Looking back, it was the EA Sports settlement in 2013 and the landmark court ruling in O’Bannon v. National Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 802 F.3d 1049,1074 (9th Cir.) in 2015 that made the impending NIL era inevitable. And as ready as student athletes are to monetize their name, image and likeness, brands have been readying for years as well.
The digital landscape and the rise of social media marketing has provided ever growing opportunity for teens and young adults to monetize their NIL online. NCAA restrictions, and the overall unfairness to student athletes, became a more centralized conversation as a handful of states have passed laws that permit their student athletes to license their NIL rights. The NCAA has proposed its own legislation for Division I, and federal legislation has also been proposed.
While news and media have covered the lack of opportunity for student athletes at large, a missing piece of the conversation has been the ruling’s effect on brands in a more social, digitized and influencer-marketing driven environment.
Why Brands Will Flock to Student Athletes When Name, Image and Likeness Restrictions Are Removed
Brands have also felt the restriction of being unable to partner with the coveted 18-22 year old athlete age group for several key reasons:
- Working with the under 18 age group requires parental permission and usually supervision. While it’s been more common that parents are involved with younger talent and their dealings online, this can make influencer selection at younger ages quite difficult for brand marketing.
- Online influencers above the collegiate level still training at the intensity of college athlete, that are not pro, are rare. This can make influencer discovery and selection both difficult and highly competitive.
- Pro athletes can be cost-prohibitive to many brands looking to engage in scaled influencer partnerships.
Brands who are seeking a younger, fit, athlete who is performance-focused and training at the same or similar intensity as a pro-athlete have historically faced talent shortages and challenges due to NCAA name, image and likeness restrictions that block their access to collegiate athletes – and it’s predicted they will be the first to jump into the new era of NIL.
The Types of Brands Ready to Work with Student Athletes
Sports Nutrition & Supplementation was a once niche-category built to serve endurance and performance athletes exclusively. It’s also one of the top categories founded by, led by and employing a large majority of post-collegiate athletes. The category has seen expansive growth over the last decade, yet have been barred from social and influencer partnerships with the coveted collegiate level athlete. Competition from brands to engage influencers and ambassadors is also highest in this category – fresh, new talent will be attractive to these brands. It’s expected that due to its connection to athletics and performance that this category will be one of the first to jump into NIL.
Performance, Recovery & Training Equipment (think brands that make braces, insoles, heat/ice that enhances athletic performance) that are targeted to athletes who train at or above an everyday “fit” person will also be a prime category to immediately jump into NIL Throughout my influencer marketing agency experience we have had several requests from these companies who were really limited in their ability to do influencer marketing because of lack of talent options caused by NCAA restrictions. While the larger brands can afford to work directly with pro athletes, several smaller and mid-size brands will benefit from working in a more scaled-back capacity with amateur athletes that still relate directly to their target audience.
Gyms, Trainers & Physical Therapists’ who have trained and rehabilitated athletes will be keen to jump on public, commercial and leveraged testimonials from their collegiate athlete clientele. This has been a common and natural practice for these kinds of businesses that have been restricted by an athlete’s NCAA affiliation.
On- or Close-to- Campus Restaurants & Businesses may benefit from public affiliation and association with college athletes. These businesses may rely on business from other students and common marketing strategy often involves targeting clubs and teams due to their non-social influence on campus. While it’s been common for these businesses to partner with on-campus organizations, college athletes, which is usually one of the biggest organizations on campus, will open additional networks in which these businesses can extend their marketing practices.
Game day can be less than 25% of an athlete’s journey. The brands and products that athletes use or touch in the other 75% of that journey provide ample opportunities for authentic endorsement, sponsorship and partnership in the new era of NIL.
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