Skip to content

    Tips for Making NIL Work for Your Brand

    Tips for Making NIL Work for Your Brand

    Whereas everyone seems to agree that the NCAA has fumbled on the proverbial one-yard line when it comes to anything and everything to do with NIL. There are brands that want to jump into the fray regardless of the challenges you get when each student-athlete operates independently, each school seems to have its own rules, its own system, and its own set of problems.


    There’s no doubt that the system is operating, but doing so in a very imperfect, if not broken, manner.


    Let’s also agree that the primary purpose of NIL thus far has been to recruit players to schools, whether they be incoming freshmen or participants in the transfer portals. Schools with less resources (aka booster money) are finding the new NIL world difficult to navigate.


    It doesn’t have to be that way for brands that may have a legitimate desire to positively impact their marketing efforts. Here’s how it can be done.


    You need to think strategically about how you can utilize a collegiate athlete to enhance your marketing position, generate better top-of-mind awareness, or persuade non-customers to engage your product or service.


    Understand that you are operating in murky waters with some schools offering consulting services to their student-athletes, others general guidance, and others offering no assistance whatsoever. Oftentimes you may find yourself negotiating with an “agent” operating on behalf of the student. This is becoming more prevalent as more money enters the space.


    It might be important to note that the NIL space is worth upwards of $500M currently and growing. It’s much more than leased cars to star quarterbacks and free BBQ to offensive linemen.


    Like I had said earlier, most of this money is being spent as a recruiting tool. But if your company is actually trying to achieve marketing success with a NIL strategy, you may want to consider some important advice on how to invest your money wisely:


    • Do your homework: Sometimes popular athletes playing in high visibility sports seem like the best choice but their off-the-field behaviors can be detrimental to your brand. Social media makes this homework easy, as do reference checks (yes, you can ask … it’s a job) and be sure to conduct a formal interview with the athlete.


    • Plan: Have a meeting with your best marketing minds (including our agency) and strategize on just what you want from a NIL deal. Determine important details like budget, best fit, appeal to your customer base, and specific use of the athlete’s name, image, and likeness that will benefit your brand.


    • Outthink the competition: Depending on your business, a local athlete who plays an Olympic sport may be more valuable to your brand than an out-of-state recruit who plays football. Don’t necessarily buy into a big ticket NIL deal when a less expensive, more engaging athlete may be a better fit. Also, most NIL contracts utilize athletes as social media influencers; go beyond that and utilize the athlete in creative, more effective ways that positively impact your brand. Need ideas? Contact me.


    • Be willing to see potential: Not all athletes leave high school with a half-million followers and a 4.5 second 40 time. When considering a NIL deal for your brand, look for potential from young men and women who may grow to be a great investment.


    • Women > Men: Women athletes are sharp, articulate, and more loyal to their school than their male counterparts. It’s 2022, perspectives are changing and today’s consumer rewards brands who embrace diversity. Don’t overlook women’s sports for your next NIL deal.


    • Create a fair and equitable contract: Doing business with a young student athlete is no excuse to cut corners. Ditch the simple agreement for a formal one that is blessed by an attorney. Leave nothing to chance in regards to expectations, fulfillment, opt-outs, and other important deal points.


    • Trade > Cash: If your brand has equity to the student-athlete go trade over cash. This seems rather intuitive but just know that you can save money while creating a perceptively more lucrative deal when you include trade for products or services.


    • Create a relationship that transcends the contract: A contract has terms but a relationship can be endless. Student-athletes of all calibers are typically well-supported and popular. Some go on to greatness in their sport while most become successful adults. Neither are bad for your brand in the future.


    • Enhance your NIL deal with a sponsorship deal with the school (or vice versa): Get greater impact from your NIL deal by incorporating a sponsorship deal with the school. Endeavor to purchase relevant assets that reinforce brand affinity (like logo rights and hospitality) to help maximize your NIL deal.


    • Mutually beneficial co-partners: Dynamic marketing can, at times, require complex strategic thought. Think out of the box with your NIL deal and perhaps look to partner with a company with a similar demographic audience or congruent consumer need.


    NIL deals do not have to serve the purpose of recruiting top athletes to your school. If properly structured, they can enhance your marketing efforts and help grow your business. In today’s complex marketing environment where influencing audiences at scale is becoming more and more difficult, creative execution utilizing a collegiate student-athlete can pay dividends for you, the student, and the school.


    Want help in strategizing a NIL deal that works for your brand? Reach out and we can set up a time to plan and execute a NIL deal that’s right for your brand.

    About the author: Ed Olsen is the CEO of Line Drive Sports Marketing. He is a former adjunct professor at Arizona State University and has lots of opinions on all things sports.

    Back To Top