The sports marketing industry will soon undergo the single most dramatic change in its history, when college athletes are finally granted the right to monetize their Name, Image and Likeness. The mission of Student Athlete NIL is to help brands seize this opportunity and capture the attention of student-athletes, identify the ones that best personify their values, and then develop value-based partnerships with those individuals to mutually reach their goals. Working hand-in-hand, we can finally democratize college athletics.
The modern student-athlete, especially those participating in revenue producing sports like basketball and football, spend a significant portion of their time outside the classroom focused on furthering their athletic abilities through training, practice, film sessions, and actual game competition. Coupled with their academic obligations, and most student-athletes have little availability to engage in the same pursuits as their non-athlete classmates, like working a part-time job. While NIL will create new opportunities to earn outside income, it also comes with a number of troubling concerns, the most significant of which center around how such activities will be regulated, as well as where student-athletes will find the time in their already overloaded schedules to meet partner commitments.
As we see with our protagonist Ringo, the vast majority of NIL related activities that student-athletes will participate in will likely fall under the social media influencer categorization. Ringo’s use of Instagram and TikTok to fulfill endorsement commitments with sponsors like UGG and Crest are already commonplace among today’s professional athletes, the difference of course being that in the latter’s case, they no longer have an obligation to maintain a minimum grade point average.
It is not hard to envision a future scenario in which a student-athlete chooses to pursue financial gain in lieu of doing the difficult work necessary to get their degree. After all, college is a transformative time for young adults, who may not always make the most mature decisions, especially when the perceived short-term benefits seemingly overwhelm any long-term downside.
How then can a brand justify sponsoring a student-athlete when in-fact such a relationship may adversely affect his or her ability to maintain the very status that makes them an attractive endorser in the first place?
With his World History lecture wrapped up, Ringo grabs his bookbag and strolls out the door. As he heads down the hallway, Ringo gets a WhatsApp message from Kegmans’ marketing team confirming the first activation in this budding endorsement relationship.
As it turns out, through direct contacts made via his Instagram and Twitter accounts during last week’s lecture, Ringo was approached by the management at Kegmans—the popular grocery chain. They asked whether Ringo would like to appear in some promotional TV and social media spots and make an upcoming in-store appearance for the chain.
In his communication with their marketing team, Ringo was offered $10,000 for a package of promotional activities–one autograph appearance at the store closest to campus, one print ad/photo shoot, one tv ad, and a few social media “influencer” spots over the next 90 days. The social media spots will conveniently overlap with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament (aka March Madness) when interest in college basketball peaks.
Ringo is intrigued by the exposure and income opportunities put on the table—he’s not necessarily thinking about the ambush marketing some will believe Kegmans might be engaging in. He also doesn’t believe he has to ask his NIL agent about the deal, since the chain approached him directly. Ringo had given the offer some thought and ended up accepting the deal.
The WhatsApp message from Kegmans’’ rep says: “Ringo, looking forward to seeing you this afternoon at 4pm for our in-store appearance…. we’re getting the word out by social media…we’ll have fans lining up in no time!”
Ringo quickly remembers the in-store appearance is the first commitment he made in this agreement, and Kegmans plans to have him sign autographs for an hour, take pictures with customers, and possibly do some live-media affirming the selection and fresh produce, friendly staff, and convenience of the chain’s locations across the community. I’m on top of the world Ringo thinks. Life is good.
Ringo also chooses to keep his Kegmans appearance on the down-low from his coaches and teammates. He’s a humble guy and wants to remain laser focused on the task at hand—in this case, using Monday’s team practice to learn the defensive sets of their team’s next opponent.
Ringo texts his assistant coach and asks “Hey, can we move our film review to 2:30pm? Have something at 4pm.” The Assistant texts back, “Sorry man, I have back-to-back film sessions with George and John. Let’s keep 4pm. Can’t wait!”
This passive inflexibility from the coaching staff is increasingly frustrating to Ringo. It’s also no secret to anyone, including Ringo, that the coaching staff landed a lucrative contract extension and pay raise in the off-season as a by-product of last year’s exciting Elite 8 run in the NCAA tournament. Ringo averaged 21 points in those games and hit a game winning jumper in the second-round to help the team advance to the Sweet 16.
Ringo heads out the door around 3:45pm, but it’s not to join up with the assistant coach to watch game film at the basketball facility. Ringo is headed to the nearby Kegmans where the fans are beginning to line up and the store management eagerly awaits. Ringo ends up signing autographs and taking pictures for over an hour. Store management transfers $2500 via Venmo to Ringo. Boy, that was easy he thinks! Ringo knows, too, that fans are now pumping this appearance on social media. The assistant coach sent him three texts asking him on his whereabouts. Ringo ignores those—he has a good relationship with the assistant coach and can sort it out later.
By the time Ringo leaves the store around 5:30pm, though, his phone is blowing up from friends saying they saw him on the news. He also notices a voicemail from his Head Coach at 5:00pm. On the voicemail, the Head Coach tells him to call him immediately.
He senses tension in the air.