3-2-1nsight: The NCAA's Impact on Influencer Marketing
With the new NIL laws allowing athletes to monetize their image without repercussions, the biggest industry to change will be the influencer landscape
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This post looks at the new NCAA rules around the name, image, and likeness (NIL) rights and how it’ll impact college athletics, but more importantly, its impact on the influencer marketing space. Many at first believe that this deal would rock college athletics, which it does, but it’ll have far more ramifications on marketing tactics and strategies than anyone can currently anticipate.
NIL college sports deals arrive for NCAA athletes - Washington Post
On July 1, college athletes now legally had the right to make money by selling their name, image, and likeness (NIL) rights while playing in college. Before this, any college athlete caught making any money off their identity or is at risk of losing their NCAA eligibility. That meant athletes couldn’t sell their autographs for money, get paid to show up to a car dealership, or get paid to coach other athletes at camps. This ruling was the reason there’s the Fab 5 documentary (Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson, and Jimmy King of the infamous 1991 Michigan Wolverines men’s basketball team), or why Reggie Bush had his Heisman revoked, or the plenty of other stories that punished players for monetizing themselves while playing in college. This all flipped on July 1, and now college athletes can make money from marketing themselves and still maintain their NCAA eligibility.
Rovell: Top 20 College Athletes to Capitalize on Name, Image & Likeness - Action Sports Network
Right off the bat, tons of stars immediately started signing deals. Some saw local sponsorships such as Lexi Sun (Nebraska volleyball player) selling $59 sweatshirts, Bijan Robinson (Texas Running Back) selling $125 Cameo videos, Haley and Hanna Cavinder (Fresno State twin basketball sisters) signed a deal with Boost Mobile, Antwan Owens (Jackson State defensive end) signed an endorsement deal with 3 Kings Grooming, a black-owned hair product business, or Jordan Bohannon (Iowa Point Guard) signing autographs for local fireworks seller. Every college athlete is now an influencer, some with crossover potential. Still, either way, all athletes now have an easier way to make money on a side hustle without worrying about losing their NCAA eligibility.
This will change how agents will now start interacting with athletes (especially for basketball and football). This is still the wild west, as it’s early days, but so far, athletes are now signing agents to find, weigh, and help them navigate all the marketing opportunities. What else will agents have to provide, hoping those athletes will choose to remain with them and stay signed when/if they go pro is still to be seen, But someone will remake Jerry Maguire when the dust settles in this new agent/athlete relationship.
NIL will be an enormous boon for local businesses rather than major brands.
While many initially thought that large brands would take advantage of the new athlete’s eligibility, the real opportunity is for local businesses. Indeed, large brands such as Nike value the relationship with the university (Duke, Alabama, Texas), and those big brands don’t want to have specific relationships with individual stars while in college, but that actually further elevates the status of the individual athlete’s star power as they often get displayed on those Nike ads, creating a greater opportunity for small, local, or up-and-coming businesses to want to partner with those athletes. College sports stars are instant celebrities for so many local businesses and smaller college towns. Because the universities will so often feature these athletes either on posters, on game day, or as local celebrities given their role at the university, so many college athletes come with built-in influence through association. For so many of these businesses, they often rely on Yelp ads, local newspapers, or radio reads to advertise, which will typically cost up to $900 for shallow reach and visibility. Contrast that with paying a local college athlete $900 for a social post, series of stories, or endorsement of a local business. Most times, a college athlete's effectiveness will be far more effective than radio spots or newspaper ads. Large businesses and brands can afford to buy expensive TV spots or spend $1M minimums on media for a campaign, so they’ll be less likely to rely on these local college stars. Still, for so many local businesses, they’ve just found a new effective channel for marketing, just in the nick of time, as social platform’s targeting abilities get less effective.
College athletes will become a lot savvier across digital platforms.
So many college athletes are already quite active on social platforms as they think about what comes after their collegiate career. For aspiring NFL stars, an effective social media platform can help them sign more lucrative endorsement deals once they turn pro. Now that athletes can monetize their image right out the gate, expect so many more athletes to get a lot savvier across their digital platforms. Wisconsin Badgers QB Graham Mertz already has a logo to identify himself and brand across various platforms. Jordan Bohannon, Iowa PG and one of the most vocal and early NCAA athletes that pushed for the ability to monetize a college athlete’s NIL (he stole the March Madness rug in 2019 and only agreed to return it if the NCAA allowed student-athletes to monetize their NIL), has started his own apparel line. The Fresno State women’s basketball Cavinder twins were the first to sign an endorsement deal with Boost Mobile and wasted little time signing other deals and getting featured in Times Square. They also have 3.3 million followers across Tik Tok. With the success of the Cavinder twins, Graham Mertz and others expect to see more college athletes much more active across social and digital platforms because these deals will pay them a lot more than any work-study job.
Influencer marketing was maturing, but college athletics will permanently change all the strategies and cost structures.
For a long time now, influencer marketing has been maturing. At first, influencers just tried to build a following on a social platform to sign deals with brands to advertise. Then, as the number of influencers grew, many began adopting creator-type business models or monikers, which meant they started streaming, or podcasting, or turning into professional boxers. For the longest time, getting a following and quickly finding other ways to monetize their likelihood was the playbook that every influencer followed, now that’s about to change. In the past, many creators and influencers hacked social platforms to get popular. Rarely did we see individuals such as Alison Roman (the food star who got a start at Bon Apetit, garnered a following as editor and talent at Buzzfeed Food, then a cookbook writer and video star for the food column in the New York Times, only to get canceled and is now an independent food creator), become famous because of the endorsement of other brands relying on individuals to act as ambassadors and amass their own following and legitimacy?
This will all change now that any athlete at any college program can monetize their name, image, and likeliness because, for so many families across America, college sports is where so much loyalty and habit lives. College sports has always created overnight stars because of amazing feats of athleticism; Jimmer Fredette comes to mind. After her floor routine, Katelyn Ohashi became a national celebrity and one of the first to speak out against the NCAA rules, or Destiny Slocum, after her ¾ court shot she made against WVU. Certain athletes have always been influential in other activities, like Chloe Mitchell, who might be better known off the court as DIY home renovations, than her on the court skills as a volleyball player. But now, she's highly in demand from brands such as Ford Motors for her crossover potential. In the future, influencers will now have to fiercely compete against college athletes, who will have an unfair advantage in being able to gain automatic increased exposure because of their abilities on the field, which means athletes can gain outsized reach if they tried to maximize their name, image, and likeliness off the field.