad campaigns compared to traditional influencers.
Student-athlete growing pains
Although some marketers are optimistic about running student-athlete campaigns in 2022, the category presents logistical challenges.
Colleges, student-athletes and brands are still trying to figure out how to navigate a web of state laws and college guidelines about what players can and can’t do with their names, images and likenesses.
Some colleges and universities have developed policies to prevent student-athletes from making brand deals that interfere with their own lucrative endorsement deals.
An agreement that requires an athlete to “wear competitive Nike products during team activities, eg practices, competitions, media, team trips, community service, photo shoots, team building activities, etc.” it could violate Ohio state rules, for example. The university also said students should not “promote beverages that compete with Coca-Cola on campus.”
“It’s complicated,” Blake Lawrence, CEO of sports marketing platform Opendorse, told Insider in August. “If a student athlete at an Adidas school who signs an agreement with, say, Lululemon shows up to a press conference wearing a Lululemon hat and jersey, is that a violation of the team’s contract with Adidas? Those are the things that people are trying to find out.
Other universities have objected to Barstool Sports’ student and athlete ambassador program, telling Insider that the company did not have approval to use their trademarks and logos.
Read more about how universities are taking steps to limit deals student-athletes make with brands as they seek to protect their own sponsorships.
Brands tested their first campaigns with student-athletes during March Madness 2022
One of the first prominent marketing events for student athletes after the NIL rule change was the 2022 March Madness tournament, which put NCAA men’s and women’s basketball players in the spotlight.
Some players, like Saint Peter’s University shooting guard Doug Edert and the University of Connecticut’s Paige Bueckers, were able to capitalize on the attention by landing deals with brands like Buffalo Wild Wings and Chegg.
But industry experts said the real payoff for the student-athletes who gained social media followers during the tournament may be yet to come.
“If you have a really successful March Madness, you are increasing the value of your NIL,” Nicholas Lord, CEO of NIL trading platform NOCAP Sports, told Insider. “Then you can capitalize on it more in the future because you have more eyes on your social media and your personality in general.”
Here’s a full breakdown of what brands learned from the first March Madness when they were able to hire student-athletes as influencers.
Startups and other companies are shaping the future of marketing NIL
As with any new industry that has a variety of regulations, a wave of startups and established companies have scrambled to help universities, student-athletes, and brands succeed on the field and avoid mistakes.
Some companies, like Athliance, focus on helping colleges and players manage NIL education and compliance. Others, like MOGL, are interested in creating marketplaces to connect brands with student-athletes.
Learfield, a nearly 50-year-old company that helps schools monetize their IP in categories like digital media and stadium signage, has launched a number of features in recent months to support student-athlete NIL activities.
“People keep saying it’s the Wild West,” said Chase Garrett, CEO of athlete marketing platform Icon Source. “But I think 2022 is going to be the year of adoption. People have marketing budgets built in. They’ve started finding athletes they think they’d want to work with. They’ve started learning what the market value is.”
Here’s Insider’s List of the Top 13 Companies Helping Student-Athletes Make Money and Shaping the Future of NIL Marketing