Recently, I did an audit of all the schools in my Institutions & NIL database to update everything that was missed over the past nine months. After spending way too many hours of my Saturday browsing the websites of close to 400 NCAA schools, my takeaway was that we, collectively, have a ton of work to do to support our athletes.
With Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) still being in its first year, it’s easy for many institutions to take the “wait and see” approach before allocating a budget to help their athletes. In the meantime, however, there are FREE ways that departments can implement to assist and empower their athletes in navigating NIL.
While website updates are admittedly a daunting and time-consuming task, having a hub of NIL content specific to your institution is imperative to your athletes finding success with their new opportunities. Without guidance on your institution’s website, fans and brands may be deterred from working with your athletes or worse yet, they may create impermissible opportunities that could cost your athletes their eligibility.
Have a Dropdown for NIL Resources
While many universities have some sort of NIL resources – whether a 3rd party partnership, a policy, or even an FAQ – most are incredibly difficult to locate. On most websites, I had to use the search box to find their NIL resources. Adding NIL to your website menu, or at least as a dropdown tab, will allow stakeholders to easily find the information they’re looking for. This is crucial to fans, alumni, and local businesses understanding the landscape and how to create compliant NIL opportunities for your athletes.
Furthermore, if your institution has a named NIL Program, make sure the dropdown still has the words “Name, Image, and Likeness” or “NIL” in it. Some institutions have great resources but if you don’t know the name of the program at that particular school, you’d never know they were there.
Publish Your Institutional Policy, State Law, and/or NCAA Interim Policy
While businesses don’t understand the compliance nuances of NIL, most understand that there are rules. They want to comply: the worst case scenario for any brand in this new era is unknowingly costing an athlete their eligibility.
Help keep your athletes safe, eligible, and compliant by posting your institutional policy, state NIL law (if applicable), and the NCAA interim policy on your website for anyone interested. Make it easy to find (see assignment 1).
Develop FAQs and/or Guidelines for all Stakeholders
Creating a basic “FAQ” with simple queries such as “What is NIL?”, “What activities are permissible?” and “Can the school connect me to athletes?” can immensely help local businesses, alumni, and donors understand the landscape of NIL. Additionally, high-level guidance should be provided for your athletes about concepts that affect them: Topics to cover include, but are not limited to, NIL effect on need-based aid, international student athletes NIL limitations, and tax implications.
Including some insights that are specific to your state law and institutional policy are helpful.
Add an NIL Directory
Many schools were quick to notice that it was difficult for local businesses and fans to connect with their athletes. Before the rise of the “collectives” and university specific platforms, a simple way universities addressed this issue was to create an “NIL Directory” that lives on their website. Creating this is straightforward – send a form to your athletes that asks if they’d like to “opt in” to the NIL Directory and if so, to list their preferred method of outreach (Instagram, twitter, marketplace link, etc).
I would recommend including links to a few of the directories so your athletes understand what you’re asking of them, and also explicitly state that “opting in” doesn’t require them to engage in anything – it solely says that they are open to being contacted about opportunities.
For entities that want to engage with your athletes, they now can see who is interested in NIL and how to get in touch with them.
A few institutions have decided to list the email addresses of their athletes who opt in. I wouldn’t particularly recommend this approach as I’ve heard stories of companies scraping these directories and inundating athletes with mass emails that don’t offer an unsubscribe option. Social media direct messages don’t offer a “bulk” option but make sure to remind your athletes to check their “request” folder!
Creating & Organizing Opportunities
While most institutions are prohibited from being directly involved in facilitating deals for their athletes, there are other ways to support them and put them in a great position to get the most out of their NIL.
Share Content on Social, Tag Your Athletes, Repost Their Content
The concept of utilizing your athletic program and team social media accounts with the primary objective to help your athletes in growing their personal brands is relatively new but becoming more popular. In fact, dozens of schools around the country are doing this well already.
However in the NIL era, this is now even more important for your athletes. In the first nine months, almost 70% of NIL activities are posting content. Endorsing products through social media is an easy way for your time-strapped athletes to make a bit of extra money and the bigger their following, the more they may get paid.
Tagging your athletes, reposting their content, and collaborating on posts are simple steps to support your athletes in getting more opportunities and more money.
Choose 1-2 Platforms to Point All Parties Towards
NIL opportunities for the majority of collegiate athletes will happen at the local level with small businesses and fans of your program. Without a designated platform, the connection between these local businesses and your athletes is nearly impossible.
Currently, there are around 33 digital marketplaces that are connecting athletes and brands and 25 that connect athletes to fans. It is unrealistic to expect that your busy student-athletes are going to create profiles on 50+ platforms and regularly be checking them for new opportunities. On the other side, businesses that want to partner with athletes from a particular institution have no idea which of these national platforms would be most advantageous to create their NIL campaign on. While an NIL Directory will certainly help, directing your athletes and local businesses to the same platform will simplify the connection process.
If your institution isn’t yet ready to take this step to get a customized platform (or are prohibited by state NIL law and/or your institutional policy), there is a work-around that will suffice: Decide on 1-2 of the national marketplaces to point your athletes and community towards.
I recommend asking your athletes what marketplaces they’re already using and which ones they’ve had success with. Also, research if any of the marketplaces have connections to your university or community (based out of your city, founders are alumni, etc).
After you’ve decided, let your athletes know that all businesses, alumni, or fans interested in partnering will be guided towards this platform and that you recommend that if they want to engage in local NIL activities, they create an account on that platform. It’s important to note that this doesn’t prohibit your athletes from utilizing whatever platform or marketplace they like best, but it’s likely that they will have success connecting with local opportunities on the one or two that were selected.
Ready to take the leap and find a company that will create a platform specifically for your athletes? Check out eleven of the businesses doing this here.
Provide Educational Resources
While a lot of things are unclear in the “wild west” NIL space, one thing is obvious: Athletes need education. They need to understand the before (building a brand, identifying their opportunities), during (knowing their value, negotiating terms of a contract), and the after (financial literacy, tax implications). Without this knowledge, athletes aren’t confident enough to engage in NIL. Because they aren’t engaging, many administrators have told me that their athletes “just aren’t interested” and that until they are, they won’t be providing educational resources.
I’m confident that NIL activity will stay low at institutions that take this approach. And maybe that’s their goal. However, if withholding educational resources is merely a budgetary issue, there are a few free options to put in place.
Aggregate Courses Related to NIL
If your university isn’t in a position to offer NIL education at this time, one solution is to look over your school’s course catalog and aggregate courses that may help your athletes monetize their NIL. This could be anything from social media marketing, to entrepreneurship, to financial literacy courses.
Guide Them to Unbiased Resources
As you research and learn more about NIL, create a list of books, podcasts, accounts to follow, websites, etc. Anything that you’ve found valuable will likely also be helpful for your motivated athletes who are navigating name, image, and likeness opportunities autonomously.
Shameless Plug: I’ve been aggregating helpful content on NIL Network since November of 2020. I utilize my own website every single day when I’m working on San Diego State projects. It has become an invaluable resource for myself and the SDSU athletes that are taking advantage of their NIL.