NIL Goes Global: Could International Student-Athletes Have an Advantage?

In the NIL era, the athlete endorsement industry is going to grow 100X in size, from five thousand athletes to 500 thousand athletes overnight, enhancing the competitiveness of the already-challenging market.

Of those 500 thousand college athletes, approximately 20 thousand are international student-athletes. For these athletes, there’s an opportunity to stand out with their built-in exposure to two markets in which they can earn endorsement deals — the United States and their home country.

The majority of international athletes participate in Olympic or non-revenue generating sports such as tennis, track & field, gymnastics, and rowing. Pre-NIL, these athletes are often overlooked by brands because they might not be as well known in their college campus community due to competing in a non-revenue sport.

However, these athletes are likely to be better-recognized in their home communities and countries. This unique set of 20 thousand athletes can lean into their home cultures, building brands with value in both countries. This can be a win-win for both parties, too, as international businesses will have the opportunity to market to a larger international audience when partnering with a local athlete competing state-side.

Endorsement opportunities will exist in the NIL era, but competition for opportunities will be high, particularly among athletes in non-revenue sports. But while it may struggle to find an endorsement opportunity in the U.S., international athletes may have the opportunity to turn to brands in their home community.

The good news for up-and-coming international amateur athletes? They can follow in the footsteps of their peers already in professional sports. Looking at the success of international athletes competing in North American leagues, there are many strong examples of pros who have tapped into their international audiences.

International Athletes Finding Endorsement Success 

Yu Darvish | Chicago Cubs 

One of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball, Darvish leads the MLB in social media followers. Darvish grew up in Japan and has consistently paid homage to his home country throughout his MLB career. His social media platforms put his Japan-based fan base first. Darvish currently partners with and endorses many Japanese brands as seen throughout his social feed. 

Liz Cambage | Las Vegas Aces 

Liz Cambage from Australia made her WNBA debut in 2011. On Instagram, Cambage is often seen promoting fashion and beauty products from a variety of brands, most of which are Australian-based.

Fashion is becoming increasingly more global, and by supporting Australian brands, she’s able to set her feed apart from other WNBA stars. The data shows that her reach in multiple markets and her dedication to social media is paying off. During the WNBA regular season, she ranked No. 5 in social impressions among all WNBA players. 

Patty Mills 

Mills is a great example of bringing his Australian lifestyle to his North American audience. Scrolling through his Instagram feed shows an individual who clearly loves his home country.

He’s constantly up to date and sharing news and events of what is going on in Australia. His coverage of the Australian wildfires in early 2020, Mills made fans across the globe feel like they were supporting Australia with him. He goes beyond promoting a simple personal brand, sharing his perspective on his heritage, country, and lifestyle. 

As social media and technology evolves, our world is becoming increasingly more connected. Athletes at every level can grow their brand and connect with a social media audience on a global level. If the pros are any indication, this is an area where international athletes can create an edge. 

What can international student-athletes learn from the pros? 

Each of these athletes do an exceptional job of putting their international audience front-and-center while still connecting with North American fans. By doing this, they can secure endorsement opportunities with brands most athletes aren’t posting about. 



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