How to get an NIL deal, explained:
Good morning, and thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.
Quick announcement before the story today. I am flying out to New Orleans Thursday morning for the Final Four and should be in town until Tuesday AM. If you're in town and want to say hello, drop me a line at [email protected] or shoot me a Twitter DM. I don't think I'll be quite as busy shooting video as I was during the NCAA Convention, and I'd love to chat for a bit.
On that note, because I'm going to be on the road for a few days, I'm going to try and pre-write a story or two. I'm looking to do a mailbag in the next few days, so if you have Extra Points-like questions, send them my way via Twitter, Discord, or [email protected].
I write a lot about NIL on Extra Points. I talk to the folks who run athletic departments, NIL collectives, major NIL-focused companies, athletes, and all sorts of other people who live in this ecosystem on a regular basis. I've even done a few NIL deals myself.
But I'm not sure I've done a newsletter explaining, exactly, how athletes get NIL deals. Judging by the number of times people have found Extra Points by googling "how do I get an NIL deal", there seems to be a real demand for this content! So let me try to help, by sharing what I know about how college athletes, from Ohio State to Ohio Dominican, get NIL deals.
What kinds of NIL deals are out there?
Very broadly, most NIL fall into three types of buckets.
First, there are NIL deals that don't really have to do with athletics.
Sometimes reporters and fans forget this, but prior to last summer, most athletes couldn't earn money from say, performing music, selling crafts, or any of the various odd-jobs regular college students do all the time. Post-NIL-market liberalization, those opportunities are now open again.
That means if a D-III college athlete happens to be great on Twitch, if a D-II softball player wants to sell handmade jewelry on Etsy, or if a D-I swimmer wants to start a newsletter, they can all participate in those activities and make money.
I can't really offer useful advice on how to crack these markets outside of newsletters (and if you ARE interested in newsletters, drop me a line and I'll help you for free). But I can say that schools and coaches should encourage their athletes to develop holistically, and cultivate hobbies and interests that have nothing to do with their identity as athletes. Not only is that good for NIL, but it's also good for their development as humans.
Second, there are coaching and skill-based NIL deals
If you're a college athlete, even if you're not a P5 program or even a D-I program, you can safely be considered an expert in your sport, at least compared to the country at large. A soccer player at an OVC school was almost certainly one of the best soccer players from their country or city, after all, if not the entire state, after all.
If you have the expertise, you can sell it. An athlete doesn't need a huge social media following to potentially offer that expertise as a clinician for private lessons, to assist high schools, AAU or club programs, or others.
There are some technical platforms out there trying to make it easier for athletes to sell their sport-specific knowledge. There's CoachUp, Obsesh, and CoachTube, for starters, all of which should be open to college athletes.
But not every sport translates well to online coaching, and teaching online is a different skillset than coaching, generally. My best advice for an athlete looking to get into the summer camp-type circuit, honestly, would be to call high school coaches and athletic directors directly and pitch your services. At non-P5 levels, I've been told you can make a more compelling pitch if athletes combine forces with other athletes. For example, getting all of the running backs at Bowling Green to step into a high school camp may be more attractive for a school district than just having one.
Finally, there are social media and sponsorship-related NIL deals
This category includes endorsing products on social media, signing autographs, doing in-person events, providing content for media outlets or third-party companies, cameos, and related deals. It doesn't include every other NIL deal out there, but right now, this is the largest deal group out there, and the easiest one for any college athlete to enter.
The easiest way to get started in this space is to sign up with some marketplaces
There are a lot of websites that try to match athletes with brands looking for sponsors, otherwise known as NIL marketplaces. There's a semi-exhaustive list here, but I've used MarketPryce, OpenSponsorship, OpenDorse, MOGL and NOCAP, personally.
These marketplaces may have greater market penetration in certain geographic areas and in certain industries, so I'd recommend signing up for more than one network if you have the time. Each marketplace is a little different, but broadly, they ask athletes to provide their social media accounts, specific what sorts of deals/industries they'd like to work with, give biographical info, and specify the minimum amount of money they'd need to be interested. Then, brands can reach out the athlete directly, or an athlete can browse a database of deals and pitch a brand. The more information you provide, the easier it will be for the right brands to find you.
There may be exceptions here, but my broad advice to athletes would be to 1) not pay to sign up for an NIL marketplace (most of these should be free for athletes), 2) not sign anything that requires exclusivity to use an NIL marketplace and 3) not sign anything with anybody without talking it over with somebody you trust, like a parent, coach, compliance officer, family friend, etc.
How does pricing work / how can I increase my chances of getting deals?
On one level, many social media NIL deals are really a numbers game, with the most important metric being your total number of followers. Influencer marketing has already existed outside of NIL for a while, and there's already been a market established for influencers in say, fashion, DIY, lifestyle, etc. Generally speaking, the rates aren't very high for accounts that have under 10K followers...under $100 bucks for a post, if that.
But there are exceptions. Micro-influencer campaigns can be highly successful, and lucrative, if there's a great match between brand and athlete, and if the athlete can command a particularly loyal and engaged audience.
I think I've used this example before, but it's an effective one. Let's say you're a softball player at BYU, with oh, 6,000 Instagram followers. You're from Utah, most of your friends and followers are from Utah, and they're highly invested in your success, and your content.
That 6,000 person audience of mostly Utah-residents would probably not be very appealing to say, a hangover cure brand, because most folks who are highly invested in a BYU softball player's account are probably LDS, and LDS folks don't drink. But they might be very appealing to a wedding planning service, a more conservative women's fashion company, a softball-specific product, etc.
So as an athlete, I'd be asking myself...who are my followers? Who is my community? What are they interested in? I'd arm myself with the best data I could get about my social network, and then proactively look for brands that fit that audience. This will help you not only find more interested brands but also command better pricing.
Here are three other bits of advice to help athletes get the most out of NIL
1) Take advantage of every resource you have on campus
Your athletic department probably can't specifically arrange NIL deals for you. If you're not at a huge school, your athletic department is probably short on compliance and sports information staff, and there may not be as much actionable advice as you'd like in the room. Education modules only go so far, right?
So ask outside of the athletic department. Do you know who probably knows a lot about influencer marketing and social media? Your business school. Do you know who knows about entrepreneurship, about networking, about growing an audience? Professors and campus clubs. Don't be afraid to cold email professors, club presidents, research librarians or other organizations to ask for NIL or business advice. These entities exist to help students!
Speaking of cold calling,
2) Don't be afraid to pitch brands directly
In my experience, there are some industries (NFTs, fashion, supplements, gaming) that tend to be overrepresented on NIL marketplaces. You don't typically find a lot of local businesses on these things, or businesses that don't do a lot of online marketing, generally.
The best campaigns are always about fit. If there's a dive bar, a greasy spoon, a campus service that you actually love, call them up and pitch an endorsement deal! Ask to talk to the owner, manager, or anybody in marketing, explain who you are, why you love the place, and why you're a great fit to help promote the brand. What's the worst they're gonna do, say no? They'll probably be thrilled to talk to you, especially if you go in on a deal with a few of your teammates.
Marketplaces are great places to start, but don't be discouraged if you don't find a great fit right away. There are plenty of opportunities in your backyard, if you're not afraid to make a few phone calls.
3) Pay attention to not just what you post, but how you post
I was talking to Ishveen Jolly, the CEO at Open Sponsorship, last week (the whole interview will be up on Collegiate Sports Connect later this week), and she brought up a great point that I hadn't properly considered. Being excellent at college sports and being excellent at social media are two different things, and one could end up with a large social media following without automatically producing quality content on a regular basis. That could lead to unhappy or confused brands, who might be expecting a different level of professionalism or polish if they had experience working with professional influencers.
There are lots of ways to grow your social media following, but the best way, in my humble opinion, is to regularly share engaging, interesting and unique updates about stuff you're actually interested in. If your Twitter feed is just you RTing the official athletic department accounts or sharing highlights, well, that won't generate much engagement, will it? Same with Instagram, TikTok, etc.
It's better to have a smaller audience that is engaged, connected and responds to what you do, than it is to have a larger, but more superficial, audience.
Also, it just so happens that I am looking to do a few more NIL deals
I signed several athletes to one-off NIL deals last summer and fall, all micro-influencer types, and all to relatively small deals. I learned a lot about how NIL worked, got to talk to some very impressive athletes, and I'm super glad I did it...but I think I'd do it differently now.
I'd like to sign deals with a few more athletes this Spring/Summer to help promote Extra Points, but now, I think I'd rather work with a smaller number of athletes, but give them more money / build deeper content relationships.
I'm looking for athletes to help promote Extra Points, drive subscriptions, and drive podcast downloads. that might come from social media posts, from freelance newsletters, podcast interviews, or something else entirely! My perfect candidate is somebody studying sports management or sports journalism, and somebody who is actually interested in the content we produce. I'm open to athletes of all sports, all classifications, men or women, starter or bench. FIT is the most important factor.
If that's you, shoot me an email or DM, telling me why you want to work with Extra Points, and let's talk over the next week or so.
Either way, I hope this information is helpful! Good luck, and go secure the bag!
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