The NIL Era is Here. Can Your Brand Afford to Miss it?

Jul 13, 2022

This June, the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta hosted over 350 student-athletes, as well as major brands, professional athletes and celebrity influencers, at the first NIL Summit. The immersive, multi-day professional development event sought to educate student-athletes on the best ways to maximize their name, image and likeness (NIL) opportunities now that many states have opened the door for students to profit from their status as college athletes.

So, what is all the hype about NIL? Why is a company with a global presence like Meta in the same room as a basketball player from Louisiana State University or a women’s soccer player from North Texas?

The NCAA’s 2021 NIL ruling, allowing college athletes to benefit from their name, image and likeness, represents a massive opportunity not only for student-athletes but also for brands and marketers. These student-athletes can serve as influencers or brand ambassadors on a hyper-local level or as a tool to target younger audiences. In a time dominated by social media, there are more avenues for marketing opportunities and brand campaigns than ever before.

We’ve all seen Nike or Adidas ads featuring superstar names like Serena Williams or Lebron James, but imagine seeing a popular football player from the nearby university in an ad for the local pizza shop or promoting the car dealership down the street on Instagram. For the first time, small businesses with limited marketing budgets have a seat at the table and an opportunity to engage with hyper-local influencers.

Is your brand ready to capitalize on NIL? There are a few things every marketer should consider before launching a NIL campaign.

Find the Right Partner

Finding the right athlete for your brand is the first and arguably most important step. Does this athlete actually use your product or service? Do they have hobbies or interests that align with your brand? Do they have a strong following, and are their fans likely to make the jump to customers? What are their future prospects beyond the college level? These are just a few of the questions to consider during the research process.

Collaboration is Key

Before finalizing your marketing plan or social activation, remember that these athletes are also crafting their own reputations. Bringing them into the process guarantees that you are both aligned on expectations, brand voice and audience. These athletes also grew up in the age of social media and viral content, so they might have ideas that aren’t even on your radar. College athletes are an excellent tool to reach a younger audience because they are part of that target demographic.

Prioritize Authentic Content 

There is nothing worse than seeing an influencer promote sponsored content that obviously doesn’t fit with their brand or social presence simply because they are being paid. The last thing you want is for your product to stand out awkwardly in an athlete’s social feed or miss the mark on messaging. You don’t need a massive marketing team or budget to pull off well-thought-out content. Finding the right partner, prioritizing collaboration and understanding your audience and message are vital to a successful campaign.