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5 Ways to Support Student-Athletes Pursuing NIL Deals

When Name, Image, and Likeness first came to the forefront of college athletics, many worried that this would be nothing more than a cash grab for the football and men’s basketball players who already have a leg up over other student-athletes. Yet this couldn’t be further from the truth.

According to Meredith Cash at Insider, Connecticut women’s basketball player Paige Bueckers is arguably the most famous college athlete on the planet and is speculated to be the highest earner of NIL deals in college athletics. It’s not just Paige that’s reaping the reward of NIL, there are many female student-athletes who have found ways to capitalize on these deals based on their social media followings.

“I always thought on social media, women were going to have a big opportunity because there were a lot of female student-athletes who already had huge followings on Instagram and TikTok,” Kristi Dosh, Founder of Business of College Sports, said. “We haven’t seen interest slow down. We have continued to see women working with huge brands.”

Yet limited guidance and regulation creates massive confusion among student-athletes who want to seek out deals of their own, but are unaware of what they need to know or how to get started. Our Chief Revenue Officer, Mary Frances Coryell, sat down with Dosh and fellow NIL expert Michelle Meyer, in addition to Stanford basketball star Haley Jones to discuss how institutions can better support student-athletes within the new landscape.

Here are the top insights uncovered on helping student-athletes maximize their brand potential.

Encourage businesses to work with local athletes

The majority of student-athletes attending your institution won’t have a pro career. Yet thanks to NIL, they now have an opportunity to work with local businesses and start making connections for life after college. The problem is that many of these companies don’t know how to engage with student-athletes or don’t know how to stay compliant with your guidelines.

Instead of waiting for companies to reach out to you or putting the burden on your students to understand the nuances of working with a local business, be proactive and connect with businesses in your community. Reach out to companies with a strong footprint in your community and help them understand the types of engagements they may seek.

Although there are varying rules around helping student-athletes connect with businesses, there is no problem with providing information and acting as an advocate for your student-athletes. But don’t just focus on the star football players. Be sure to promote equitable opportunities so athletes from all walks of life can benefit from local NIL opportunities.

Not to mention, as student-athletes continue to develop their brands, they also develop a greater following for the sports they play. This represents a significant opportunity for institutions to leverage a sort of affiliate marketing program with local businesses that in turn benefit their student-athletes as well as their athletic programs.

Identify resources that can help students understand NIL

During our webinar, Haley mentioned that she is fortunate to have an abundance of resources at her disposal to help navigate everything including taxes, contracts and quality partners to work with. But not every athlete has a pool of resources.

“It comes back to education, but also identifying those resources on campus, not only contracts, but also pell grants and the impact on need-based aid, along with the tax implications,” Meyers said on how institutions should improve their NIL programs.

Even if you can’t directly advise students on their NIL deals, you can point them to resources that can help students navigate the new landscape. Whether those resources are faculty, videos that your staff has put together or trusted partners, it’s important to provide some type of guidance so students aren’t left figuring out NIL for themselves.

Ensure students have equitable support

Most institutions seek an equitable landscape for all of their student-athletes. Yet even the most well-intentioned programs can create an inequitable NIL environment.

When promoting your athletes, make sure you’re shining a light on all athletes rather than just the football or men’s basketball program. For example, if you’re licensing photos of men’s basketball players to a vendor, make sure there is an equal number of women’s basketball photos. If you have a sponsor working with your baseball team, make sure your softball team has an opportunity to work with them as well.

Any institution that plans on supporting its athletes through NIL must make sure that all student-athletes feel equally supported. This is not only a Title IX mandate, but also a good recruiting strategy. Every athlete has something to gain with NIL, and prospective students will want to know that whatever institution they choose to attend will ultimately support their ambitions.

Make NIL guidelines easily accessible

The world of NIL is confusing to understand and has complex nuances between institutional, local and national guidelines. And given how busy student-athletes are, most don’t have the time to read through a long handbook.

Instead, make it easy for students to get their questions answered on-demand and simple to navigate.

“I think institutions can do a better job educating, having more webinars to learn about [NIL] or having more panels,” said Haley. “It’s very difficult to navigate [what you can and can’t do], so if institutions were to release more guidelines instead of doing a whole promo shoot or filming a video and then they tell you this isn’t ok, knowing beforehand and having a sheet of what’s allowed and what’s not allowed.”

Offload redundant questions with AI

Throughout your implementation of NIL policies, you’ve probably noticed that there are hundreds of students asking the same questions. The problem is that if you have a NIL department, your office is one or two people max. This makes it difficult to communicate clear guidelines to student-athletes.

“A lot of what’s needed comes from having communication and guidelines being more open and set, not having this gray area which then makes it difficult and creates a lot of back-and-forth instead of getting things done quicker,” Haley said.

This back-and-forth will likely result in you getting bombarded with the same questions repeatedly and have no way of offering personalized help for the students that need it. Fortunately, chatbots have already solved this particular problem on the administrative side of the institution by reducing the inbound call and email volume administrators see on a daily basis.

If your athletics department is overwhelmed, consider looking at the advantages that an AI chatbot can provide for you. It can provide answers to your students on-demand and prevent your department from getting overworked. Now is the time to start thinking about how you can scale your operations, and artificial intelligence can help you get there.

Create cross-campus connections to help educate students

Sometimes, the best allies can be the connections you already have on campus. And as an athletics department, there’s no easier way to help your student-athletes stay compliant than by helping them link with other students and professors in the areas they need help.

“One nice thing I think we’ve seen pop up at some schools is accounting programs that have certified their students and allowed them to work with their student-athletes on their taxes,” Kristi said as an example of institutions demonstrating strong cross-campus connections.

This not only helps your students get the resources they need to understand NIL, but also provides important networking opportunities post-graduation. For instance, when it comes time to file taxes for the first time as a professional, that accounting student you paired with a student-athlete might eventually become a CPA or their positive experience working with that marketing professor might propel them towards applying for your MBA program.

Supporting students doesn’t have to be hard work. But it does require some creativity. However, providing student-athletes with the resources necessary to capitalize on NIL will ultimately help your institution thrive and show students that you’re invested in their success.

For more insights on supporting your student-athletes NIL initiatives, check out our recent webinar.

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