How to Win in the NIL Era with Dana Rettke

Many college seniors are taking advantage of the opportunity to capitalize on the NIL era and maximize the personal brands they’ve built over the past four years playing collegiate athletics. Wisconsin Volleyball star Dana Rettke is using her final season to dive into NIL as she sets a strong example for others. 

As a Business Marketing major and Head of Brand Management of UNCUT Madison, an athlete-driven storytelling platform for “student-athletes to speak in a way that has not yet been seen at the collegiate level,” Rettke knows what is required to build a strong personal brand. She took time to see how the market played out after July 1. 

“I wanted to see how the market played out, and see how the space was going to develop before I really dove all in to it,” she said. “I know some people took a more aggressive route. It’s just been a really awesome opportunity to work on more sports business side of things, but also be able to interact with companies. 

“I’m really focusing on building my own brand. I was someone who, coming into college, definitely wanted to focus on building my own brand. I’m a marketing student so I had some background in that, focusing on that and making sure it was a priority because now it wasn’t just an audience of people who were watching on the volleyball court. It was way beyond that.” 

The first four-time, first-team All-American in Wisconsin Women’s Volleyball history, Rettke has her eyes set on playing professionally after college. And she’s uniquely positioned to tie it all together: playing a sport at the highest level, brand building, social media, and exploring endorsement opportunities. 

“I’m going to be going overseas,” Rettke said. “Playing for the national team is a goal of mine, so that’s going to be a huge part of my brand, but volleyball is only going to last so long and I know that and I want to make sure that going forward, I want to have a really wide, wide variety of different opportunities and kind of tools in my belt. Part of my brand is being able to capitalize on those opportunities, and just not be one dimensional.”  

Working with Brand and Fans 

Rettke has focused on working with businesses that align with her own personal brand, goals, and values. She has pursued partnerships that naturally fit her personality and what she’s already posting on her feed. 

“Working with specific brands, you really learn their marketing strategy and also how you align with that strategy,” she said. “You also get to learn about their goals and their initiatives, which I think is really awesome. For me, one of the big reasons I wanted to do the Degree partnership was because I love their mission. I loved their brand. I loved just what they were trying to do with student-athletes.”  

The Degree #BreakingLimits campaign included Instagram and Twitter posts focused on student-athletes sharing their story of perseverance, as well as advocating for those with disabilities. Rettke spoke about the storytelling aspect of the opportunity, explaining, “It really aligns with what I’m doing with UNCUT  too, being able to share awesome stories. I think that’s a huge part of sports, the connection with the community.” 

NIL goes beyond just working with brands. It also allows student-athletes to connect with supporters and earn compensation from fans. With Opendorse’s new Pitch Anything feature, fans can request something from their favorite athletes, from video shoutouts to autographs and more. Rettke shared her experience using Pitch Anything to connect with a local volleyball club. 

“It was honestly super easy. It was a volleyball club, and they sent their request through Opendorse, what they wanted me to say and what they wanted me to do. Then, I just recorded the video, uploaded it to Google Drive, emailed it off to them and they paid me through the app. It was super simple, super easy. It’s really fun to get to be able to connect with people like that in the volleyball community—and the community in general—because of the big impact we can have on young athletes. I love to do that kind of stuff.” 

Advice for Athletes, Advice for Brands 

All student-athletes have learned a lot during the first five months of the NIL era, but Rettke’s major, leadership positions, and measured approach have provided her with a unique perspective: 

“The whole NIL space is so new right now, and we’re learning a whole lot. Universities are learning a lot. Brands and companies are learning a lot. We as student-athletes are learning a lot, and it’s going to be a long time until we really get a whole grasp of this whole thing. What I’ve learned is just to stay patient. I know [NIL] sounds super exciting and big and awesome in the beginning, but [it’s important to] stay patient and gather all the information you need, focusing on the brands that you want to align yourself with going forward. 

“[Brands should] be patient with student-athletes. We do have a lot on our plate. I’ve only had great experiences so far with being able to work with companies and individual groups. So, it’s been great for me. While I haven’t had a bad experience yet, we do have a lot on our plates so being patient with us is also something that I would advocate for.”  

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