How Seeking Scholarships Might Prepare Athletes for NIL Endorsements

athlete endorsement lessons

Earning an athletic scholarship isn’t easy. High school athletes dream of the opportunity to continue their playing career in college. For most, it’s just not reality. 

Even those skilled enough in their sport to earn offers are likely striving for another at the next level. There’s always a step up… The athlete with D2 offers wants to go D1. Group of 5 to Power 5. From the middling program to the perennial powerhouse… there’s always a dream school.

Sure, there are the blue chip recruits. The fortunate few whose skills stand out so much that their dream program comes calling right away. But this isn’t the case for most. 

College recruits are up against hundreds, maybe thousands of peers with similar skillsets and high school stats. These scholarship-seeking athletes can’t lay low and expect the dream offer to show up in the mail. Instead, they have to attend camps, use Hudl and other video platforms to create curate content, and fine-tune their highlights. They turn to social to show their character and distribute the moments that represent them in the best possible light.

They go out of their way to express interest in their ideal institutions… following coaches, DMing Hudl video, and sharing incoming offers that might make them more attractive to the programs on their wishlist. 

They have to market themselves.

It’s all a lot for a high school athlete and their family. But it’s also a lesson in personal branding and marketing. It’s a how-to course that they rarely realize they’re enrolled in. Eventually, the lessons learned here will apply to earning a job, preparing for a draft… and even earning endorsement deals. 

How Scholarships & Endorsements Compare

The process of earning a scholarship offer is not so different from earning an endorsement offer. 

Prospective college athletes have to make themselves seen and capture the attention of the right parties. They have to narrow down a list of schools and understand which coaches they need to impress. They ultimately must convince an athletics program and its staff that they should work together. 

But how in the world does that apply to endorsement opportunities for athletes?

Easy: replace the schools and coaches in the scholarship equation with brands and marketers.

Athletes who take an active role in their marketing potential need to identify the brands and the people they need to impress within those organizations to earn endorsement opportunities. 

The athlete endorsement game has changed. 

Maybe this feels oversimplified. But for the majority of athletes, we promise it’s not. We believe this because the endorsement marketing industry is more of a two-way street than ever before. 

Traditionally, endorsements would only go to the superstars. The MVPs, star quarterbacks, and hometown heroes. The brand would come calling when they were ready to work together — not the other way around. But social media has democratized athlete marketing opportunities. 

Now, athletes can take control.

… slide into a brand’s DMs and let them know you love the product.

Just like hopeful college athletes can seek a coach’s attention through sharing highlights, sending DMs, and attending camps; athletes seeking endorsement opportunities can proactively earn the attention of brand marketers.  By sharing your love of a brand or product, you can get their attention and start a partnership. 

The examples are endless: Marshawn Lynch and Skittles, Bradley Chubb and Snickers, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Twitch… By proactively promoting products they already loved, these athletes were able to build authentic partnerships and endorsement deals.

Jacquelyn Dahl, a player marketing representative for some of the NFL’s most marketable players explains it like this: 

“It’s so easy and accessible now — especially with the blue checkmark — to slide into a brand’s DMs and let them know you love the product. Start with a care package. Start with building a relationship with the social manager. That person them takes it their marketing director, and who knows where it can go from there.”

DMs aren’t the only option, either. It’s easy and effective for athletes to post about the brands and products they love. By tagging the brand and using proper hashtags, you’ll be sure to earn the attention of the social media manager. 

Not only are you getting their attention, but that post will likely be celebrated within that brand or organization. It’s free earned media from an influential individual. 

While it’s simple for the athlete, the weight a DM or properly-tagged post carries is often underestimated. It’s a simple way to earn the attention of a marketer who may have no idea that you admire their product. You give a little to potentially get a lot. 

4 Steps to Earn More Endorsements

Athletes have more power in the endorsement ecosystem than ever before. By applying the rules of earning a scholarship to building a brand partnership, you can bring more deals in the door. Here are 4 simple steps to get started:

1. Make a list

Make a list of brands or products you use and love. Watch their social channels to see which of your favorite brands already work with athletes or influencers, and try to gather what they look for in an endorsement partnership.

2. Identify the decision-makers

Using your list of brands, use Twitter and LinkedIn to find the people who have decision making power. This could be a social media manager, marketing director, and influencer marketing leader. Find their profiles and add them to your brand list. 

3. Share the love

Publish posts with you using the product or sharing why you love a brand. Tag the brand to ensure it’s seen by the social team. One caveat: make sure your posts are authentic. Your fans, and potentially even the brand, can see through a post that’s just looking a pay day. 

4. Slide in the DMs

You can direct message the brand directly, or look to the decision-makers you identified earlier. Simply let them know you love the product and would be happy to share it on your channels. The relationship may start with nothing more than care package, but even free product allows you to begin proving your value as a partner.

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