How College Athletes Get Paid Through NIL Approval Agreements

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  • In 2021, student-athletes were granted the right to earn money using their names, pictures and likenesses.
  • Athletes, universities and brands have spent months learning how to best navigate the new world of the NIL.
  • Here’s a breakdown of Insider’s recent coverage of student-athlete marketing and NIL activity.

On July 1, after a decades-long struggle, student-athletes across the country secured the right to earn money from their names, pictures and likenesses (NIL) thanks to a flurry of new state laws and a change in NCAA policy.

What happened next was a mad rush of student-athletes, small businesses, national brands, and startups looking to cash in on them.

Some widely followed sports athletes have signed five- or six-figure contracts. But many of the more than 460,000 student-athletes in the United States ended up working with local businesses, like restaurants, or participating in one-off marketing campaigns with bigger brands, receiving free products, cards. smaller gifts or cash payments, rather than large ones. pay days, for their NULL promotions.

The University of Nebraska offensive lineman poses with burritos dressed in red shirts in Muchachos.

University of Nebraska football players pose with burritos as part of a signature partnership with local restaurant Muchachos.

Nick Maestas.


In addition to the signature offerings, the student-athletes held signature training clinics and were paid for appearances and autograph signings.

Unlike professional influencers, college athletes tend to have a small following on social media. In the world of influencers, these athletes would be classified as “micro” (typically less than 100,000 followers) or “nano” (typically less than 10,000) influencers – an area of ​​growing interest to marketers.

“You don’t need to have 40,000 subscribers or even 10,000, 5,000 subscribers to take advantage of these [NIL] rules, ”Christopher Aumueller, CEO of FanWord, a successful athlete marketing and brand development company, told Insider. “These little things, even if they have little dollar value, can go a long way for these student-athletes. A few hundred dollars here and there can have a big impact on some of these young men and women. “

Learn more about how student-athletes with small social media followers are benefiting from the NIL Gold Rush

A company that has focused on nano-


influencer marketing

for its first student-athlete campaign was The Vitamin Shoppe, which hired 14 college players for a campaign.

The company worked with sports marketing firm OpenSponsorship to identify 14 student-athletes in a wide range of sports, from golf and cross-country to volleyball and cheerleading. All of the athletes had less than 10,000 Instagram followers.

Each athlete received about $ 100 in free products, including a set of whey and plant protein, a True Athlete performance supplement, and a bottle of shake, in return for promoting the brand on social media.

“The micro-influencer trend has become popular because when you get people with smaller followers, with smaller networks, the things they promote or suggest seem more authentic,” Dustin Elliott, director, told Insider. senior brand at The Vitamin Shoppe. .

Learn more about how the company boosted its social media engagement by hiring college athletes in niche sports like golf and cheerleading

In a few states, even high school athletes are starting to participate in NIL action.

Jaden Rashada, a quarterback with Pittsburg High School in Pittsburg, Calif., Signed a sponsorship agreement with the AIR recruiting app in December.

“Who better to talk about recruiting from a marketing perspective than someone who has just been through it or someone who is actively going through it now,” AIR founder James Sackville told Insider.

Learn more about how a high school football star landed her first brand sponsorship deal

LSU golfer Hayden White swings a club on a golf course wearing a purple shirt and shorts.

LSU golfer Hayden White recently worked on an NIL campaign for The Vitamin Shoppe.

LSU Athletics.


How much do student-athletes make with NIL

While many schools don’t know how much their student-athletes earn from NIL activities, in November the University of Arkansas released data on what its student-athletes had earned since July 1.

He reported that 140 of his student-athletes had participated in some type of NIL activity, working with more than 170 companies on at least 300 deals and earning an average of $ 4,102. According to the university, football, basketball, softball and baseball players have recorded the most NIL agreements in Arkansas.

Learn more about how University of Arkansas student-athletes have taken advantage of NIL opportunities

That income could increase next year, as some brands are already making spending bets on the category for 2022.

More than half of 300 brand, agency and retail professionals surveyed by retail analytics firm Inmar Intelligence in November said they plan to spend between $ 50,000 and $ 500,000 for student-athletes next year. Only 15% of those surveyed said they either did not plan to invest in the category or did not yet know what their budget would be.

Read a breakdown of responses to Inmar’s survey, including how marketers think student-athletes will perform in ad campaigns compared to traditional influencers

Growing pains in the student-athlete

While some marketers are optimistic about running student-athlete campaigns in 2022, the category presents some logistical challenges.

Colleges, student-athletes, and brands are still trying to figure out how to navigate a web of state laws and university guidelines about what players are and are not allowed to do with their names, pictures, and likenesses.

Some colleges and universities have developed policies to prevent student-athletes from entering into branded deals that would interfere with their own lucrative sponsorship deals.

An agreement requiring an athlete to “wear products competitive with Nike during team activities – e.g. practices, competitions, media, team trips, community service, photo ops, team building activities, etc. ” could violate Ohio state rules, for example. The university also said that students should not “promote drinks competitive with Coca-Cola on campus.”

“It’s messy,” Blake Lawrence, CEO of sports marketing platform Opendorse, told Insider in August. “If a student athlete at an Adidas school who signs a deal with, say, Lululemon shows up at a press conference wearing a Lululemon hat and shirt, is that a violation of the team’s contract with Adidas? things that people are trying to figure out. “

Other universities have pushed back on Barstool Sports’ student-athlete ambassador program, telling Insider the company does not have permission to use their brands and logos.

Learn more about how colleges are taking action to limit student-athlete deals with brands as they seek to protect their own sponsorships.

As with any new industry with various regulations, a wave of startups and established companies have rushed to help universities, student-athletes and brands succeed on the court and avoid missteps.

Some companies, like Athliance, are working to help universities and actors manage education and NIL compliance. Others, like MOGL, want to create markets to connect brands with student-athletes.

“People keep saying it’s the Wild West,” said Chase Garrett, CEO of athlete marketing platform Icon Source. “But I think 2022 will be the year of adoption. People have built-in marketing budgets. They’ve started to find the athletes they think they want to work with. They’ve started to learn what the market value is.”

Here is Insider’s list of the 13 best companies that are helping student-athletes make money and shape the future of NIL marketing.


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