NCAA Rule Change and the New Marketing Frontier
Here's something you probably didn’t know, Kynship has more than it’s fair share of college athletes at the helm. I played D1 football at UCLA, Michelle was a lights out volleyball player at Nebraska, and Cody was a basketball stud at Biola.
During our playing careers the combined profit off of our athletic endeavors is in the millions. Our names were used for profit. Our likeness was used for profit. Our blood, sweat, and tears were used for profit. Us? We were hitting up a coinstar machine hoping to scratch together enough change to order a pizza. While I could talk all day about my college experience, this is about the folks playing right now and what this rule change means to them. As marketers we are uniquely positioned to embrace this new epoch with plenty of first hand experience. The question that remains is how will athletes and brands navigate this new and uncharted territory?
The time has finally come. College athletes now own the rights to their own personas and have the green light to pursue business ventures without losing their eligibility. For years athletes across the country have been siloed by the outdated rules of the NCAA, which previously prevented players from partnering with brands, advertising through social media channels, starting youth sports camps, making paid public appearances and more. I could go on and on about the NCAA who filled their coffers via predatory tactics for over a century, but I digress.
As of July 1, 2021, that all changed.
Today collegiate athletes are already making deals with Boost Mobile, Petsmart and most notably, Barstool Sports, who signed 50+ athletes within 24 hours of the NCAA announcement. And it won’t be long before Nike, Adidas, Under Armour and the rest of the heavy hitters within the sports world begin releasing their athlete lineups.
But what do you do if you aren’t Nike or LSU phenom gymnast Olivia Dunne? What do the mid-tier players from the northeast have to do to get signed? How do the local brands attract athletes to represent and promote their mission? I’ve broken down the two-headed beast that this transition has created and how to make it work to your advantage.
Athletes: Make Yourself Marketable
If you want a real chance at partnering with a brand, big or small, there’s a few physical and mental steps to be taken. Consider the below as a starter’s guide to making yourself marketable.
Here’s the thing, you aren’t going to get a deal by owning an Instagram that has 14 posts and less than 400 followers, especially if those posts have nothing to do with your collegiate career.
If you’re serious about even landing on a brand’s radar, you have to get serious about your online presence. This doesn’t mean your Instagram, Twitter, Tiktok and every other platform has to be humming with daily posts and updates. It does mean that you should have a somewhat sizable audience and engaged audience on at least one of them. Pick your platform, and get to work. Make content. Showcase your creativity, ideas, personality, and LIFE. Show us the behind the scenes of what it’s like to be a player at your school, at your level and in your sport. People will find it fascinating, seriously. A brand wants to see value in potentially exchanging goods or funds for posts on your channels. Show them why you’re deserving of it all.
If that all sounds a bit overwhelming, start gradual and build your way up. Start by posting once a week, then three times a week, then five, and eventually you’ll reach a consistent posting cadence with a higher average reach per post. My last piece of advice? Make it a point to have high quality photo and video content on your feeds. It will immediately increase your potential value at a glance.
Think of this opportunity as a fast track to your first job, because it is. Whether you’re in the middle of being seeded by brands or you’ve just signed your first deal, you have more eyeballs on you than ever. The social etiquette expectations may be entirely different when comparing brands. You’re going to attract companies that match the vibe you’re putting into the universe i.e. social media, public events and outings, and day-to-day life.
This opportunity also opens the doors to learning proper communication habits, writing formal emails, and knowing your basic finance and marketing terminologies. You may have the luxury of an agency or representative handling the direct communication with the brand, but educating yourself on business 101 is going to add additional respect to your name while participating in group conversations. Don’t be the only one in the room who doesn’t know what’s going on.
If you want a seat at the table with top brands, be a professional before you pull up a chair.
In other words, don’t be a sellout. It’s easy to get caught up in sacrificing your personal values to make a quick buck, especially with something as new and exciting as this, but think about how long that instant gratification will last when the money’s spent and you’re still representing a brand that doesn’t speak the same social language as you. Start by making a wish list of brands you’d want to work with, then do your homework. Research their mission statements, their policies, how and where their product is made. Think about what social standards matter to you and ask the brand directly how they go about them. You are the asset and you hold the power. Use it responsibly and ethically.
At the end of the day your image is ultimately going to fall on you, not the brand or agency that signs or represents you. Stay true to your values and find a brand that does the same.
Brands: Put on Your Influencer Marketing Cap
If you’ve already implemented influencer marketing within your branded strategy, take a sigh of relief, because this doesn’t require an entirely new plan.
If you haven’t jumped into the world of influencer marketing just yet, you’re going to have to do a bit of education on the proper protocol for how relationship and nurturing works when partnering with individuals and exchanging goods and services.
Sign Athletes that Represent Your Brand and Create Inclusivity
There’s a reason this is number one. The last thing you want to do is sign athletes that don’t accurately represent the mission you’re on as a brand. Aside from tarnishing your reputation, think about your audience. If your product is suddenly landing on the pages of individuals who live a lifestyle the opposite of what you promote, people aren’t just going to be confused, they’re going to be turned off.
Ensure that the athletes you’re recruiting not only represent your brand, but represent a diverse mix of race, sex and gender. After a year of progressive and powerful change within the U.S., audiences are much less tolerant of heavily favored rosters. That aside, brands with a global voice should accurately represent all walks of life because frankly it’s time to kick the “old boys club” to the curb.
Create an Internal Athlete Network
Think of this as your mass database of all potential signees. While these lists will likely be circulating throughout the industry within the next few months, you’ll want to stick to the point above and really narrow down who would be the best fit for you.
Use available social tools to your advantage throughout your search, such as SocialRank, Mighty Scout, or Sprout Social to seed potential recruits.
Once you have your wishlist, divide them into a tiered structure, similar to most influencer structuring. Example below, (has been modified to realistically represent the social presence of college athletes as opposed to professional influencers):
- Tier 1: 15k+ followers
- Tier 2: 5–15k followers
- Tier 3: <5k followers
From there, begin reaching out to athletes. Remember, the audience you’re dealing with differs from typical influencers. Be forward with why you’re reaching out and provide them with next steps and proper contact info. Once you begin to gain momentum and athletes show interest, the real work begins.
Establish Athlete Packages
Before you sign your first athlete, ask yourself a few crucial questions.What am I able to offer athletes at this time? Can I afford an allocated spend that divides them into Tier 1, 2 or 3 groupings? What will the budget scaling be between tiers? Can we provide sizable, high quality merchandise kits in exchange for posts? Some athletes may want to work with your brand so badly that they’d gladly accept free monthly products for a few feed posts. Others, not so much. Pick your battles and accept how much you’re able to compete in this market right now. Regardless of what’s feasible at the moment, have it figured out before you make commitments. While this is a new process for everyone and we’re all trying to figure it out as we go, no talent, especially full time athletes in college, have the patience for sloppy processes.
Just Call Us
If navigating all of this sounds like a lot (it is), just get in touch with us at Kynship.co. We have existed on both sides of this spectrum. It’s almost like this niche was built around us. The decision to allow college athletes to profit off their likeness wasn’t necessarily something everyone saw coming. This was a supreme court decision. Sure, it’s something that's been floating around for a long time, but many didn’t anticipate this ruling.
So what does this all mean? For starters we aren't scrambling around trying to make sense of the situation. As marketers and as former athletes ourselves we have been pushing and advocating for this. This was personal. We want to help connect brands to student athletes, and student athletes to brands. Nobody in the influencer marketing world is better positioned than us. Whether you fall on the athlete or brand end of the spectrum, it comes down to finding the right partner for you. This change is already bringing exponential opportunity for both parties involved and if executed with a wholesome outlook, has the potential to forever change the world of college athletics.
Be genuine. Make connections. Build relationships. And athletes... go get that money.