Brands Take the Field with Student Athletes

The landscape of college sports and the sports industry at large changed forever this year. For the first time in history, student athletes across all major divisions can now monetize their Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) following the elimination of decades-long rules that prevented them from doing so.

With this landmark change, brands can now partner with student athletes to achieve an array of marketing objectives. While the NIL space is still in its infancy, there have already been a plethora of national, blue-chip brands as well as regional firms leading the charge. Not surprisingly, social media has been a huge driver of NIL deals as brands seek to leverage the influence and reach of student athletes on social platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok.

There are several ways NIL deals can help brands achieve their objectives.

• Many of these athletes are beloved public figures in their communities. By featuring them in brand promotions, local companies have a great opportunity to drive traffic to their stores.

• NIL also presents the opportunity for brands to engage in credible, authentic storytelling with young men and women who align with their core platforms and values. The NIL partnerships that have driven the most press thus far tend to be more purpose-driven, where brands either provide material help to the student athletes or collaborate with them to give back to society and inspire others.

• Brands can now capitalize on cultural moments with more-relevant content. Previously, during tentpole events for college sports such as March Madness, brands could only feature pro athletes in their advertising. Now they can feature student athletes who compete in these tournaments, which makes their messaging much more relevant.

• Given how diverse the student-athlete population is across gender and race, NIL presents a compelling way for brands to advance DE&I. It’s important that brands consider an equitable approach to these new partnerships and choose a diverse group that is representative of the overall student-athlete population.

There are several ways in which brands can pursue NIL deals with student athletes. The top athletes are represented by sports agents at the bigger talent agencies. In addition, platforms such as Opendorse and INFLCR have thousands of athletes on their platforms and can streamline the outreach process. These platforms make sense for brands looking to work with the longtail of student athletes who may not be represented by an agent. Lastly, brands can reach out directly via DMs on social; however, the majority of student athletes aren’t interacting directly with brands without a third party involved.

NIL provides an unprecedented opportunity for marketers to partner with immensely influential talent who have incredible stories to tell and finally have the right to be compensated.

Burns Entertainment is an entertainment marketing agency specializing in music and celebrity licensing deals. They are also an IHAF member company. Visit their website ( to learn more.

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