Last week, we made one of the landmark announcements in Opendorse history. I shared a vision — one that we’ve had from the beginning — to bring the athlete endorsement industry together with the technology it needs to succeed.
We shared our vision to prepare this ecosystem for the new era of athlete endorsements… the next generation of Opendorse.
To know why this evolution is necessary, you have to understand where this industry is headed.
A New Era
The NIL market isn’t new. While the “name, image, and likeness” has become prevalent with coming policy changes in college sports, professional athletes have monetized their NIL rights for decades. Every athlete-driven social promotion, merch line, billboard, and commercial shoot… they are tied to the value of an athlete’s name, image, and likeness.
This industry is alive and functioning with more $6 Billion spent each year on athlete endorsements. And for good reason — we are in the athlete-driven era of sports.
I root for my hometown Chiefs, but I want my starting fantasy receiver to go off, too. We follow all our favorites, regardless of team affiliation. Athletes have our attention and allegiance. While they may change teams, that connection with this generation of fans remains. Because of this, aligning with athletes creates tremendous value for sponsors today.
The market, understandably, is stacked with stakeholders to manage the demand — agents, managers, marketing reps, publicists, legal counsel, and more — all tasked with protecting athletes and maximizing opportunities. These supporters are vital to the marketing health of athletes everywhere. They are needed because this world is complex. Issues like media rights, competition clauses, FTC guidelines, guardrails instituted by each athlete’s individual organization, players union and even league… all play a role in every transaction.
Endorsement Industry is an Evolving Ecosystem
With athletes, supporters, and marketers, this is an ecosystem in the truest sense of the word. And it’s one that is about to experience its biggest-ever evolution. In the US, there are about 5,000 athletes that really ‘move the needle’ in the endorsement industry each year. For those athletes, the endorsement process is complex and time-consuming, filled with back-and-forth phone calls, texts, emails, negotiations and more. What is managed by spreadsheets and sticky notes today has to evolve for the future.
This market is about to change in a big, big way. And to meet the moment, the industry must advance.
In 2021, 500 thousand student-athletes will become eligible to earn compensation from their Name, Image, and Likeness.
With one rule change, the market of eligible athletes will grow by 100x.
This is a landmark moment in sports — and it’s a great thing. 100x more athletes in the endorsement market is incredible for all involved. I truly believe athletes, schools, fans, and sponsors can all win in the NIL era.
But if the endorsement market is 100x more complex? We’re all in trouble.
Endorsements have to become easier. If they don’t, the industry will never get off the ground. Complexity will kill deals and encourage brands to bring their opportunities to other sources of influence.
The tech-driven athlete marketing era demands scale to keep up with size.
The athlete endorsement industry needs technology.
The NIL ecosystem needs infrastructure to thrive.
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Can We Copy Creators?
Every endorsement today — online or off — starts with social media. It’s true. Brand reps will scour social channels before ever making an offer. This is our new reality and why we believe social to be the front door to NIL.
And when you visualize individuals who have maximized their opportunity with social media and digital tools, creators and influencers stand out with success. They have used tech to understand, grow, and monetize their audience.
So athletes and our industry should just mimic the creator economy, right?
Wrong. We can’t.
Because we’re not on a level playing field. Athletes and influencers have access to the same tools, but do not play by the same rules.
Ninja doesn’t have to consider what his teammates or organization think about his activity online. He’s not worried about aligning with his team’s competing sponsor; he’s not restricted by media rights or group licensing agreements. He has free reign — he can’t lose eligibility or get cut.
The stakes are higher for athletes… and when the stakes are higher, wrong moves hurt more.
Athletes can be fined, get cut, or lose their eligibility because of something they say or support. That’s why there are athlete ‘caretakers’ at every level of sports — they’re trying to protect athletes from making the wrong moves.
So how can we level the playing field? How can we allow athletes to use the same tools, but follow the rules?
How can we evolve the endorsement industry?
The Solution is Simplicity
Adi and I began helping our former Husker teammates navigate athlete marketing in 2011. From day-one, we realized the athlete endorsement industry was fragmented, offline, and devoid of technology and consistency.
It was clear that infrastructure was needed to bring athlete marketing into the new media era of sports marketing.
This ecosystem needed technology, and we imagined a future where complexity was removed, but the key stakeholders would remain involved.
We envisioned a future where all that stood between an athlete and an endorsement was a green button. So we got started. I mean, look at this… the first version of Opendorse.
One-tap endorsements — the easiest, most trusted solution in athlete marketing for nearly a decade.
We’ve been constantly evolving our technology since to reduce complexity and improve the endorsement experience for the 30,000+ athletes who use Opendorse today.
The Next Generation of Endorsement Management
Now, we’re ready to push this ecosystem into the next generation. We introduced the new generation of endorsement management technology, announcing three products to do just that.
This announcement gets me so damn excited. It’s full-circle from where we started… when we began to envision the future where athletes will use technology to understand:
What’s the value of my audience?
How do I grow my audience?
How do I monetize my audience?
Now we’re ready for the next decade… ready to bring the endorsement ecosystem together with oversight, security, and scale as the market grows from 5,000 to 500,000 athletes.