College athletics is a multi-billion-dollar industry. And while schools and media rights holders rake in revenue, the athletes at the heart of these proceeds have yet monetize their efforts… Until 2021 at least. In just months, the college sports landscape is set to change in a big way as those performing on the fields and courts could soon see compensation for their name, image, and likeness.
In part one of our interview with Zach Soskin, who spent time at Adidas on their grassroots marketing team and now heads up Voltage Sports Management, we discussed how this new legislation impacts colleges and universities directly. While those schools will have to pivot recruiting strategies, athlete marketing plans, and social media presence, many student-athletes have already begun to approach their own marketing differently, especially those who have come up in the brand building era.
Today’s student-athletes are much more brand conscious than student-athletes were five years ago.
“That is 100% true,” Soskin said. “The high school classes of 2017 and 2018 (including Tate Martell, Darnay Holmes, Brendan Radley-Hiles, etc.) were the first time I really started to notice how much savvier kids were becoming, and it’s only taken off since then. Today’s student-athletes are much more brand conscious than student-athletes were five years ago.”
Influence That Transcends Performance
With the opportunity to soon monetize their personal brands through NIL rights, that understanding has become even more important and valuable. But the premier athletes with the largest social media followings won’t be the only ones to cash in. Those with passions and abilities outside of their athletic arenas will be able to build an engaged audience and eventually gain financial rewards.
“Whether it’s streaming on Twitch or cooking or fishing tutorials on YouTube, kids will have the freedom to earn money the same way countless other high school and college kids already are, and that’s an amazing step in the right direction,” Soskin explained.
Another outlet for the non-superstar athlete or those in non-revenue generating sports to earn money will potentially exist in camps and clinics.
“If you look at Nebraska volleyball, Penn State Wrestling, Cal swimming, etc. all of the athletes in those programs will have the opportunity to earn real money by doing private training and running youth camps for kids,” he said. “In addition to charging camp fees, these events will serve as a great platform to bring in sponsorship dollars.”
The Perfect Time to Prep
With the college athletics season on pause and the timetable for NIL legislation to be fully approved still several months away, the time is now for athletes to prepare for coming changes. Soskin details that the first thing young athletes should do is educate themselves on what types of opportunities may be available to them.
Once you find your audience, the brand dollars will always find you.
“Building your social media following is important, but the truth is, 99% of student-athletes won’t be doing deals outside of their college town and hometown,” he noted. “Focusing their brand-building efforts in these communities will allow them to have the best ROI on their time and energy.”
The next step in building their brand is to clean up their social media accounts and remove any red flags before they are under the microscope of potential sponsors and brands.
“Once they’ve laid this foundation and removed the landmines that could cost them down the road, then they can start focusing on the real growth part of their brand-building, Soskin said.”
Just as importantly, athletes need to be authentic and genuine.
“This is how you really build a brand that resonates with people,” he said. “People can always spot phony. By giving people a glimpse of who you really are and your true passions will allow you to find your niche and build that niche audience. Once you find your audience, the brand dollars will always find you.”