A great way for an athlete to monetize their name, image and likeness in the NIL era is through merchandise. Any athlete can create their own merchandise to sell to supporters and make it personal, something that uniquely their own. There’s no better way to showcase your personal brand than by having others equally invested and repping it with you.
Take a look at the 2021 NFL Draft. We saw athletes drop a link to their own merchandise right after they got picked, beating fan stores and teams to the punch. This will soon be a reality at the collegiate level.
To get started with merchandising, an athlete needs to decide on how they want to supply and fulfill the product. There are multiple ways to go about this process and the earnings will vary by product, but for simplicity and consistency, we will be basing earnings off 100 t-shirts sold for $20 each.
Print on Demand
One of the easiest methods is to print on demand. This method is great for quick turnaround and if you want to capitalize on a big moment quickly, an athlete can upload a design and start selling in seconds. There are thousands of sites that offer this type of service, however Amazon merchandise and Redbubble are two common sites.
Here is a site we found that provides a more extensive list breaking down the pros and cons of numerous services.
- Quick turnaround
- Easily upload a design to various products
- No holding stock, no shipping yourself
- Low profit, fulfillment takes the majority of the sale.
Estimated Earnings per $20 shirt: $5 | Estimated Earnings for 100 shirts priced at $20 = $500
Partner With A Supplier
There is a strong chance your community has a local merchandise supplier or clothing brand. You can work with them to create merchandise. They’ll have a lot of knowledge about the product and can share their expertise to ensure you’re creating a great product and help maximize your revenue. All local suppliers and clothing brands differ and can provide different services.
Outside of printing the product, take these services into consideration when searching for the perfect supplier:
- Selling through their website
- Shipping products to consumers
- Supply cost
- Commonly, suppliers will print and manufacture in bulk. You will most likely have to cover the costs of the supply and then set a sales price based on what you want to earn from revenue. Depending on the other services the supplier provides, you may have to split a certain percentage of supply costs.
- Working with people who are knowledgeable about the product and process
- You have say in the design and print process
- Possibly supporting a local business
- Have a variety of different services to help you with production and fulfillment
- Lengthy timeline, more organization, and conversation
- Could take trial and error to find the right supplier
Estimated Earnings per $20 shirt: $8 | Estimated Earnings for 100 shirts priced at $20 = $800
If you have merchandise you want to sell over the long term or sell yourself this might be the process for you. You can order merchandise in bulk from sites like CustomInk and have supply on hand to sell yourself. If you’re shipping the product, you may want to sell via Shopify or Etsy to keep payment and shipping information easy to navigate. This process can be time-consuming, so be aware of your time management and organizational skills. Pros:
- Keep all your earnings
- Have full control of the product, inventory, and shipping
- Shipping and fulfillment can be time-consuming
- Requires an evergreen design
- No quick turnaround
- Have to store inventory and ship product
Estimated Earnings per $20 shirt: $10 | Estimated Earnings for 100 shirts priced at $20 = $1,000
Once you decide which route you want, it’s time to design the merchandise. There are many programs like Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Canva, and others where you can quickly create a design, however, most require some design experience. To really make your merchandise pop, we recommend partnering with a designer. Tap into your network to see if anyone has design experience or reach out to art and design programs at your university to see if they can connect you with someone who could work with you to bring your idea to life.
Working with a designer should be a collaborative process, and don’t be nervous to ask them to make tweaks and adjustments to fit your vision. You know your personal brand and audience better than anyone, so have confidence and a clear vision going into the design process.
For merchandise marketing, there are two different timelines to take into consideration. If you’re selling merchandise following and focusing on a big moment, you’ll want to have a quick turnaround and quickly begin marketing the moment. Capitalize on the energy and emotions fans have following the big moment. Share the moment on social media and include a link to purchase merchandise. Be prepared for a big moment, have a plan for who can create a design quickly, and which fulfillment and sales method you’ll take.
The second timeline is creating personal merchandise that will be ongoing. This type of merchandise could be related to a hobby or activity you enjoy, a personal slogan, or a play on words of your name. The creative options are endless. Take the time necessary to create and market a great product. Don’t be afraid to tease the merchandise release and create hype around a big drop or release. You can continue to promote your merchandise over time and continue to identify methods that create excitement and encourage consumers to share about the product.
For both of these methods, the easiest way to market your product is through your personal social media channels, as it’s an audience that already supports you. Ask a few friends to join in on the process or share a few posts about the product, the more people you can get talking about it, the more successful your merchandise launch will be.
Real World Example
We caught up with the co-founder of NARP Clothing and former Clemson Baseball player, Patrick Cromwell. Patrick and his business partner have built a platform to help retired student-athletes sell game-worn and practice-worn gear sitting in their closet. Being able to see firsthand what washed-up athletes are earning, Cromwell understands the opportunities for athletes to sell their own custom merchandise in the NIL era are endless.
Recently, adding custom merchandise for a PGA Tour golfer, Patrick gave us insight on the custom merchandise process and the ability to make everything simple for the athlete. As a former athlete, Patrick stressed the importance of athletes capitalizing on the 4 years they have in the spotlight and representing themselves in a positive way and tapping into the local community. Not just from a personal branding standpoint, but also from an alumni standpoint. Connections from the Clemson business school and alumni have provided support and advice throughout their small business process.
Justin “Jets” Jefferson
Be sure to disclose all payment activities to your institution or governing body to remain compliant and eligible in your sport.