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September 2022

    By Michelle Meyer FOUNDER, NIL NETWORK As I’m coming up on a year of working in an NCAA NIL administrative role while also managing NIL Network for the past two years, I see a lot of different perspectives in this nascent industry. I’m constantly meeting with athletes across all sports, NCAA NIL admins around the country, local businesses, national brands, startups in every sub-industry of NIL, and all of the fans and parents you could imagine. What frustrates myself and other NCAA NIL admins is how different the reality is for most of our athletes compared to the national headlines and the selective data that is presented in the “industry reports”.Yes, I can see the inflated narrative being a reality for the small percentage of high-profile athletes that fill stadiums and appear on national television every Saturday.Yes, of course this data makes sense for the athletes that have created an incredible personal brand and were “insta famous” and/or “tiktok stars” before NIL went into effect. But no, not every athlete is averaging $1500 per NIL engagement. And no, athletes should not feel inept or “less than” if they aren’t getting opportunities of that size. And please, I’m begging small businesses to not take those numbers seriously and feel priced out of this market if they don’t have that kind of budget. Additionally, I would be very surprised if any university has anywhere close to 50% of their athletes engaging in NIL opportunities. And I would imagine that percentage drops significantly when you look at NIL deals that are actually meaningful brand partnerships as opposed to mass activations.And that’s ok. This industry is still many years from maturation.However, the misleading narrative is doing exactly the opposite of its intentions: While it may benefit the top tier, it is disenfranchising and alienating a huge percentage of college athletes. Additionally, it is causing misconceptions, frustrations, and an overall disconnect amongst athletes, coaches, administrators, NIL companies, and brands. If this doesn’t change (and let’s be real, I know I’m asking A LOT given the college sports industry, in general, has quite a bit of smoke and mirrors), it could not only hinder industry growth, but actually lower the overall market potential. As an example of how this is playing out, most college athletes exploring NIL quickly learn that it’s not as easy of money as the headlines make it seem. When they realize that the education provided by their school doesn’t provide a fast track to easy NIL monetization either, they become discouraged and eventually, indifferent.Meanwhile, administrators are seeing their underutilized investments and assuming their athletes “just aren’t that interested in NIL”. In turn, admins are wary of putting additional NIL resources in front of their athletes, limiting the exposure for new and innovative NIL businesses. NIL companies then resort to DM’ing individual athletes with their sales pitch, which is not only super inefficient, but is also not a great way to start a trusting business relationship. This leads to less athletes utilizing services, less opportunities, less money being …

As NIL grows rapidly and enters 2024 as a billion dollar industry, more brands are jumping in and reaping the benefits of college athletes promoting their products or services. Unfortunately, there is a misconception that only the biggest and most popular athletes can deliver campaign results. Here, College Athlete Influencers explores why that’s not the case and how brands can maximize their ROI through college athlete influencers.

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