Barstool's big NIL platform may end being about much more than NIL
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Last summer, nobody was more aggressive in reaching out to college athletes for NIL deals than Barstool Sports. Much to the chagrin of overworked compliance officers, Barstool sought to sign up as many college athletes as possible, assembling a massive roster of athletes across all levels of college sports to serve as brand ambassadors.
On Thursday, the organization announced their next big NIL effort. They're launching a new NIL marketplace, called TwoYay, which will seek to match athletes with potential brand opportunities.
There are already a ton of existing marketplaces trying to do exactly that. But unlike competitors like Op endorse, NOCAP, MarketPryce, etc., Barstool isn't charging any commission fees for brands or athletes...at least not at launch.
Also unlike the competition...Barstool is reporting access to a lot of athletes. Per Emily Caron of Sportico, Barstool's College Athletes network contains over 150,000 college athletes...or roughly the reported number of college athletes under the Opendorse and INFLCR umbrellas...combined.
For what it's worth, there aren't anywhere close to that many athletes in the database at launch. I went ahead and signed up for a TwoYay account myself, and as of 8:30 PM CT on Thursday night, a search for college athletes across divisions only returns 258 athletes. Undoubtedly, that number will substantially increase as more Barstool athletes become aware of the service.
Whether that number is 150,000 or 100,000 or 80,000 or something else, it's clear that Barstool resonates with the college audience in a way that other NIL firms don't. But not all numbers are created equal.
The dirty little secret about the NIL marketplace exchange business at this point is that basically everybody is struggling with athlete engagement and retention. It's one thing to have an athlete (or their reps) create an account...it's another to actually check it often enough to respond to brand deals. College athletes are very, very busy, after all.
The other dirty secret is that not all athletes are equally valuable as social media brand marketers. If an athlete only has about a thousand Instagram followers, and is only creating content infrequently, their account is generally not worth much of anything. That athlete might have NIL value on the camp circuit, or for live events, or something else, but it will be an uphill battle to sell anything on Instagram or Twitter beyond affiliate links with minimal engagement.
So in my view, having the largest athlete pool isn't automatically a massive asset. It depends on which athletes are using the service, and also which brands Barstool is able to recruit to the platform. Just about everybody, even if they can't admit it in public, isn't seeing the kind of deal flow that they'd like, which is why so many NIL marketplaces are pivoting (at least in part) to other revenue streams, from Collectives to professional athletes to consulting to SaaS technology to merch sales and beyond.
So maybe Barstool is large enough to create a network effect that other companies can't match. Maybe it runs into some of the same challenges more established players face in brand recruitment and athlete engagement. But it also might not matter
Because I don't think Barstool is looking at this as just an NIL play
I wouldn't describe Barstool as an NIL brand. It's...a lifestyle brand. If it turns out that Barstool can't effectively build a better NIL marketplace exchange than the other dozen out there, that doesn't mean this project is a failure. If building out TwoYay grows audience loyalty among a core college athlete constituency, one that helps spread the Barstool brand to other college students, then all of this could be a worthwhile marketing experiment, something Barstool has never been shy with experimenting with before.
Or, shoot, maybe it becomes a way to potentially recruit new editorial voices across their various platforms! That could prove very valuable, even if they can't figure out a way to get deals going.
But if this marketplace DOES work? Or if it even kind of works? I come back to this line from Caron's story:
The long-term plan is for TwoYay to also serve as a marketplace for other influencers—a platform that can be utilized by “any creator, anyone who has a social following,” Nardini said. “We’re starting with athletes, but over time this could apply to anyone.”
There are plenty of influencer exchanges that work with college and professional athletes...but not as many who are working with influencers and creators across various types. If Barstool is able to extract value from low-major basketball players and D-III athletes in a way that the rest of the industry hasn't figured out...I bet they'd be able to scale that to Youtubers and TikTok stars in a way that the competition probably can't.
Barstool isn't for everybody, and I'm sure some brands will decide that TwoYay isn't brand safe enough. That's fine, there's plenty of competition out there.
Here's what else we got into this week
Earlier this week on Going For Two, Bryan and I tried to take a step back and examine what the Sun Belt's historic weekend will mean for the league later this season, and beyond:
We also talked about where we see the Nebraska football job in 2022, what mid-major conferences we see being in the best position in 2025 and beyond, how you can save 15% off your first order at Homefield Apparel by using promocode EXTRAPOINTS, and more.
Today, we also quickly talked about my trip to D.C. for LEAD1, and what sorts of industry gossip and insights I wasn't able to squeeze into Wednesday's newsletter
You can watch all of our Going For Two episodes here on YouTube, or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
We also wrote a bunch of newsletters!
- On Thursday ($), I shared what I learned from the LEAD1 meetings in D.C. including about whether FBS football is likely to leave the friendly confines of the NCAA in the near future, and why.
- I shared a newsletter written by Karina Dyner, an athlete at my alma mater (THE Ohio State University) about what sort of mental health challenges are common for college athletes to face.
- I also shared a business school study that suggested sports teams could risk a decrease in fan engagement by promoting sports betting. Turns out, fans often feel less engaged when they lose a bet! Interesting!
I'm working on a few newsletters right now that touch topics like Christianity and athletic departments...the development of EA Sports College Football...mid-major NIL developments, and more. You can support our journalism and make sure you get every single Extra Points newsletter by upgrading to a paid subscription today.
Failing that, you can always click and support our wonderful sponsors. Thanks for reading, everybody. I'll see y'all next week.
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