I receive emails almost daily from high school and college athletes, as well as their parents, asking how to get started with NIL. So, I’ve put together this handy guide to help you start growing your brand and making money from it.
- Start Here
- Rules and Laws
- Using Marketplaces to Find NIL Deals
- Do You Need an Agent?
- Examples of NIL Deals
- Additional Support
I’m all about approaching NIL in a strategic way, because there’s a lot more you can do with it than simply make $100 on an Instagram post. Whether it’s a long-term contract that pays you consistently or a deal that opens the door to your future post-graduation, NIL can be so much more.
When I speak with student athletes, I start by asking them to answer three questions:
What do you already enjoy doing outside of your sport?
I ask this because the easiest—and most fun—way to make money is doing something you already do. So, if you have fun posting your #OOTD on Instagram, then partnering with brands and boutiques to create more Instagram content is a great idea. However, if you haven’t posted on Instagram in three months, and it feels like a chore, you probably shouldn’t try to monetize there just because it’s what you see other athletes doing.
What do you want to do after graduation?
One of the smartest things an athlete can do with NIL is use it to engage with people, companies and deals that help them get to where they want to be after graduation.
For example, I know athletes who are asking for sit-downs with key executives at companies as part of their NIL deal to promote the company on social media. They’re getting facetime and networking with people they might want to work for down the road.
I know athletes who are forming LLCs and getting real-world experience running their own company, doing things like creating business plans, marketing strategies and more. They’re learning how to create products and find manufacturers and distributors.
I spoke with a young woman recently who wants to work with children in some capacity after graduation, so we talked about how she could give lessons or host a camp or a clinic with her high school coach. NIL allows her to profit from that, but those opportunities also give her the ability to gain experience she can put on her resume that relates to what she wants to do in her future career.
What are 1-3 things you want to be known for?
The last thing I ask athletes is what they want to be known for. I explain to them that their personal brand is simply what other people think of when they hear their name. So, when choosing what NIL activities to engage in, they need to focus on opportunities that align with those things they want to be known for. That’s how you intentionally create a personal brand. You are what other people see and hear, so send a clear message.
Rules and Laws
What are the rules for NIL?
One of the most complicated things about NIL is the patchwork of rules and laws that apply. Your state may or may not have a state law. High school NIL may or may not be allowed by your state’s high school sports association. On top of all that, most colleges and universities have their own rules. I have some quick reference guides to the rules and laws, but know that they change more often than we’d like.
NCAA NIL Rules
You can find more information on the NCAA’s NIL rules here.
State NIL Laws
Not every state has an NIL law. Even for those that do, a handful have already amended and one has even been repealed. We keep our state law database below updated as these laws are passed, amended or repealed.
High School Rules by State
Increasingly, state high school sports associations have started passing new rules to allow athletes to profit from their NIL. However, it’s still a minority of state associations that allow. We keep our state page below updated as each association adjusts its rules.
Please note, private schools and academies that are not members of the state sports association may have their own separate rules.
We’ve tried to find all publicly available NIL policies from colleges and universities, but you should check with your institution to be sure you’re aware of the latest version of their rules.
Using Marketplaces to Find NIL Deals
How do you make money with NIL?
Student athletes make money with NIL from social media marketing, personal appearances, autographs, merchandise, NFTs, camps, clinics, lessons, creating their own products, making shout-out videos for fans, even playing video games.
Dozens of companies have been founded to help student athletes find and secure NIL deals, and many companies that already worked with professional athletes or influencers have started new divisions or platforms to cater to college (and, in some instances, high school) athletes.
We keep up a marketplace tracker that we continually update as companies enter and leave this space. We also remove any companies we discover aren’t treating athletes properly.
Do You Need an Agent?
Do you need an agent for NIL deals?
I get asked that quite a bit by both athletes and parents. The short answer is: it depends.
Sure, having an agent can take some things off your plate. It can also mean you have someone with knowledge to ensure you get the best terms and highest offers. A good agent can even increase your opportunities by finding you more NIL deals.
However, not all agents are created equal.
I’ve had both a literary agent and broadcast agents, and I’ve had many discussions over the years with friends in sports media about their experiences with agents. Unfortunately, I’ve heard more bad stories than good. Agents who sign you to predatory contracts that take excessive percentages of current or even future deals (even when you find the deal on your own or are no longer represented by them). Agents who straight up steal from you. Agents who sit around and do nothing until you get offered something directly, and then they’ve got their hand out wanting a share.
My literary agent was fantastic, and my first broadcast agent was as well. They both brought immense value to the table both in terms of landing me things and negotiating for the best contract terms. I happily paid them each their 15% share.
Questions to ask before signing with an agent
So, how do you evaluate agents? Here are some questions to ask an agent before you sign:
- How many clients do you currently have and how do you ensure you make time for them each?
- Will you be the person working with me directly? Will there be others on your team I’ll interact with?
- Do you represent any other clients similar to me? How would you handle any potential conflicts of interest?
- How many contracts have you negotiated?
- What are some examples of NIL deals you’ve negotiated for your clients?
- How do you proactively find me new NIL deals?
- What is your fee structure? Do you take a percentage of any deals I acquire on my own or through a collective or other third-party?
- For reference, industry average would be 15-20%, but some agents are asking for 30% (which I would encourage you to negotiate down instead of accepting).
- How would you say you’ve advanced your athletes off the field?
- Are you registered with the state?
- For states that require agents to register, there’s usually a list of current registered agents on the Secretary of State’s website (try searching something like “Pennsylvania registered athlete agents” to find it). I would check to ensure the agent you’re considering is properly registered to ensure you’re working with a qualified professional.
- Have you ever been disbarred, suspended or otherwise disciplined related to your profession?
- Have you ever been investigated by the NCAA or any other professional organization?
- What services do you offer beyond contract negotiation?
I would also encourage you to find both current and former clients who you can ask about their experience with the agent. I’ve found this to be incredibly helpful. Google the agent and do a little research, both to find former clients and any other potentially useful information.
Examples of NIL Deals
It would be impossible to track every deal, but here are the fun, interesting or notable ones we’ve written about here on Business of College Sports to give you an idea of the types of deals happening:
In addition to this guide, I’ve created some other resources where you can get your questions answered.
Female College Athlete Facebook group for NIL
If you’re a female college athlete, I invite you to join my Facebook group. We have a whole team of female experts—lawyers, accountants, even someone from the Meta (Facebook/Instagram) team—who are here to help you make the most of NIL.
Sorry, guys! This one is just for the ladies, but if you have questions please reach out to me directly.
Parents Facebook group for NIL
I also have a Facebook group for parents of high school and college athletes where you can get your questions answered by experts in law, tax, social media and more.
Reach out to me here to schedule a 1:1 call to discuss any questions or needs further.