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A Letter to Female Student Athletes about NIL

The problem is female student athletes are their own worst enemies.

female student athlete stretching before run

It seems obvious to me that there are an abundance of opportunities for female student athletes in this new NIL world. However, it’s clearly not obvious to all, as I continue to see people like Big 12 Commission Bob Bowlsby and Texas baseball coach David Pierce say they don’t think that many student athletes are going to monetize their NIL, and if they do it’ll only be football and basketball players.

Nonsense. It’s all complete nonsense, ladies.

Opendorse tells me that on Day 1 of NIL, one university had at least one athlete in 19 different sports receive at least one deal. Within that athletic department, 107 different female student athletes received at least one deal.

Marketpryce told me the first deal on their platform was for a female soccer student athlete.

I saw female student athletes signing with 304 Elite and Barstool Sports. I saw them unveiling their own clothing lines.

But…I also saw you in my DMs telling me you don’t think your following is big enough. You don’t think your content is good enough. You don’t think you’re attractive enough. You don’t think you have anything special or unique.

Guys out there running all these marketplaces, I love that you’ve all been so welcoming to female student athletes…but continuing to say that you want women to join and pointing out the women out there killing it like Olivia Dunn and the Cavinder twins isn’t helping.

The women in my DMs don’t look at Olivia Dunne and the Cavinder twins and see themselves. They see women with hundreds of thousands to millions of followers. They say: “Of course, they’re getting deals. But what about me? I only have 1,300 followers on Instagram. Who’s going to want to do a deal with me?”

There are hundreds (probably thousands) of female student athletes out there afraid to sign up for these marketplaces. I know because they’re in my DMs, or their compliance staff is in my DMs. They’re asking me to look at their Instagram, check out their Etsy stores and listen to their stories. They want someone to look at them—only them—and say, yes, you are worthy.

The “enoughness” problem

As much as this letter is for female student athletes, it’s also for all you men out there in NIL-related businesses who truly want to welcome women onto your platform. Before you can create a space for them, you need to understand them.

It’s not often my worlds as a sports business reporter and as the owner of a boutique PR agency collide. In fact, I purposely do not take sports clients in my PR agency. However, last week as student athletes gained the right to monetize their name, image and likeness, I found myself having a conversation I’ve had for years with my female PR clients.

My PR agency, Guide My Brand, has always catered to female solopreneurs and nonfiction authors. Although we love our male clients too, there’s something really gratifying about helping women step into the spotlight and tell their stories.

But here’s the thing…I often have to have the “enoughness” pep talk with them first.

They say thinks like: I’m not sure I have enough degrees. I’m not sure I’ve been in business long enough. I’m not sure I know enough. I’m not sure I’ve made enough.

I call this the “enoughness” dilemma, and I’ve never once in six years of my PR business had this conversation with a male client. And yet every time I’ve tweeted about this phenomenon, women have reached out to me to say they’ve felt the same way at some point in their careers.

To the female student athletes out there, I tell you all this to so you know that you’re not alone. Women with multiple degrees who’ve lead Fortune 500 companies say these things to me.

For the men out there, understand that saying your platform is open to women and touting the largest deals you land for women doesn’t necessarily make all female student athletes feel welcome.

You do not need a huge social media following

Ladies, one thing I want you to understand is that you don’t need a huge social media following. Sure, there are plenty of other ways to leverage your NIL (and we’ll get into that below), but I know the people you see jumping on the NIL train the quickest are doing so through social media. So, naturally you look at your own social media and start asking yourself if it’s enough. Do you have enough followers? Do you post often enough? Do you get enough engagement? Are your photos/videos good enough?

I could do a whole blog post just on this (and maybe I will), but take a look at this.

Chart showing micro-influencers get the most deals on Instagram and YouTube

The majority of social media deals done in 2020 by brands on Instagram and YouTube with influencers, according to a survey by Upfluence, were done with micro-influencers (<15,000 followers). And, a survey by Linqia found that more than three-quarters (77%) of marketers said they were interested in working with micro-influencers. That’s because engagement rates tend to be much higher than with larger influencers.

It’s good news, because it means your following doesn’t have to be huge. In fact, the more niche it is, the better.

I have an Instagram account for my pen name (which I use for writing romance), and I get offers from brands/companies in my DMs every single week with only 1,480 followers. Major publishing houses send me book and other swag, and I’ve had a couple of companies send me free beach gear because I post so much from the beach. Sure, I’m not getting paid to post things at this stage, but I’m getting some fun freebies and continuing to grow a niche, engaged following.

This goes so far beyond social media

It’s important to keep in mind that there are a ton of opportunities that have nothing to do with social media, or in which social media would only be one piece of your own marketing plan. I’ve met so many student athletes who are artists, musicians, fashion designers and more who are going to have the opportunity to sell what they create.

Last week, I had the chance to speak with Wichita State softball student athlete Syd McKinney who sent me a DM asking if I had any advice for her on brand partnerships. As I reviewed her Instagram, I noticed she had an adorable dog and that a lot of her posts were about her sport. I started to write up some tips about hashtags and the types of content that does well when I noticed she had an Etsy shop as her link in her bio. My mind was blown when I clicked on it to find she’s a fantastic sneaker artist.

sneaker art

And guess what? Not a single piece of her sneaker art was in her feed. So, my advice changed to how she could showcase her art in her feed, the hashtags to use to get noticed by other accounts and how she could leverage a relationship she already had with a podcast host who loves her sneaker art.

This young woman can do so much more than just try and grab brand partnerships in some giant marketplace. She can grow an art business that will take her far beyond graduation. That’s what I think she should be focusing on!

There are also going to be tons of opportunities for sports camps, group and private lessons. Heck, I made $50/hour teaching pitching lessons when I was in college 20 years ago…and I didn’t even play softball beyond the high school level (which is why I was able to get paid).

Yes, I know most of what you’re seeing right now are social media deals. For a lot of those people, however, that’s a short-term game. Play the long game. Build a platform and business for yourself that can take you beyond graduation…something that’s bigger than just your skills on the field or court.

Stop worrying about what you see everyone else doing and ask yourself: what do I want to do? What am I free to pursue now that I love doing?

I want to help you, ladies!

Need more guidance? My friend Rachel Baribeau and I are launching a Slack space this week exclusively for female student athletes (and it’s FREE!). Rachel and I met way back in 2012 at SEC Media Days, and we’ve been working with aspiring female sports broadcasters for years teaching them to establish their personal brand and succeed in their careers. We’re both experienced broadcasters and entrepreneurs who’ve grown our own personal brands and built our own companies. And now, we want to give back!

We have channels in our Slack space where you can ask questions and learn about social media, affiliate marketing, blogging, podcasting, selling what you make and more. Between the two of us, we’ve done all of that! We even have a channel where we’ll try and match you with mentors in the career field you want to pursue. It is 100% free and our way of giving back to other women. We already have some great former female student athletes who’ve enthusiastically asked to join us so they can pour into you as well!

Kristi Dosh and Rachel Baribeau

Fill out this application (to verify your identity so we can keep this a safe space for women), and we’ll let you in so you can join the conversation!

Author

  • Kristi A. Dosh is the founder of BusinessofCollegeSports.com and has served as a sports business analyst and contributor for outlets such as Forbes, ESPN, SportsBusiness Journal, Bleacher Report, SB Nation and more. She is also the author of a book on the business of college football, Saturday Millionaires. Kristi is a sought-after consultant and speaker on topics related to the business of college sports and a former practicing attorney. Click to learn more

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