On July 1, 2021, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the NCAA to set a policy into effect that allows student athletes from all three divisions to monetize their name, image and likeness (NIL). The media was in a frenzy, Instagram timelines showed every student athlete you’ve ever met flocking to be promoted on barstool, and some of the biggest college athletes were tweeting about multi-million dollar deals, all almost overnight. As a former student athlete myself, I’m both jealous and excited – there are so many opportunities and possibilities. But also so many questions. How can you make money as a student athlete? What does this all mean for student athlete side hustlers? In this article, we’ll explore some of the best ways to make money as a student athlete and capitalize on the new NIL ruling.
How do local laws impact NIL regulation?
Before we dive into ways athletes can generate extra beer money (and then some!), it’s important to note that the new guidance allows students to engage in NIL activities as long as they are “consistent with the law of the state where the school is located”. For example, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas all have NIL legislation (I WONDER what these states have in common…???). Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Nebraska and Oregon have bills in various stages, and all other states allow students to participate without breaking NCAA rules. The NCAA is working with congress to provide more clarity at a national level, but until then, it’s best to do your research for the state your school is in.
After legal challenges, public activism and recent pressure from the state level, the NCAA finally conceded: “Everyone agrees that the NCAA can require student athletes to be enrolled students in good standing. But the NCAA’s business model of using unpaid student athletes to generate billions of dollars in revenue for the colleges raises serious questions under the antitrust laws” (Justice Brett Kavanaugh). Amen!
State-specific restrictions aside, , we wanted to highlight some of the ways that you can take advantage of this huge opportunity and capitalize on your NIL – because who couldn’t use a few extra dollars in college?? But let us start off by saying, this is going to be an evolving market, and it will not be easy to just wake up with money in your bank. This is a business after all, and businesses require hard work and drive to become successful. So, where can you start?
1. Build your Brand on social media
Building your brand is the single, most important thing that you can do for yourself right now. Your brand is your character, your story and your “likeness”! Prior to the ruling, this was important for creating relationships to make your next steps beyond your athletic years in life easier. Now, this gives you the choice to show who you really are as an athlete, on and off the court. Before, this may have just been fun and games, but with recent NIL changes, you have the opportunity to make serious money on this. So what exactly does one do to build a brand as a student athlete?
- Set yourself apart – by defining your story and who you are, you’re setting yourself apart from everyone else who might be in the same position. While college can seem like an early time to start this definition, with the new ruling, the sooner you characterize yourself, the better. What makes you different and unique? What story can you tell that resonates with people and engages an audience in who you are and what you do?
- Content creation – whatever social or online platform you involve yourself with needs content to get off the ground. Always keep your audience in mind, making sure this relates to your story and brand to ensure that the content continues to identify and apply to them. Be consistent and engaging within a niche area, and whatever direction you take (podcast, website, writing, visuals, content creation), always communicate your personal brand.
- Engage – Once you have an audience, the most important thing is to continually engage with them. You are someone that these people look up to (even if you’re 20+ years younger than them, seriously!) and any interaction with you is worth 1,000 words. Not only does this create more recognition for you, but it shows that you care to listen and respond, and this means the world.
For some states that may not be able to engage in some of the monetizing opportunities yet, building a brand is still a great place to start. This includes creating or improving your social media in a way that you believe best depicts you, which can take many different avenues. Showing your authentic personality is key, and the earlier you start, the better off you’ll be in the long run, no matter what you want to do in the future.
Companies like Opendorse Deals and Altius are partnering with schools to enable student athletes with the education and awareness that they need to stay compliant and proactive, while companies like 98Strong, INFLCR, Icon Source and Inked Sports are cropping up to help with the monetization and brand building side of students’ new abilities – all companies worth making a profile with if you are looking for help with potential partnerships and a safe environment to engage in NIL activities with brands.
INFLCR’s brand alliance with Influential (the world’s largest influencer marketing company) will benefit both sides of the equation by equipping NCAA student-athletes with Influential’s innovative Social Intelligence™ technologies to “maximize their brand potential and monetize their NIL, while streamlining compliance by automating all required reporting through the INFLCR Compliance Exchange™”.
While it might seem daunting and discouraging, even, to have to adhere to a “brand” there’s a couple things to keep in mind. First, your brand can change. It need not be stagnate or tightly confined. Public opinion changes, and these rulings will continue to evolve. Just make sure to evolve with them! Second, you always have the option of creating a “personal” social media as well as your “professional” one. Many influencers use this to continue to authentically stay in touch with close family and friends. And third, even though this is a business, this is about you. Don’t get too caught up and make sure to have fun with it, too.
Building your own online presence as a student athlete is important to help brands understand who you are and in unlocking your ability to monetize your NIL, which brings us to step 2: finding partnerships and sponsorships as a student athlete.
2. Endorsements and Sponsorships
Like it or not, you are now, essentially, an influencer. Do what you want with that word, but what goes for “influencers” can now go for you – from brand endorsements to sponsorships, collaborations, ads and more — it’s all fair game. But unless you’re generating Zion Williams level of hype, these deals likely won’t just land on your doorstep. You may have to pitch your personal brand. Don’t be afraid to reach out through social media, email, and beyond in order to get in touch or initiate the conversation.
Studies have shown that consumers are more likely to engage with a product or brand through someone they trust, not based solely on their follower count, so no sweat if your social media up to this point has been used primarily for family vacay and #winning court posts. The best thing you can do for yourself is to be authentic, to both your future sponsorships and your followers.
What kind of businesses should college athletes reach out to for NIL partnerships?
Local restaurants, small businesses and brands, barbers, mattress firms, clothing shops and local gyms are great places to start your outreach for endorsements and sponsorships. Although their budgets may be small, local shops in college towns love supporting student athletes and often rely on enthusiasm for college sports to thrive. Bigger brands to watch out for are Degree and Gopuff (both working to connect through Opendorse), Chipotle, Barstool Sports, cosmetic companies and more. Other potential fast-growing areas include protein powders (like Six Star) and nutrition brands, fast food, clothes, shoes and even video game and game licensing (like Twitch). Of course, these are just a few ideas, but the sky’s the limit!
Emergency Press Conference – I just started a NCAA marketing firm and landed our first athlete. Introducing Adelaide Halverson. Welcome to the fam!— Dave Portnoy (@stoolpresidente) July 1, 2021
Throw Adelaide a follow…https://t.co/OL0gvSgmwG pic.twitter.com/qx26dA0dwM
Events are also set to grow, monetized by sponsorships or endorsements for appearances. Dreamfield is a website co-founded by quarterbacks D’Eriq King from Miami and McKenzie Milton from Florida state that created a marketplace to book college athletes for speaking engagements, motivational sessions, and more in-person appearances, but this is something you can manage on your own for smaller local events, as well.
How to pitch to brands as a student athlete
You’ve spent years prior to your collegiate athletic career just making it to college through grades, recruiting, visits and endless club and high school events and games. Now, it doesn’t stop there. How can you pitch yourself to a brand or company that you’d like to work with when they don’t approach you first, beyond building profiles with previously mentioned “matching” sites? Keep it simple, if you can;
- Introduce yourself, sport & school
- Be specific in asking for what you want
- Explain why working together makes sense (research their brand buzz words, company values, and how you could mutually benefit each other)
- Directly link any social or online profiles that they can research you with
- Keep your final proposal as a yes/no question
Remember: You don’t have to be a D1 star to profit from your NIL
Before you discount your status as a student athlete to a “bigger name” athlete, celeb or influencer, think about the audiences brands want to target and how you might be able to help reach them. Jarrod Jordan, Iovate Health’s CMO, recently stated “Somebody who is a leader at a particular university is going to be way more influential than a professional athlete for our targeted population”. Even among campaigns that don’t feature student athletes, brands recognize that micro-influencers often drive higher ROI than big stars, so pitch brands with confidence, knowing even a small following can still be immensely valuable.
3. What kind of NIL content should college athletes create to attract brand partnerships?
Being a “creator” can imply many different things in today’s world – from physical merchandise to digital content. College athletes have long been social media influencers, and now they can get paid like them, too. We can expect some to make more than the pros, based on their influence over other college kids, one of the most coveted demographics for many brands.
Physical content can include apparel and clothing, seen in Georgia running back Kendall Milton and University of Iowa Basketball’s Jordan Bohannons launch of personal clothing line brands. Graham Mertz, University of Ohio’s quarterback and Spencer Rattler, University of Oklahoma’s quarterback both went to the lengths of creating their own personal logos. Fanatics Inc., a sports-licensing giant with partnerships across the college landscape, expects to connect with student-athletes to make merchandise and collectibles.
TikTok and Instagram profiles are great places to start a digital creation process that could attract brands for ads or sponsorships. The possibilities are pretty endless, so again, go back to your personal brand and find the story or passion that you relate to the most that could resonate with your followers. Podcasts are another great way to get in touch with a large audience with endless topic opportunities and can be sponsored by companies or brands. All of these options are lucrative because you could partner with other athletes to increase awareness & noteriaratie.
We’ve also seen some athletes even monetize their hobbies and talents off the field. Will Ulmer, a Marshall football player, is taking his singing talent to make money in live shows. This creates potential opportunity for anyone with goals or visions that go beyond sports that want to capitalize on them early, in order to set a cadence before post-college years.
4. More ways student athletes can profit
The possibilities are quite endless and will be growing as the industry, sponsorships and rules do. Some other (random) ways we’ve seen student athletes make money are:
- Autograph signings: being paid to show up for in-person autographs or receiving payments for autographs through online companies like Fangage or Dreamfield
- Personalized shout outs: Cameo and Jenloop.com are another way to connect to fans, where athletes can sell personalized shout-out videos at a price.
How much money do student athletes generate?
How much money you can make has many different catalysts. While, yes, one of those is popularity based on play time and fan status, you can increase your income in other ways, as well. Through social media activity endorsements, there is potential to earn major bucks by working with companies like Opendorse. A sample breakdown of how much athletes could potentially earn, according to Blake Lawrence, CEO of Opendorse:
- Instagram—up to $20 per follower
- TikTok—$3-4 per follower
- Twitter—$10 per every 1,000 followers
- YouTube—$4-7 per follower
The annual NIL value per student athlete could range from $1k-$10k. Here are some examples of the range we’ve seen in the industry thus far:
Hanna and Haley Cavinder
TikTok endorsements, brand partnerships (through Icon Source)
Brand endorsement with tech company (WebApps America)
Instagram and TikTok endorsements, talent management
Social media endorsement
Brand endorsements (Milo’s sweet tea) (through Icon Source)
Social media endorsement
Custom merchandise (The Players Trunk)
Brand partnership (3 Kings Grooming) (through Icon Source)
Social media endorsement
Shaun Shivers (+ 12 other teammates)
Video game partnership (Yoke)
Custom clothing (with REN Athletics)
Partnership with PetSmart (through Playfly Sports and NOCAP Sports)
Partnership with local business (Flix CV)
What college athletes should consider before capitalizing on their NIL
Some final things to keep in mind: student-athletes have to self-report their transactions. Be aware of the “gray areas” to avoid being taken advantage of in bad endorsement deals that don’t meet NIL guidelines. The onus is ultimately on you, the athlete. Always research the brand and your school’s rules. For the umpteenth time, these rules and guidelines are going to be evolving gradually over the next few years, so double check what you’re allowed to do before signing any deals. What could be kosher now may be taboo in the next few months, depending on how the playing field evens out.
Ultimately we agree with Kenon Brown, an associate professor at the University of Alabama: “Student-athletes understand these platforms much better than a lot of the professionals now getting paid to manage them, “and I think it’s coming into the spotlight with these endorsements that you’re seeing.”
Have you personally made money or seen college athletes make money in a creative way? Drop us a line to let us know and we’ll update this article accordingly.