Flood of College Athletes Become Influencers After NCAA Ruling

Kelsey Formost

12 Jul 2021 · 2 min read

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“First my twin, then my teammate, now my business partner”. That was the Instagram caption written by student athlete Hayley Cavinder as she posed in Times Square, holding hands with her twin sister Hanna. They gazed up at a billboard that announced they are the first student athletes to sign the first deal in collegiate NIL history.

NIL stands for Name, Image, Likeness...

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has just ruled that student athletes can now accept partnerships and make money off their name, image and likeness - something that’s been prohibited for years.

The Cavinder twins both play basketball for Fresno state and have just formed a lucrative brand partnership with Boost Mobile. While seeing sports stars landing major brand partnerships might not feel significant to the general public, it marks a momentous moment for NCAA athletes in their quest to be compensated for their performance on the field and as representatives of their respective collegiate institutions.

College sports are big business. But until this week, college athletes weren’t legally allowed to share in the profits.

The line between college and professional sports has become increasingly blurry, especially in recent years. College games are regularly shown on television along with mainstream sports programming, and top student athletes are treated like celebrities. Schools have been using their students’ likenesses to promote merchandise, increase ticket prices, and sell out some of the biggest arenas in the country. But until just a few days ago, student athletes were not legally allowed to share in those profits, even though schools were reaping financial benefits from their performances and their likenesses.

The official ruling from the NCAA states that it will temporarily allow student athletes to accept brand partnerships and sponsorship deals so that students can be compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness. This has resulted in an immediate boom of highly successful young sports influencers who are primed and ready to create their own brand with highly engaged audiences.

Brands would do well to place their bets on this new breed of influencer. These athletes are likely to have an immediate reach and influence among young consumers as well as targeted local markets and alumni populations.

While some might expect Colleges to balk at this new ruling, remember...

Colleges are brands, too.

Those institutions will want to leverage this new rule by partnering with athletes in recruitment campaigns, using those athletes’ likenesses to encourage other young people to apply and enroll in their programs.

Case in point, almost immediately after the ruling was announced, college athletics programs began voicing their plans to support athletes who wanted to cash in. University of Texas women’s soccer head coach Angela Kelly tweeted, “There is no better place to build your personal brand than the city of Austin and the University of Texas”. Dan Hartleb, head coach of the University of Illinois baseball team, tweeted, “The future of college athletes earning potential starts today!”. And Duke basketball team’s creative director David Bradley stated, “The athletes we’re working with today recognize more than ever that their brand and subsequently a presence on social media are their storefront window now.”

The fact is, student athletes were already influencers. They just couldn’t get paid for it.

Now, young athletes who might not have an opportunity to play professional sports after graduation can take advantage of the spotlight afforded them by college sports, giving them a chance to build a brand and platform that outlasts their four years in school.

This presents an incredible opportunity for students who choose to treat their personal brand as a business from the start. If they maintain a brand-safe platform and commit to growing an engaged audience, they stand to earn a substantial amount during their collegiate tenure. Regardless, their experience in digital media and content marketing will serve them well after they leave university.

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