So, you want to leverage athlete name, image and likeness to help your business achieve growth outcomes — but don’t know how it all works? Or where to start?
No worries, we’ll walk you through it.
Navigating athlete name, image and likeness rights and usage in sports requires a deep understanding of the various components that make up this multi-billion dollar industry. We spent the last decade studying the many layers of NIL rights and building relationships with the key stakeholders in the space.
With coming changes to NCAA policies, athlete NIL rights have become the topic of conversation in sports media, business and marketing. To ensure student-athletes, school leaders and collegiate sports sponsors are prepared for this new future, we are dedicated to sharing what we’ve learned from our time building NIL solutions for the technology era of sports.
The NIL quadrant framework packs ten years of insights into one actionable playbook that can serve as a guide as you consider the functions of selecting, executing, and measuring business outcomes centered on athlete name, image and likeness rights.
We are thankful to be able to leverage real-world, hands-on experience with the best minds in athlete marketing to create this framework — including, but not limited to:
- Union partners (NFLPA, MLBPA, WNBPA, USWNTPA, USRPA and more)
- League partners (NHL, PGA TOUR, LPGA, INDYCAR, NWHL, ECHL, NHRA, Symetra Tour and more)
- Governing Body partners (US Figure Skating, USA Cycling, and more)
- 100+ professional and collegiate sports teams
- 500+ brand partners (EA Sports, Panini, Pepsi, Verizon, Titleist, Audi, Citi, MetLife and more)
- 1,000+ sports agents
- 20,000+ professional and collegiate athletes
Because of these relationships, we’ve been exposed to all sides of the athlete business and feel the broader sports business industry deserves to have access to an inside-out perspective on the athlete NIL discussion. I’m excited to share these insights with the market today and continue to add to the framework as we uncover new trends.
Creation (Promotion vs Product)
The first question:
What are you creating — a promotion or a product?
Creating a promotion using athlete name, image and likeness requires the athlete’s active participation in sharing a message of support for your business. Athletes can endorse your goods or services by appearing at an event on your behalf, speaking to an audience, signing autographs, taking pictures with customers, participating in a photo or video shoot, recording audio for radio commercials, publishing photos, videos, or links on their social media channels and more.
Creating a product using athlete name, image and likeness does not require the athlete’s active participation, but you must receive the athlete’s permission to use their NIL before production begins. You can use athlete name, image and likeness to create a wide range of products including jerseys, trading cards, bobbleheads, apparel, hats, socks, keychains, posters, action figures, puzzles, video games, mobile apps, websites and more.
Activation (Physical vs Digital)
Once you have determined what you’re creating, it’s time for the next question:
Where are you activating — in the physical world, or the digital world?
Activating athlete name, image and likeness in the physical world requires you to produce goods or experiences that consumers can interact with in person. Physical activations include appearances, speaking engagements, autograph signings, photo or video shoots, audio recordings, jerseys, trading cards, bobbleheads, apparel, hats, socks, keychains, posters, action figures, puzzles, and more.
Activating athlete name, image and likeness in the digital world requires you to create products or promotions that customers can consume through technology platforms or personal devices. Digital activations include video games, mobile apps, websites, sponsored posts on social media, display advertising, podcast commercials, pre-roll or post roll advertising on videos and more.
NIL Quadrant Framework
To make it easy to understand the different ways your business can leverage athlete name, image and likeness, we have created the NIL Quadrant Framework:
Ready to make a decision?
Hold your horses…
Before making your decision on creating a promotion or product and activating in the physical or digital world, it’s important to understand the tradeoffs within each type of name, image and likeness use.
There are four main factors to consider when determining which type of NIL use is best for your business:
The quality of the connection between consumers and your business.
The capacity to reach a larger audience without increasing your resources.
The amount of resources it takes to get started.
The resources that vary with the level of output.
These factors combine to help you analyze the outcome of using name, image and likeness within each of the quadrants. Let’s take a look:
A look at the wins and challenges of leveraging athlete name, image and likeness in appearances, speaking engagements, autograph signings, photo or video shoots, audio recordings and more.
When your business provides a way for consumers to interact directly with athletes, you are creating a valuable connection between your organization and potential customers.
Because physical promotions require active participation from athletes, there are inherent limitations to scale.
Fixed Costs: Lower
At the lowest level, a physical promotion requires access to a location for a certain amount of time.
Variable Costs: Higher
The majority of the costs for physical promotions go to the athletes themselves, and with each specific promotion, your business will incur additional expenses.
Using athlete name, image and likeness to produce jerseys, trading cards, bobbleheads, apparel, hats, socks, keychains, posters, action figures, puzzles, and more requires a big up-front investment but can generate long-term value for your business.
While consumers love collecting athlete memorabilia, they don’t replace the bond that is created when the athlete is physically present.
Shipping physical goods limits the scale of bringing physical products bearing athlete name, image and likeness to the market.
Fixed Costs: Higher
Before pushing out your first physical product, your business must setup manufacturing, inventory, distribution processes (and more) which are costly and time-intensive.
Variable Costs: Higher
The cost of goods sold for physical products remains the same whether you sell one unit or thousands.
Securing athlete name, image and likeness rights for use in video games, mobile apps, websites and more provides a highly scalable revenue model for your business.
When sports fans play video games, they are able to control the actions of their favorite players, the connection is strong, but isn’t the same as an interaction directly with an athlete.
Due to high adoption of digital technology, personal devices and platforms, your business can distribute digital products to millions of consumers instantly.
Fixed Costs: Higher
Creating a high quality digital product for wide scale consumption takes considerable engineering talent and technology development, both of which are not cheap.
Variable Costs: Lower
When a consumer downloads your digital product, there may be a small uptick in server/hosting fees, but for the most part, your business can keep per-unit costs low when creating digital products.
How athlete name, image and likeness provides tremendous value for businesses in the world of sponsored posts on social media, display advertising, podcast commercials, pre-roll or post roll advertising on videos and more.
The sports fan and athlete connection on social and digital media platforms is incredibly valuable, as athletes are able to personalize each interaction to connect with their followers. Bringing your business into the digital fan-athlete relationship can bring high engagement and measurable outcomes for your organization.
The beauty (and beast) of social media is that athletes can spread a message to millions with one tap on their smartphone. With digital promotions, your business can reach large, targeted audiences across the globe alongside the most recognizable sports figures in any market.
Fixed Costs: Lower
The majority of athlete influence is stored within free, widely accessible social networks, lowering the cost of audience development and eliminating the need to build your own technology infrastructure. Your business can create digital media for athletes to share, or lower costs even further by asking athletes to create the media themselves.
Variable Costs: Lower
Because athletes don’t need to be physically present, your business can secure their participation in your digital promotion at a fraction of the cost of a physical promotion.