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How the NIL market is shaping up for brands, athletes

Brands and athletes are still learning what makes a good NIL deal.

NIL athletes Dillon Gabriel (L) and Jalil Farooq (R)
(Image credit: EvoShield; Pictured: Dillon Gabriel (L) and Jalil Farooq (R))

Brands and college athletes have been allowed to collaborate on name, image and likeness deals since last July, and as such sponsorships enter their second year, the market is still evolving.

NIL deals between marketers and college athletes have so far been very much focused on social media and influencer content. 

A study by University of Vermont’s Bill Carter, who teaches about NIL, found that 72% of commercial activity from college athletes involves social media activity, followed by endorsements at 10%. Football athletes account for the biggest share of NIL deals at 40%, followed by volleyball, basketball and baseball. 

Research from Opendorse, cited by Sports Illustrated, reveals similar findings – almost 68% of NIL deals involve posting content. 

“Athletes offer brands a unique opportunity as influencers audiences can not only connect with, but actually root for,” writes Richard Johnson for Sports Illustrated. “It’s the next evolution of why using athletes as pitch people is a tried and true marketing strategy. Athletes offer high engagement rates, allowing brands — especially national ones — to get hyperlocal appeal, particularly in small college towns,” Johnson explains. 

 

How brands are using NIL deals

Bumble: The 50th anniversary of the 1972 law prohibiting sex-based discrimination, Title IX, took place on June 23 and, to mark the event, Bumble signed 50 NIL deals with female college athletes in a “50for50” initiative. Bumble’s Christina Hardy explained the brand wants to amplify the voices of female athletes, “who work just as hard as their male counterparts, and should be seen and heard.” 

EvoShield: The high-protective athletic gear brand has just signed NIL deals with University of Oklahoma college football athletes Dillon Gabriel and Jalil Farooq to promote its EvoShield Rib Shirt. The pair “perfectly embody our ‘Always All-In’ mantra that drives the EvoShield brand,” says EvoShield’s Jennette Rauch.

Morgan Frazier, a lawyer and former gymnast at Florida, spoke to Sports Illustrated about what marketers need to keep in mind when working with college athletes. 

“I talked to a couple brands who were the first to get out there [when NIL began] and their first complaint or regret is they didn’t know the personalities of the kids when they signed them. They were just looking at the follower count and not actually diving deep into who that athlete is as a person,” Frazier says. 

 

How the NIL market is evolving

Companies in the space are working to provide easier ways for college athletes to monetize their content. 

Booster Athletes is a crowdfunding app that enables college sports fans to access exclusive content from their favorite college athletes via a “user interface inspired by TikTok and Snapchat,” according to a press release. Fans access content via a monthly subscription and can further reward an athlete via additional payments. “At Booster, we look at NIL differently,” says CEO Jeffrey Clark, noting, “Over the past year, very few have taken the time to ask the student-athletes how they prefer to manage NIL. We did…and they helped us build Booster.”

M:7 Sports, the sports marketing subsidiary of M:7 Agency, just announced it won’t be taking commission from college athletes for NIL deals. “It’s the right thing to do — that money belongs to the athletes,” says president and CEO Jim Christiana. 

Twitter extended its NIL partnership with Opendorse to allow college athletes within the Pacific-12 Conference to earn money by sharing personalized game highlights via their Twitter accounts, with extra promotion via Twitter Amplify, according to this Adweek report. The highlights are made possible by Tempus Ex’s proprietary FusionFeed technology. 

 

Is federal NIL legislation on the cards?

NIL legislation currently operates at a state level, but former football coach and Republican senator for Alabama, Tommy Tuberville, is looking to change that, according to this Sports Illustrated article. Tuberville intends to draft a bipartisan bill, with West Virginia Democrat senator Joe Manchin, to create a federal NIL solution. “The goal here is to make an even playing field. We want to try to make it as fair in each state so everybody will have an equal opportunity,” Tuberville told Sports Illustrated, adding, “There’s got to be some rules. Right now, everybody is doing something different.”