NIL Opportunities Growing For NAIA Student Athletes

Last Updated on February 5, 2022

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics has formed a new partnership with Opendorse, the first-ever association-wide deal in college athletics. The three-year partnership will give NAIA athletes access to Opendorse’s NIL marketing, education and compliance platform. In addition, Opendorse will be launching an NAIA-specific marketplace.

“With more than 77,000 student-athletes, the NAIA recognizes the need for a best-in-class solution that allows them to take advantage of name, image and likeness opportunities,” said NAIA president and CEO Jim Carr. “By partnering with Opendorse, we have found a platform that not only offers that marketplace for deals, but also provides our student-athletes with educational tools, compliance reporting, and unparalleled expertise in this space.”

Blake Lawrence, Opendorse’s co-founder and CEO, says NAIA student athletes have already been taking advantage of Opendorse’s marketplace, which is open to any athlete.

“There have been hundreds of NAIA athletes earn tens of thousands of dollars through Opendorse, and we expect with this announcement this relationship is going to expand and turn into a much more significant number for student athletes.”

At the NAIA level, Lawrence expects his team will be working with the sponsorship teams inside athletic departments to help them educate their sponsors on NIL and what the opportunities are. Then when there are deals to be made, Opendorse can be used to facilitate the fulfillment of those activities both in terms of serving as a platform for the transaction and for compliance documentation.

Lawrence says working with the NAIA is personal for him, because his father was the punter for former NAIA institution William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri (which now competes in the NCAA’s Division II).

“My dad was 21 when I was born, so I have pictures of me on a bench at William Jewell,” said Lawrence. “I think about how he played for love of the game more so than any of the financial rewards, but even in a community like that, I believe he could have done something. He’s entrepreneurial, and he could have done something that would have helped him raising two young boys in a dorm room.

“It’s pretty cool to see this partnership for that reason. There’s a very personal feel to it.”

NAIA athlete Chloe Mitchell owns a couple of NIL firsts

NAIA athletes were able to start monetizing their name, image and likeness in October 2020, far ahead of their NCAA counterparts who had to wait until July 2021. That allowed for the first college athlete in history to profit off their NIL to go down in the history books from the NAIA, Aquinas College volleyball player Chloe Mitchell.

In addition to working with companies like Ford, Target, Bubly, Third Love, Walmart and more, Mitchell also founded her own marketplace where NAIA—and now, NCAA—athletes can find brands to work with called Playbooked.

After Mitchell had her own NIL first, Playbooked claimed another historic first in February 2021 when it booked the first group NIL campaign composed of 10 NAIA athletes to promote local Grand Rapids sportswear store, Reynolds & Sons.

“My store got branded to 22,000 local potential customers, and we had new customers within days. The campaign paid for itself within 48-hours,” said Brendon Reynolds owner of Reynolds & Sons.

Playbooked currently has more than 500 NAIA athletes on its platform. More than 70 of those athletes across 23 NAIA institutions have completed and been paid for endorsement opportunities. A number of those have been national campaigns for brands like Big Blanket (see this video montage of the content created for this campaign), Good Berry, Smart Cups and more. There’s also been a local campaign in Grand Rapids, Michigan with Reynolds & Sons.

In addition to continuing to grow its own marketplace, Playbooked will be adding new educational components in April around compliance and financial literacy.

The future for NAIA athletes monetizing their NIL

Although Playbooked has seen their NAIA athletes have success on the platform, she thinks more of her peers need to hear that there’s a market for NAIA athletes.

“What most NAIA athletes don’t understand is that they have market value and can get paid as influencers for brand and small businesses endorsements. If they choose to, they can also earn money doing video chats with fans and field questions from younger athletes looking for tips, recruitment advice and encouragement. That kind of access would’ve been an amazing resource when I was touring colleges as a high school senior.”

“That is one of the most exciting for me, and for us, because there are so many entrepreneurial athletes, and entrepreneurs who want to help athletes, so this may be counterintuitive, but I celebrate other marketplaces,” said Lawrence. “What Chloe Mitchell has done with Playbooked is having an impact not just on an NAIA level but across all college sports.”

Like Mitchell, Lawrence is a big believer that there will be abundant NIL opportunities for NAIA athletes.

“The entrepreneurial student athlete will earn compensation from NIL. They just need the tools and a team around them that is supportive of that. The NAIA sees that there is an entrepreneurial athlete in every community that just needs to have a place to go and the tools to do this right.”

This piece originally appeared on Forbes

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